Title: My Name is Radha: The Essential Manto
Author: Saadat Hasan Manto; Translated by Muhammad Umar Memon
Publisher: Penguin India
Purchase Link: Amazon
Ever since watching Nandita Das’ film “Manto” (read review here), the poignant stories of South Asian writer, Saadat Hasan Manto, were playing on my mind. I picked “My Name is Radha: The Essential Manto”, translated from Urdu by Muhammad Umar Memon, as an introduction to this legendary writer’s work. Read on to know if the book lived up to my expectations.
Mohammad Umar Memon curates a set of stories ranging from extraordinary to mundane, to best represent Manto’s vast body of work. He divides the stories according to subject and theme. In addition, he writes an excellent foreword analyzing Manto’s work, and ends with an impassioned defence of the author’s work being real and not “obscene”. The compilation includes short stories, essays and a play to highlight Manto’s talent as a keen observer of humanity. A couple of essays, written by Manto’s contemporaries, are included in the volume to shed light on his fascinating personality.
As Manto declares in his essay entitled, “Mujhe Bhi Kuch Kehna Hai”, he writes because he feels he has something to say. This sentence sums up his philosophy and approach to his craft. He pens stories that have an ability to shock and provoke conservatives, while providing liberals food for thought. Despite being written 70-80 years ago, many of his works are timely and relevant today.
His social responsibility as a writer shines through in each work. He doesn’t sentimentalize the prevalent themes of sex and violence in his stories, choosing to portray them in a quotidian manner. This makes his stories real and identifiable, but all the more disturbing.
Some stories don’t fare as well as others, but despite falling short on many counts, are essential in understanding Manto’s craft. Perhaps, the essence of certain stories is lost in translation.
Overall, Memon does a good job of translating Manto. He succeeds in re-creating Manto’s persona and making him the central character of this book. His choice of additional material adds value to the book, over other translated editions.
My favourite stories include the sad “Scorned”, the moving “Mozel”, the heart-wrenching “Toba Tek Singh”, the disturbing “The Testament of Gurmukh Singh”, the ominous “Frozen”, the alarming “Open It!”, the upsetting “I’m No Good for You!”, and the fantastic play “In This Maelstrom (A Melodrama)”. I also liked his essays “Ismat-Faroshi (Prostitution)” and “The Short Story Writer and Matters of Sex”.
Picture courtesy: http://www.penguin.co.in
I’m not a fan of short-stories in general, but I do appreciate their merits. Often, this medium of writing can send a strong message, where novels or novellas fall short. Manto effectively uses this medium to show the world its own reflection. He has an unparalleled knack for dispassionately observing the dark underbelly of life, and penning it beautifully on paper.
I highly recommend this book to first-time readers of Manto, as it’s a fantastic introduction to his work. I also recommend it to readers who are unaware of this writer, yet have an interest in South Asian history and social comportment. For fans of Manto, this book is essential reading.
Book rating: 4.5/5
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