I have, actually never wondered, why I write. Even now, as I sit to write this piece, I am unable to put my finger on a reason, per se. All I can remember is that I have been writing since ever, and I have always wanted to write. The earliest memory of my writing goes to a poem that I had written (on nature), when I was in the fourth standard, a mere six rhyming lines, which my teacher had praised and put up on the class board, and later my mother, very proudly displayed it in the house. By the time I had finished school, I was writing articles, regularly for the daily, Northern India Patrika. Occasionally, my poems too would get published here.
When Manto is largely known for the heart-wrenching stories on Partition, where his women are raped and butchered, (for which he was also charged with obscenity), here is a collection which shows a completely different side of the writer.
The first book that got published was a collection of poems. Brought out by Writers Workshop in 2006, Memory-Past, kind of gave me confidence about my writing. My next book, I Swallowed the Moon: The Poetry of Gulzar was published in 2013, which was culled out from my PhD thesis. As they say, one thing leads to another – the PhD and later this book, led to the realization that I loved translating and by now, had had some research experience in Hindustani Cinema. This love and fascination in this new area of cinema, which I had just discovered led to my work on the Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen starrer, 1975 film Aandhi, as Gulzar’s Aandhi: Insights into the Film (2019). Along with various translation pieces that were coming out in different anthologies, my translation of Gulzar’s screenplays of Premchand’s Godaan, Nirmala and other Stories (2016) also got published. My interest in translation kept on increasing and then came the opportunity to translate Saadat Hasan Manto’s Shikari Auratien as Women of Prey.
This is a collection of raunchy short stories of bold women. When Manto is largely known for the heart-wrenching stories on Partition, where his women are raped and butchered, (for which he was also charged with obscenity), here is a collection which shows a completely different side of the writer. The women in Shikari Auratein are not preyed upon but they also prey.
There are a couple of stories with serious overtones as well, but again these are the ones that have not been translated earlier. The collection Women of Prey opens different world for the readers of Manto.
Light-hearted in nature, there is a story where a man chances upon a pornographic film for the first time, and he takes the film to his friends and then to his wife. It is the reaction that he receives from them which is rather interesting. There is yet another story, where a bold burqa-clad woman comes and sits in a carriage, uninvited of course, and the men in it are taken aback. Then, there are two very entertaining stories – both on the relationship between a man and his wife. If the husband has a desire to drink every evening, and he tries to find ways to do so without his wife getting to know it in one story, in the other, it is sheer wit and humour between the couple, where the wife is urging the husband to go and have a haircut. There are two sketches -of Sitara Devi and Paro, from the Bombay film industry, and the roaring and raving romances of these two women. While describing the encounters with men, Manto successfully drops in names of men, who were either involved with these two, or wanted to be involved, or struggled to not get involved! The names that come up in these sketches are that of Ashok Kumar, PN Arora, K Asif and Nazir among others, opening an extremely fascinating world of Bombay of the 40s. At one point, it looks like a peek into their spicy world, full of scandals and stories.
There are a couple of stories with serious overtones as well, but again these are the ones that have not been translated earlier. The collection Women of Prey opens different world for the readers of Manto. His women in this collection are ones who are capable to taking care of themselves, more than the other sex can imagine.
They are bolder and ingenious too.
If they are playful, they can be conniving.
If there is love, there is seduction.
Overall, the collection brings forth shades of women that had remained hidden and untranslated till now.
Saba Mahmood Bashir is a poet, author and a translator. Her first book was a collection of poems, Memory Past (2006). She has also authored I Swallowed the Moon: The Poetry of Gulzar and translated Gulzar’s screenplays of Premchand’s Godaan and Nirmala and Other Stories. Her forthcoming book is a translation of selected short stories by Manto.