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Ayesha Jalal: Writers brought out horrors of Partition more than historians

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Jaipur: Ayesha Jalal, Pakistani- American historian said writers like Saadat Hasan Manto brought horrors of Partition more than historians but the time has to come to look towards the resurrection process and leave behind the horrors of history.

“Manto’s short stories can embellish history but fiction cannot replace history,” she said at a session titled “The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times and Work Across the India-Pakistan Divide” (the title of her 2013 biography on her granduncle) at the Jaipur Literature Festival here on Saturday.

She maintained Manto’s legacy survives and is more relevant now because of his type of thinking, of his approach which was to question everything.

“People don’t think, they go with perceived wisdom. He questioned it, raised uncomfortable issues especially of human bestiality in his stories of Partition,” she said.

On Manto becoming a bone of contention in the subcontinent amidst the tide of “intolerance”, Jalal said there was always some intolerance here but now it was growing throughout the world, but a writer like Manto is often invoked by the youth as a form of protest.

She also noted that if intolerance is growing, so is the opposition to it.

But like interest in his works in India, there was also a lot of interest in Pakistan, she said but added that this was not any form of competition. “Celebrate it and him in your way,” she said.

On how she came to write his biography, Jalal said it was his centenary, there were accounts by some of his close friends, which are insightful but her 2013 work also has memories of his family, which did not see him very positively and for good reason.

“There were many troubles he caused, he left his family destitute, and his alcoholism was seen most negatively,” she said.

She confessed she had herself fallen under his spell quite early having heard his stories from her cousins and others and “could recite the doggerel used by the mental patient in ‘Toba Tek Singh’ even before she could recite the kalma”.

And then, she had come across letters to Manto from his mother and others, which formed an archive. She noted he seemed to have a sense of history for when he left the then Bombay for Pakistan, he had taken all his letters along.

But above all, her rationale was that the “microcosm of Manto’s life connects to the macrocosm of the Partition” for he was one of its most celebrated victims.

“Manto was non-political, writing film scripts in Bombay, was not a Muslim League supporter though being anti-colonial and for him, the ‘batwara’ was not necessary. Bombay gave him a sense of himself. Partition, in a sense, made Manto, but it also destroyed him,” said Jalal.

She said that while, in Bombay, he had close friends like actors Ashok Kumar and Shyam, and there was no Hindu-Muslim feeling in him, and he in fact made fun of it, like in his story “Dhobi” which was a real incident, though partly fictionalized.

“He had no enthusiasm in going to Pakistan, there were no complicated political reasons but there were family reasons. His wife went to Lahore where her family was and didn’t want to come back, so he also moved despite pleas by friends like Ashok Kumar and Shyam to return.

“But Pakistan never proved conducive to Manto. He had an ambiguous relationship with the authorities, quickly became disillusioned, turned to drinking more, and the lack of recognition killed him,” she said, adding that while he had been a heavy drinker in Delhi and Bombay, he became an alcoholic there, though he never wrote under the influence of drink.(IANS)(image: tribune.com.pk)

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Amitabh Bachchan Feels Writers As The Most Important Part of Filmmaking Process

Big B himself ensures he writes everyday -- even if it is to connect with his fans, whom he calls his extended family

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Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh Bachchan. Pixabay

Megastar Amitabh Bachchan, son of late celebrated poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, says writers are the most important part of the filmmaking process.

Talking about his father at the Tata Literature Live here, Big B said: “Every time my father wrote a poem, we were the first he would introduce the poem to. In particular he would ask us to read it in almost the same graph and tone with which he had written and I felt that it was extremely important and has affected my work as a professional actor. I feel that writers are the most important ingredient in filmmaking.”

Amitabh Bachchan was accompanied at the event on Thursday by his politician-actress wife Jaya Bachchan. They launched author Siddharth Shanghvi’s new book “The Rabbit and The Squirrel”.

On being asked about the importance of storytelling and whether she reads to her grandchildren, Jaya said she made a habit of reading to them every night.

Commenting on reading stories to the eldest, Navya Naveli Nanda, she said: “I used to make up stories every night when she was little and when my grandson (Agastya) arrived, I started telling the same story, adding a little bit and paying a little more attention to the prince. It used to be a bit more on the princess before.”

The 70-year-old actress said when the two grew up, she stopped making up stories and read proper published books to them.

Why are the Bachchans reluctant to part with books?

Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh Bachchan. Wikimedia Commons

Jaya said: “When we were little and invited to birthday parties, I remember kids would bring a box of sweets or cookies to birthday parties. But when we grew a little older my father would always say, give a book, it remains on the shelf; at some time you pull it out and read it.

“That’s more important than eating chocolates. It was my job in the house to clean the book shelves every Sunday and I would browse through the books. It was such an interesting activity.”

She said being brought up with books taught her that “their value was more than anything else, even more than a piece of jewellery”.

“It’s difficult to part with books,” said the mother of Abhishek Bachchan and Shweta Bachchan Nanda. Shweta recently turned an author.

Big B himself ensures he writes everyday — even if it is to connect with his fans, whom he calls his extended family.

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On blogging every day, he said: “I have dedicated followers on the blog and I call them my extended family. I feel very committed now because there are people who are waiting for the blog to come.”

He calls blogging “a commitment”.

“No matter what time I finish at night I do find time to write something. It is not for any kind of commercial or personal gain,” he added. (IANS)