The Story of Aath Din

Upendranath Ashk

Prashansa Taneja is currently working on a translation of Upendranath Ashk’s memoir of his supposed enmity with Manto, “Manto: Mera Dushman”. Below is an excerpt which chronicles Manto and Ashk’s time together working at Filmistan in the early forties. The two first worked together in AIR Delhi along with Krishan Chander and other Hindi/Urdu writers. But after Ashk cruelly vetted the manuscript of a play he’d submitted, Manto quarreled with with the station director, quit his job and returned to Bombay to write for films. A year later, he made his peace with Ashk and invited him to work in Filmistan.

This excerpt describes how Manto got Ashok Kumar to film his story Aath Din instead of one written by Ashk. To take his revenge, Ashk, who played the comic role of Pundit Totaram in the film, created confusion on the set. Manto appeared in the film in a cameo role as a shell-shocked soldier. Aath Din, released in 1946, was also S.D. Burman’s first film.

From Upendranath Ashk’s Manto: Mera Dushman (“My Enemy, Manto”) published in 1956. Excerpted and translated from the Hindi by Prashansa Taneja.

The Story of Aath Din
My first film, which Nitin (Bose) Babu directed, was Mazdoor; the second was Safar, which was directed by Bibhuti Mitra. I wrote the dialogues for both the films and, in this way, the first one-and-a-half years of working in Filmistan passed relatively quietly. Manto regretted that I had derailed his plans [After coming to Bombay, Ashk realized that Manto had invited him to Filmistan to get back at him for tearing apart his play at All India Radio, Delhi, which had led to a quarrel between Manto and the station director N.M. Rashid. Because of this, Manto quit his job there–trans.], but I thought it would be better to make sure as far as I could that I stayed away from him instead of arguing daily.

But despite my caution, Manto was at last successful in wounding me. Continue reading The Story of Aath Din

Islam Contemporary featuring Daisy Rockwell

Instagram Islam and tag it #contemporary if you are in Pittsfield, MA in the dog days of summer. Our own Daisy Rockwell will have art featuring maybe bare breasts (and maybe bearded demagogues) in the show along with a solid array of believers, non-believers from around the world. It promises to be a fairly representative sample of the world as we currently inhabit (ingredients include Islam). I will at the opening acting as the roadie to the superstar. Do visit.

Islam Contemporary Lichtenstein Center for the Arts/Whitney Center for the Arts Pittsfield, Massachusetts August 2-31, 2013
Islam Contemporary
Lichtenstein Center for the Arts/Whitney Center for the Arts
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
August 2-31, 2013

Feet First – Essays on Maula Jatt I

There is no real sense of how Maula Jatt changed Pakistan. Real as in what to quantify and how to do it. At some point, it was everywhere and then it remained. The man playing the role of Maula Jatt was named Sultan Rahi né Mohammad Sultan who was born in 1938 in Uttar Pradesh (yes, Punjabi was not his mother-tongue) and died in 1996 near Gujranwalla. He began working in Lollywood in 1956 and ended up with a career filled with over 800 appearances. At least 300 of which he played a role akin to Maula Jatt. The template for this character came from “Wahshi Jatt” (Savage Jatt) which was released in 1975 (I think?) based on Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s short story “Gandasa”. The opening voice-over (linked earlier) is really an amazing document of mid 70s Pakistan. Maula Jatt (1979) was a continuation of the character from Wahshi Jatt and, legend has it, it played non-stop (four shows a day/seven days a week) for nearly three years after which it was banned for excessive violence (precisely for the scene involving cutting of a human leg) and removed from public showing. When it re-appeared in cinema halls, it was already legend. My favorite bit from Maula Jattn is the song Nashay diyay Botalay (bottle of whiskey) sung by Inayat Husain Bhatti.

Below is an essay by noted writer Musharraf Ali Farooqi (author, most recently, of highly acclaimed novel Between Clay and Dust (2012) {which will receive a thorough and critical reading from me}) which he has graciously contributed to CM. It was first published in The Popcorn Essayists: What Movies do to Writers, Editor: Jai Arjun Singh Publisher: Tranquebar Press (2011).
Continue reading Feet First – Essays on Maula Jatt I

The Journey of Everywoman

I. Years ago, while writing my dissertation, I stepped out one evening to one of those enormous drug stores that are open all night in cities. I browsed idly among the nail colors, wondering if I should consider adding layers of glitter to my already elaborate manicure. The aisles of women’s products were full of women browsing and wondering such things. Over the loudspeaker the music changed from one anodyne pop hit to another, until all at once Whitney Houston’s voice slid into the audioscape, then erupted into her super hit “I Will Always Love You.” The women began to hum, and then to sing, softly, as they gently cradled canisters of hairspray in their hands. And then they sang, loudly; we sang loudly, unashamedly: “I will always love youuuuuuuu!” And I thought, “Yes. Yes, I can go with glitter. Yes, I will do blue. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

II. In her memoir of her time as a sex slave to Osama bin Laden during his playboy phase, Kola Boof, a Sudanese poet, wrote that bin Laden was in love with Whitney Houston. It was his fantasy that he would give her a mansion he owned in Khartoum and take her as one of his wives. And he would order a hit on Bobby Brown. If only he had. If only he had shown that same sticktoitiveness he showed later in life, he could have helped Americans avoid a national tragedy.

III. An essay eulogizing Whitney Houston from India compares her tragic tale to that of Choti Bahu (played by Meena Kumari) in the Guru Dutt film Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam. Choti Bahu wants to attract the attention of her husband, who ignores her each night in favor of the courtesans that entertain him and drink with him. She takes up drink herself. The plan backfires and she becomes a sad drunk, spurned yet again by her cruel husband.

Whitney did it all for Bobby too, argues Lakshmi Chaudhry, quoting an Oprah interview in which Houston said:

He was my drug. I didn’t do anything without him. I wasn’t getting high by myself. It was me and him together. You know, we were partners. And that’s what my high was. Him. He and I being together. And whatever we did, we did together. No matter what, we did it together.

“Because you were his wife.” Responds Oprah. “Yes,” she replied, “Yes. And he was my husband.”

IV. In 2003, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown made a visit to Israel on the invitation of the Black Hebrew Israelites. In all the photographs of the trip, Houston looks skinny and unkempt. The trip involved a spiritual dip in the Jordan River near the Sea of Galilee. Brown and Houston, both wearing red dashikis, also met with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. When Sharon held out his hand to shake hers, Houston looked visibly uneasy and made Brown shake his hand in her stead.

V. When Whitney Houston died in her bathtub, I tried to block out the sordid image with thoughts of Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia, floating peacefully among the flowers. Numerous articles and blog posts explored the depressing details of the life of a drug addict. This one even discussed, from first-hand knowledge, the unsurprisingness of a celebrity drug addict dying in her bathtub:

So while stars are infamous for their hard partying, their dizzying downward spirals, their headline-making binges, but the truth is, when they use most heavily and subsequently die, it’s usually in their most private places, where they can relax, be in quiet, and don’t have to appear functional to the outside world.

Much more rare are the overdoses out in the world of the living, like River Phoenix’s in front of the Viper Room many years ago. After beds (recently these deaths include Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger, Casey Johnson, Michael Jackson), it seems that bathtubs are where drug abusers die.

I tried to blot the image out again by painting it but could not. I meditate instead upon the famous painting by John Everett Millais, a postcard of which my mother hung next to the bathtub in the house where I grew up.

We ♥ Lapata

LAPATA IS ON THE COVER OF PEN AMERICA, DUDE!

This is a moment of serious pride for CM. This issue is going to grace the neat stacks of pages and mail at the desk of Don DeLillo! I hope you join me in congratulating our very own, amazing cluster of sparkly-awesomeness Lapata.

From the Department of Unfinished Business

Some of you may be old enough to remember a letter to an academic journal that Sepoy posted last February. Below, I furnish the piece of writing in question for those who are curious. The article, on the portrayal of terrorists in Indian cinema, was written in 2002. It was, I like to think, fresh and timely. It can no longer be described in that manner now. Many new movies have come out that would be interesting to discuss in this context. Mani Ratnam has since made a film that touches more directly on the conflict in Sri Lanka (Kannathil Muthamittal). I would no longer be caught dead writing this kind of academic article. The world has changed, etc. But in the interest of freecycling, I give it to you, below. Perhaps it can be repurposed and made into a quilt?

But before we move on, one last item of business. I must also share with you the reviewer’s comments alluded to in my original letter. The following was scrawled in heavily applied ballpoint on the review sheet:

NO– I am normally very open-minded, but I cannot be so here. I have no interest in advocating an article which is designed to elicit empathy for terrorists & terrorism. I don’t want to “appreciate” or “comprehend” the world of terrorists. I am not naive. The problem is with the terrorist– NOT my understanding of these PSYCHOPATHIC KILLERS. (and yes, I understand the intent of the essay. I am not misreading it)

Continue reading From the Department of Unfinished Business

That Pleasant Prison Dream

No, I doubt I’d be that kind of father
not rural not snow no quiet window
but hot smelly New York City
seven flights up, roaches and rats in the walls
a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes Get a job!
And five nose running brats in love with Batman
And the neighbors all toothless and dry haired
like those hag masses of the 18th century
all wanting to come in and watch TV
The landlord wants his rent
Grocery store Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus
Impossible to lie back and dream Telephone snow, ghost parking–
No! I should not get married and I should never get married!
But–imagine if I were to marry a beautiful sophisticated woman
tall and pale wearing an elegant black dress and long black gloves
holding a cigarette holder in one hand and highball in the other
and we lived high up a penthouse with a huge window
from which we could see all of New York and even farther on clearer days
No I can’t imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream–

— From “Marriage,” by Gregory Corso

A Hindi poet I knew in Allahabad was, like many writers in his generation, very taken with the Beatnik poets. He had a particular desire to translate into Hindi the poem “Marriage” by Gregory Corso, but he was stuck on the line “…Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus.” We explained to him what each term meant, but in the end we had to agree that it would be pretty much impossible to translate that part elegantly. It would possibly take at least two or three footnotes, and as AK Ramanujan always used to say, in translation, “every footnote is a confession of failure.”
Continue reading That Pleasant Prison Dream