World War II brought severe shortages to India as goods and services were diverted to the war effort in Europe.
The Army had been expanded and used to consume vast quantities of foodstuffs. These were rationed across India, as also were cigarettes, which now had to be got from the black market.
Manto was always short of money, and often in debt. His circle of friends was mostly other writers, poets and artists, none of whom was particularly well off either. How did such people manage? With difficulty. Manto tells us in this piece about how people regularly bummed cigarettes off him.
This essay was published in the compilation Talkh, tarsh aur shireen in 1954.
Muft noshon ki terah qismein (13 types of freeloaders), by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by Aakar Patel
You’re watching a movie. You take a cigarette out of your pocket. The man on the next seat is a freeloader. He’ll stare at your tin and say, “Where do you get these from, sir? The black market?”
“Yes,” you say.
“Oh,” he says, “I’ve looked for them a long time. Can’t find them anywhere. It’s a great smoke, isn’t it?”
“Be my guest,” you say, holding out the tin.
In the interval he’ll hit you for one, unsolicited. “I enjoyed the first half thanks to you. Another would really seal it.”
You’ve boarded a train. It sets off. You pull out your packet. The man next to you begins to pat his pockets. He then says something. Like “Damn!” or “Not again!”
You’re certain to ask: “What’s wrong?”
He’ll smile and say “Nothing really, forgot my cigarettes in the tanga.”
“Oh,” you say, “For now, smoke mine.”
And he will. Several times.
Zaid is your friend. But you haven’t figured out he’s a freeloader. Every day he puts his arm around your shoulder, sighs and says, “Lao bhai, ab cigarette pilvao” as if he were doing you a favour by smoking your quota.
You’re on a park bench. The man next to you is focussed on his book. You pull out a tin of cigarettes. He’s a freeloader. He quickly strikes a match and holds it out for you. You in turn offer him a cigarette. He thanks you.
You’re acquainted with Bakr, but not too well. Not enough to know he’s one of them. He offers you his packet. You take it, but its empty, of course.
He’s shocked to know this, and expresses his regret. You take out your stock and offer one to him.
This is a special type of freeloader who smokes only particular brands. The moment he sees a friend or acquaintance bearing 555 or Craven A cigarettes (AP: The brand Jinnah smoked), he cries out in joy – “Zindabad! Now here’s a cigarette worth smoking.”
He’ll light one and stuff six or seven in his pocket: “Sorry but I can’t do with just one.”
This is an unusual type. You’re standing with your friends outside the YMCA Hall. You put a cigarette in your mouth and are about to strike a match. A man walking past quickly turns into you and takes the cigarette from your lips, and the match from your hands. He lights it, and then walks off, puffing.
You think he’s mad (he isn’t) and this is the subject of your discussion for some time.
This is a particularly brazen type. You’re fed-up with him and say: “Boss, why don’t you smoke your own?”
He replies: “I’ve promised never to smoke cigarettes I’ve bought myself. Smoking those that others paid for is far more pleasurable. You should try it.”
Slightly different from type 8.
You’re fed-up with him and say: “Boss, why don’t you smoke your own?”
He replies: “The doctor says I shouldn’t be smoking. If I carry them on me I can’t control myself. That’s why every now and then I ask for one from a friend…”
This one is a like a court poet.
“I swear to god, Manto is a prince among men when it comes to cigarettes. You may not find a good cigarette anywhere in the world, but he’ll be carrying one for certain. My friend, show us what you’re carrying these days.”
You pull out your pack of cheap smokes.
“You and Capstan?” he exclaims, “Hmm, it’s sure to have something good about it, then. Let’s have a look.”
This one attacks not just a cigarette but your entire tin. “Sorry man, I’m taking it,” he says with regret, “I’ve left mine at another friend’s place.” Or he says “Give me two tins. My stock’s coming tomorrow or the day after. I’ll return them…”
The sort of extreme freeloader on seeing whom people tighten their grip on the cigarettes in their fingers. And they throw away their half-full packet to the ground in his sight, as if it were empty.
The type who’ll chat with you for some time and then, as he’s leaving, pick up the half-full pack you had tossed away saying: “I’ll take this for my boy. He loves playing with empty boxes.”