Saturday, May 12, 2012

Urban Bawl 7: Hate Story

An edited version of this piece is the seventh in the series of my Urban Bawl columns in Time Out Mumbai for their 'Back of the Book' page.
This is published in the May 11-24 2012  (Vol 8 Issue 19) issue of Time Out Mumbai.

Hate Story

I don’t really hate my city, though-

I am concerned that we have more than enough resources to change the city, but hardly any to preserve it. That our urban memory does not seem to go deeper that our last Facebook update. That we have suddenly become hypersensitive about our rights as citizens but lackadaisical about our responsibilities.

I am worried that every square inch of our city is fair game for builder/speculators; including the house I live in. That it is acceptable to demolish a 5 storey building only 5 years old to build a 40 storey new one, thanks to the toppings provided by 33/7, rehab components, TDR and relaxed FSI.

I find it ironical we believe that the densest neighbourhood in the world, Kalbadevi, can be further densified by cluster development. That Chor Bazaar will inevitably become a thing of the past. That the balcony has already become a thing of the past.

I think it hypocritical that Mumbaikars complain about how filthy our slums are, when Mumbai itself does not have a culture of separating its garbage into wet and dry compartments.

I am outraged that a skywalk from CST to Churchgate could even be contemplated. That congestion on our streets can be resolved just by building another street over it. In fact, our general belief that all the problems of the city can be solved by more building.

I am filled with wonder that, on the one hand we hope that 3 compartment elevated trains with automatically closing doors will bring down overcrowding in trains, while at the same time older platforms are being extended to fit 15 dabba trains. That I live in that part of the city where rickshawallahs have never plied by the meter, yet go on strike each time the minimum fare needs to be raised.

I am disgusted that Churchgate station needed to be tarted up with public funds to become an ugly, blister-packed carbuncle. And yet, we still snigger at Antilla whenever it is mentioned.

I think it is silly that public art in our city can only be designated as such by fencing it off and putting a label on it. Come February, I dread seeing the pastiche soup of installations at Kala Ghoda that will inevitably send me into deep depression until approximately the same time next year. That the second most photographed building in the country, the Bombay Stock Exchange, needs a monstrous neon sign proclaiming that it is, in fact, the Bombay Stock Exchange.

I despair that it nearly impossible to get a couple of decent fried eggs in the city. That the local Udipi charges me Rs.16 for a cup of tea and Rs.50 for a Sada Dosa. That the Wayside Inn has already become a thing of the past.

I live for the day when cinema theatres will display slides in BIG BOLD letters that say: ‘Turn your f***ing phone off right now, Bhen****!’ before the movie begins. Same is true for announcements in local train compartments, instead of ‘Pudcha Station- Currey Road’ in 3 languages.

I am cross that I have to pass through at least three security filters before I can use the loo at the Taj, which has always been the convenience of choice when I am in the vicinity.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Saadat Hassan Manto: What I write

To celebrate the centenary of Saadat Hassan Manto (11 May 1912), I have translated a piece he wrote towards the end of his life in Pakistan, where he discusses the subjects of writing that interest him. 

What I Write 
Sa'adat Hassan Manto

translated by 
Mustansir Dalvi

Why do I write? That’s like asking me why I eat... why I drink... but look at it this way: I have to spend money to eat or to drink, but when I write I have to give nothing away in cash.

But if I examine this deeply, I realise that this line of thinking is wrong, and I sustain my writing by money alone.

Obviously, if I don’t get food or drink, my body will weaken to a state that I can no longer hold a pen in my hand. It is possible, even in my famished state, my mind may work, but it is necessary that my hand works too. If the hand is too weak to function, the tongue, at least, should give voice. What a tragedy it is that one cannot do anything without food or drink.

Art is given such a high status that it is elevated to the seventh heaven. But isn’t it true that every worthy and important thing is dependent on a dry scrap of bread?

I write because I have something to say. I write, so that I can earn enough to be able to say something.

It’s strange, this relation between bread and art, but what is to be done if this is what God wills? He positions Himself neutrally from all things, but this is wrong. He is most certainly not neutral. He desires your supplication. And supplication is a very soft and delicate roti... why, it can be said that your supplication is like a roti lubricated with ghee with which He fills his belly.

If the lady next door deigns to be beaten up by her husband every day, and cleans his shoes nevertheless, then she does not elicit any sympathy within me. But if the lady next door fights with her husband, threatens to kill herself and then goes off to the movies, and I am able to see her husband fret and fulminate for an hour or two, then I feel a weird sort of empathy for them both.

If a boy falls in love with a girl, it’s as if I had a mild cold, I couldn’t be bothered. But the boy would certainly grab my attention if he declared that despite the many, many girls willing to die for him, he feels a dryness in his heart like a drought-stricken denizen from Bengal. If I could ever feel the tragic sobs bubbling under the colourful love stories of this self-proclaimed Romeo, my heart would seek him out, and I would tell his story to anyone who would listen.

Any woman who grinds grain for the whole day and goes to sleep without a care can never be a heroine in my stories. My heroine can be an well-worn whore. A whore who stays awake at night and, during the day sometimes awakes in horror from her slumber with the nightmare thought that old age shall soon come knocking at her door. Her heavy drooping eyelids, weary with years of waiting to sleep can be the subject of my story. I like the thought of her infirmities, her illnesses, her irritations, her gaalis, I write about these things, and I prefer to ignore the religious rectitude, the good health and the cultivated propriety of housewives.

Saadat Hassan Manto writes because this God is not the greatest poet or teller of tales, but it is the regard for Him that makes Him so.

I am aware that I have a big personality and that in Urdu literary circles I am very well regarded. If I was not self-opinionated like this, it would be even harder to go through life. But for me, it is a fact that I cannot put aside that I have never been able to find my proper place in my homeland, which goes by the name of Pakistan. This is keeps my soul unsettled. This leads me to stay in a madhouse sometimes and in a hospital at other times.

I am often asked why I do not get rid of my chronic alcoholism. I have given away a full three quarters of my life to indulgence. And it has led me to this- I have to stay in a madhouse sometimes and in a hospital at other times.

I think that leading a life of abstinence is like being in jail. Leading a life full of indulgence is also like being in jail. What we have to do, in some form or the other, is to hang on to a strand of this unravelling rope and keep going. That’s all.
Translation (c) Mustansir Dalvi, 2012 All rights reserved