Ishqnaama: The love-life of Sadat Hasan Manto
Can love stay away from lust and be love still? Love is labyrinthine; it is both intricate and tricky. Poets and writers have loved in ways unusual. This makes them different. Sadat Hasan Manto too loved but in a way that was mysterious but real. This is what makes this iconic literary figure worth a thought and worthy of respect.
Instead of writing about his love, let us look at how he related his unusual story about a shepherdess called Wazir Begum. Lovingly, he chose to call him Begu. He met her in the tranquil and serene climes of Batote near Jammu, where he spent some time to treat his tuberculosis. Manto wrote:
She was young. Her nose was straight and finely chiselled like a pencil which I am using to write these lines. Her eyes… I’ve hardly ever seen any others like those of her. All the profundity of that hilly region had found its home into them. Her eyebrows were thick and long. When she passed me by, it seemed as if a quivering ray of sun got entangled in her eyelashes. Her breast was broad and healthy. Her youth breathed there. Her shoulders were broad, arms roundish and almost well developed. There were long silver earrings in her earlobes. Her hair was parted from the middle and tied up like that of the village women. This gave her face a unique integrity.
I don’t remember how long I kept on looking at her; I only remember I had suddenly found my breast filled with music…Her breast was throbbing like water in a fountain. My heart too throbbed by my side…
Years later, Manto and Ismat Chugtai happened to talk about love. Chughtai has narrated one of her conversations with Manto:
He said, “What’s love after all? I love my zari shoes. Rafiq loves his fifth wife, so what?”
“I mean the kind of love when a young male falls for a youthful lass”.
“Yes, I got it, Manto said to himself, looking for something deeper into the hazy past.
“There was a shepherdess in Kashmir…”
“Then? I nodded like a listener of a dastan.
“Nothing,” he suddenly got conscious in his defence.
“You tell all dirty stories to me but you are getting shy today”.
”Who is getting shy?” he betrayed his shyness while saying this.
With great difficulty, he could say this:
“When she would lift her stick to lead her cattle, her white elbow would show up. I was a little unwell; I used to carry a blanket and go up the hill and lie down there. With bated breath, I used to wait for her to lift her hand and let her sleeves go up to show her white elbow”.
“Elbow?” I asked in amazement.
“Yes, I didn’t see any part of her body except her elbow. She used to wear loose clothes. One could not see any curve of her body. On every movement of her body, my eyes craved to have a glimpse of her elbow’.
“What happened then?”
“Then one day, as I lay on my blanket, she came and sat at some distance from me. She was trying to hide something in her collar. When I asked her to show me what she was trying to hide, her face turned pink. She did not speak a word. I got stubborn. I wouldn’t let you go, I said, unless you show me what was that you were trying to hide. She turned almost tearful but I had chosen to be stubborn. After a lot of pestering, she opened up her fist to me and hid her face between her knees. What I saw in her palm was a cube of mishri shining bright like a piece of ice.
“What did you do then?”
“I kept on looking at that. Then she went deep into thinking”.
“Then she stood up and ran away. After running a little distance, she came back, put that mishri cube in my lap and disappeared from my sight. That cube kept lying in my shirt pocket for a long time. Then I put it in a drawer. A little later, the ants consumed it”.
“And that girl?”
“Which girl?” he wondered.
“The one who gave you the mishri cube”.
“I did not see her after that”.
“How insipid was your love; I expected a blazing love story,” irritated, I said in disappointment.
“Not insipid at all,” Manto said as if quarrelling with me.
“Total rubbish, third rate, pathetic love,” I said, “ you came back with a mishri cube, as if you did some kind of a wonder”.
“Then what do you think I should have done? Slept with her? Leave a bastard puppy in her lap and brag later?” he uttered in ager.
This was Manto, the author of several controversial stories, who was castigated for being a pornographic writer. He was indeed a pious soul, an unsullied being by his head and heart. His friend, Abu Said Qureshi, wrote that whenever we chose to be naughty with him, we mentioned Begu. This irritated him no end. He hated the word ‘ishq’ for he knew that not many people would respect its purity. Manto lived with his memories of Begu all his life. His love was atypical; his beloved angelic; a holy treasure for life. She was neither a figment of Manto’s imagination, nor his fantasy; she was real as a real being could be —made of flesh and blood who could put him to a tough test. He helped her know the difference between lust and love. Manto wrote once:
I often remember her. When going away from me, the tears in her ever-smiling eyes said that she had been quite impressed by my emotions towards her. It appeared that a thin ray of real love had entered the dark recesses of her heart. ..I wish I could take Wazir to the lofty heights of love. Who knows but this girl from the hills could have brought me that precious gift for which my youth has been lazily dreaming while moving towards the impending old age.
Manto met many gorgeous and polished women in the Bombay film industry. He could not find one who could match Begu. He lived a life struggling to discover beauty and innocence that could possibly be found in dreams alone. Indeed, Begu was more of a dream for him than a reality. He lived a life in subterfuge, wrote of its ugliness with a natural flow only to underline that a life full of love is a distant dream, as Begu was for him.
Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notification of new posts.