“Anyone can write history. All it needs is memory. But to write a story you must have the power to dream.” ~ Rabisankar Bal,
And this one particular dream I would love to have some day. Seriously, if hypothetically speaking I could be given a chance to drink with any two people in history, ‘Mirza Ghalib‘ and ‘Saadat Hassan Manto‘, would definitely make my top five. The attitude of these men, was something to aspire to, and that is not even speaking about the unbridled art that raged in their hearts and the experiences they have had. Ahh…the conversation would be intoxicating and the stories marvelous. Just to give you a taste, Mirza Ghalib : –
“Ham ko ma.alūm hai jannat kī haqīqat lekin
Dil ke ḳhush rakhne ko ‘ġhālib’ ye ḳhayāl achchhā hai” ~Mirza Ghalib
And Manto Sahab : –
“Agar aap meri kahaniyo ko bardasht nahi kar sakte to iska matlab ye hai ki ye zamana hi na-qabil-e-bardasht hai.” ~Saadat Hassan Manto
Before starting the novel, I had humongous expectations from it, to cover these two people in any comprehensive way was impossible I knew. So, I was delighted to see that the author didn’t even go that way, he just assumed the voices of both and let them tell us what they please. Well played Mr bal, well played indeed sir.
The thing I regret, and I so wished I had known this before starting this, is that I read this in English, which lacks somewhat. I should have gone with the Hindi translation, as a non Bangla speaker experiencing it in it’s original text was not an option. The many gazals and poems, included in the text, are either in urdu script or english translated versions, no hindi or urdu converted in roman script available, so you keep gnashing your teeth and try to recall which particular sher of Ghalib or Mir Taki Mir could possibly mean this. That! was irritating. Extremely irritating.
Goodreads Blurb :- Who tells the greatest story — God or Manto? Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell is an extraordinary novel, a biography of Manto and Ghalib and a history of Indian culture rolled into one. Exhumed from dust, Manto’s unpublished novel surfaces in Lucknow. Is it real or is it a fake? In this dastan, Manto and Ghalib converse, entwining their lives in shared dreams. The result is an intellectual journey that takes us into the people and events that shape us as a culture…..
But I couldn’t fault the story in any way. It is fiction and it is not too, as Ghalib says in the novel ~When have stories been anything but lies? Our lives themselves are full of lies, and we ourselves created our stories. Or when Manto admits to us ~The truth doesn’t sound entertaining unless lies are added to it. So, we take the many roads Mr. Bal’s Manto takes us to, this was stories in a story in a story itself, an ‘Inception‘ of books so to speak. To experience it in it’s glory, you do have to be familiar with both these gentleman and their works however. The many anecdotes or references to their work, the ghazals will be more meaningful this way. Both of these artists, converse from their graves, telling each other and us their lives. Both were witness to a spectre of events in their lifetimes, Ghalib the mutiny of 1857 and Manto the partition of 1947. They have seen darkness and struggle in their personal lives as well, going against the stream, handling their demons like no other. To bear witness to all that is a treat indeed and in addition to that you get the philosophical musings of two thoroughly upbeat philosophers, with all their side stories. To know that time, to know their stories, to know them , to know us ….this is a pretty useful tool.
To any admirer of Urdu/Hindi/Hindustani literature I will say go for it (try the Hindi version if you could perhaps). This is definitely a must read, you will have to slog through initially perhaps, go off book and read some of Manto’s stories, some of Mirza’s Ghazals , but isn’t that the whole damn fun of it. Poetry, plots, passion, pain, woman and wine this book posses it all. So have a go at it, share the grave with these two because as Mark Twain so sagely suggested ~”Go to Heaven for the climate & Hell for the company“.