Has Saadat Hasan Manto’s image of a “troubled genius” and his dark and disturbing writings on Partition eclipsed his versatility as a writer and storyteller? Perhaps yes, believes Saba Mahmood Bashir who has come out with an English translation of Manto’s “Shikari Auratein”, which was originally published in 1955.
Titled “Women of Prey” and published by Speaking Tiger, the new book contains about half a dozen raunchy, hilarious short stories and two sketches – all of them bringing forth the lesser-known side of the legendary Urdu writer. “Manto’s name has come to be synonymous with his short stories set around the Partition, like ‘Toba Tek Singh’, ‘Kaali Shalwar’, ‘Boo’ and ‘Khol Do’. Unfortunately, these stories have eclipsed the complexity, range and versatility of his work,” Bashir says.
“Manto’s case is similar, to an extent, to that of his contemporary Ismat Chughtai, who is identified more with her ‘controversial’ story ‘Lihaaf’ than any of her other masterpieces. Readers have rarely appreciated the complete oeuvres of these two masters of Urdu literature,” she says in the book. The stories and sketches in “Women of Prey” show a completely different side of Manto – raunchy, mercilessly funny and gloriously pulpy, even when they end in tragedy.
“For those who know Manto only for his heart-wrenching Partition stories, this book shows a different genre of writing, presenting him as an accomplished writer of pulp fiction and comedies of manners as well as a caustic columnist,” Bashir says.
An author, poet and translator, Bashir’s published works include “Memory Past” (2006), “I Swallowed the Moon: The Poetry of Gulzar” (2013) and “Gulzar’s Aandhi: Insights into the Film” (2019). When it comes to translation, she says, there is never a right or wrong word, per se, but a good word and a better word and it all depends on how well acquainted the translator is with the cultural nuances of the source language, along with her command over the target language.
“There are always words, phrases and idioms steeped in a cultural milieu, which is almost impossible to replicate in the target language. In all such cases, I have made honest and desperate attempts to retain the cultural fabric of the original to the best of my ability,” Bashir says. Nevertheless, she admits translating Manto was challenging because of the obscure colloquial language he used along with his sly, ironic wordplay.
“His characters spoke in the language of their social milieu. The test was to be able to translate the nuances and connotations so wrapped up in that bygone era to which the author belonged,” she says. A journalist, author and film screenwriter, Manto was born in Ludhiana in 1912 and died in 1955 at the age of 42 in Pakistan, where he migrated post-Partition after a creatively productive stay in the-then Bombay.
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