In 2018, a historian Rafique Baghdadi undertook Manto Yatra in Mumbai to find a man who had died in 1955 in Lahore.
Saadat Hassan Manto was one of the greatest short story writers in Urdu literature, and who migrated to Pakistan in 1947. His tragic tale following migration from India to Pakistan is reflective of a bigger tragedy: partition of India.
In 1948, Manto left the Bombay film industry and came to Lahore. In his short narration about Ashok Kumar, Manto wrote when he came to know about the growing intolerance in India, “I asked myself: Manto Bhai (brother), there is no way ahead, so stop your vehicle, and take a turn to the nearby street: and, then I went silently to Pakistan.”
Before coming to Pakistan, Manto had been attached to the Indian film industry for 12 years. During that phase, he worked for various film companies.
Rafique Baghdadi, a senior journalist, says that “Manto’s life is strange. No one asked after him what he had been going through during the last phase of his life. But since his death, everyone has been talking about him.”
During his Manto Yatra in Mumbai, Baghdadi undertook a small visit in those places about which Manto had been writing a lot in his stories. Around 30 people took part in this Manto Yatra that spanned around two and a half hours.
About the question of why the new generation is so curious about Manto, Baghdadi said, “The old generation would not read Manto much as his writings were considered taboo back then.” He said that many social restrictions had been lifted since then.
“Today, the education system has entirely changed. Now, this generation finds no difficulty in comprehending the insight that led Manto to write what he wrote decades ago.”
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About the Manto Yatra, he said, “We like people to know about this city (Mumbai) and its history.”
He shared interesting facts about the relation between Manto and his city, Bombay.
When Manto came to Bombay in 1935, he spent his first eight months in a small house in Arab Gali (street). This house was within walking distance from Alfred Talkies cinema. Later, he shifted to Bai Kala.
There was Jyoti Studio near Kennedy Bridge, where Manto had established his office. In this studio, Manto wrote his first film story, “Kisan Kanya”.
Manto’s stories also frequently mentioned the places like Jinnah Hall, Congress Hall, Bombay Music Singer Mandal. All these places have become a part of foggy memories now.
During this yatra, a discussion session was arranged in which Manto’s stories were narrated. Then the participants that included film actors like Nandita Das, Rajendra Gupta, gave their opinions.
Jamil Gulraiz said that “It’s a misperception that Manto wrote solely about prostitutes; he penned down every social issue.” Gulzar further said, “Sometimes, the new generation only takes an interest in Manto because of the inclusion of sexual content he discussed in his stories.” But he regretted that “No one knows the real Manto.”
On this occasion, Nandita Das, who recently made a film on Manto’s life featuring Nawazuddin Siddiquie, said, “The purpose for which I filmed Manto is to make people think about those things in society which they avoid to discuss.”
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