A broke Manto is about to get married to a girl in Mahim, Bombay, when he falls down and hurts himself. He limps to her home where the ceremony is taking place, convinced that the event is proving to be a bringer of bad luck for him.
In this, the final episode of the story of his wedding, Manto tells us how he eventually crosses the line. Watch out for the personalities who play a part in this drama. Most are now forgotten, but in their day they were giants of Indian cinema.
Meri Shadi (Written by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by Aakar Patel)
There were 15-20 people at Jaffer House when I reached there for the ceremony. I sat down with the support of a cushion. I couldn’t bend my injured leg and so I sat with it extended. It was very bad manners, I accept that.
When Qazi Markhe (yes, I thought it was a weird name too) asked me to sit in formal fashion, I swallowed my pain and knelt as prescribed for Muslims. When the ritual was over, I was relieved and straightened my leg immediately, waves of pain shooting through it. I accepted the congratulations and limped my way home.
I lit a kerosene lamp in my chawl room and, lying on the bug-infested bed, began to marvel at the fact that I was now married. It’s true that my wife was still absent from this nine-rupee-a-month dump that I called home. But legally, I could ask her to move in with me and there was something to be said for that.
I dared not ask her, of course. What would I feed her – the stuff I got from the Irani nearby (and that too, on credit)?
Where would I keep her? This place had neither furniture nor any space to keep it. And where would she bathe? There was no bathroom here. It was a two-storeyed building with 40 rooms. For all of these were only two shared toilets, whose doors had vanished somewhere.
Sooner or later, she would move in with me. Then? How would I play the role of husband? This thought tormented me.
I had slept with three women before, but they were all maids. We had had sex almost accidentally, two adults with needs, and then moved on, as strangers who brush against one another on a crowded street and soon forget.
I had no experience of treating a lady in the right manner. I was convinced I couldn’t be a husband, a homely man. It wasn’t the same thing as an essayist or a short story writer.
Time went by. I got a job for a hundred Rupees a month at Saroj Movietone. I’m convinced the bloody place was waiting for me. I had not been there two months when it folded.
Then the owner, Seth Nanubhai Desai (AP: Nanubhai was the father of actress Bindu), snared a Marwadi and got him to invest in the firm, which was now renamed Hindustan Cinetone. For this ‘new’ firm I wrote my second script, which I called Kichad. This was changed to Apni Nagariya – an awful name, but the movie would do well.
While this was going on, one day Mother said that she had announced the date when the bride would be brought home. It had been a year since the wedding, but I had made no preparation for this. My in-laws were impatient and who can blame them? Left to me I would want the day to never come.
It wasn’t that I was lazy, I didn’t want the girl to ruin her life and I knew I would be terrible at this married life business. But the day of apocalypse was now at hand.
Meanwhile the paper I was also working in part-time, Musawwarat, had begun to turn in a handsome profit for its owner, Mr Nazir. We moved to a nicer building, to an office with a telephone. Mr Nazir bought himself a little car in which he drove around all day, selling advertising in the paper.
My schedule every Sunday was to go to my in-laws’ in Mahim for a meal, sometimes catching a half-glimpse of my wife, with whom I had never been alone. I hated myself later for putting her – and myself – through this, but it was too late now to whine.
When only 10 days remained before her moving in, I rented a flat in the same building as the Musawwarat office. The rent was Rs 35, and my salary from the paper Rs 40. I told Mr Nazir to settle the rent directly each month, and this left Rs 5 for me with which I had to feed myself and my wife. Terrific.
I cleaned the flat up nicely. The floors and the door were filthy and these I gave a good scrubbing with caustic soda. With hope in my heart and a new-found confidence, I presented myself before Nanubhai Desai. I catalogued to him how much was owed to me for the script and as salary arrears. When, in response, Nanubhai made it clear that he could not pay me a paisa given his circumstances, I lost it.
I said a few words in anger (and a couple of words of abuse may have slipped out as well). This resulted in my being thrown out physically.
Immediately, I telephoned Baburao Patel, the editor of Film India. I told him that if Nanubhai did not settle my dues, I would go on hunger strike.
Now Baburao was aware of my predicament and was disturbed. He called Nanubhai and said: “Look, if Manto goes on this hunger strike, the press will unite against you. It’s better to find a solution and resolve this.”
Nothing was solved over the phone, but then Baburao went to meet Nanubhai at his office and I was called in. Nanubhai apologized to me, and I to him. Then it was offered that we settle this with my being paid half of what was due and letting the other half go, since the company was in dire straits.
I agreed and got a post-dated cheque for Rs 900. When I called Nanubhai a few days later and said I was going to cash it, he told me to come see him before I did so. He told me with a sad face that there was nothing in the bank. Could I not agree to Rs 500 in cash instead?
I agreed immediately, even though of my hard-earned Rs 1800, half had already been let go and another Rs 400 sliced off through this compromise. I was desperate, and only four days now remained for my bride to come to me.
With the cash in my pocked, I took the company car, which had no petrol in it, filled up its tank and went to the market where I bought some saris. I returned home, with my pockets again empty of money. And the flat, of course, was just as empty of furniture. Not even a busted chair in sight.
In the office was a kindly old man and I confided in him, saying that I was about to bring my bride into a shell of a flat. He came to my aid and took me to a place that made and sold furniture, whose owner was a friend of his. I got some stuff on easy installments: Two metal cots with springs, a cabinet for kitchen equipment and vessels, a dressing table (this was second-hand), a writing table and a chair.
When I installed all of this I was disappointed. The rooms were as capacious as ships. They swallowed up the furniture. I bought two stools which I set up in the corners, but these too were lost. I got some more things from here and there and began to place them around the flat trying to convince myself (unsuccessfully) that it was now filled up.
And then the day arrived.
I was sitting that morning in the Musawwar office, and my mother was in the flat. I’d told her I was off to make arrangements for the function. Mr Nazir had sent off invites to people, many of whom were from the entertainment business. My baraat would be a filmi one. How appropriate.
There would be Mian Kardar, Director Gunjali, famous actors A Billimoria and D Billimoria, Noor Mohammed ‘Charlie’, comedian Mirza Musharraf, Baburao Patel and the first colour film’s heroine, Padma Devi.
When Baburao learnt that my mother would receive guests alone at home, he sent Padma Devi to help out.
I had rented some chairs and from the Irani nearby came bottles of Vimto (AP: A
grape and berry soft drink that’s still produced in the Britain). I could easily cover the expense of these. What was bothering me, as I sat in the office of Musawwar, was how I would run the house from tomorrow.
Just then, the phone rang. It was my sister, who had been forbidden by her husband from meeting me and who couldn’t therefore be there when I would bring my bride home. “How are you Saadat?” she asked. I told her I was well and had four and a half annas in my pocket. Four annas would buy me a tin of cigarettes and two paise would go for a box of matches. After that, who knew? She then said: “Please stop opposite my flat when you come to pick her up. I want to see you.”
I didn’t chat with her further, because she was becoming overly emotional. I hung up, rose and went to the saloon next door to get a haircut (on credit) and took a shower. By evening I had smoked my way through the tin of cigarettes. All I had in my pockets now – and remember I was just about to pick up my bride – was a half a box of matches. Anyway, I changed into the suit gifted to me by my in-laws. I wore a tie too. When I looked into the mirror, a cartoonish figure looked back. I laughed heartily.
Before the streets light were turned on, the baraatis were all present and ready. Padma Devi and Mother served them Vimto and were were off. Our caravan of 10-15 cars wound its way to Mahim. I was in Nanubhai’s car and told the driver when we reached Jaffer House to drive on a little farther up the road. My sister was waiting on the footpath. Tears were swimming in her eyes and she ran her hand over me with love and blessed me. I fled back into the car before it got too much and told the driver to back it up to Jaffer House.
There, my mother-in-law had done a superb job of setting up refreshments on the terrace. It was a raucous evening, as might be expected of film people, and Rafiq Ghaznavi, Director Nanda and Agha Khalish Kashmiri were at one another the entire time. Everyone pigged out because the spread was absolutely delicious, as might be expected of us Kashmiris.
Agha Saheb read out some verses from a poem he had written and then I was called down and handed charge of the girl. I felt now like I was in a dream.
Many thoughts, some long suppressed, were coursing through me. I told her hand and said, my voice trembling, “Let’s go, then.”
We came down. Billimoria gave us his car. My mother was with me and sat the bride down first. She sat herself and then asked me to get in. She sat between my bride and me. On her lap, wrapped in muslin, was a Quran. Our necks were laden with garlands. As the car started, Mother began to mutter some verses. I was now to some extent in control of my passions. I thought of playing some mischief with my wife, but mother was between us. And on top of that reciting from the holy book. My desire to torment my wife remained unfulfilled. I can’t remember how long it took for us to get home – or how we got there. Suddenly, we were there.
It was a building made more with stick than stone, but elegant in its time. Apparently it was once a grand hotel that His Highness Sir Aga Khan had won from a friend as a bet.
Mother took my bride up to the flat. I stood there, thanking my friends for coming. Just then, Mirza Musharraf arrived with a truck which was carrying the bride’s dowry. A dining table and chairs came out, then a bed with springs, a sofa set, some trunks and so on.
After this was unloaded, Mirza Musharraf got into a squabble with the trucker over the fare. This went on a long time. I waited.
Mirza Musharraf gave a display of why he played the buffoon with such ease on screen. After it ended and the stuff was placed here and there in the flat wherever space could be found, Mirza Musharraf came to me and whispered: “Look boy, make sure you don’t embarrass us with your performance in bed.”
I was utterly spent by this time and so gave no reply to the clown.
The next morning I rose to find that one quarter of me had magically turned husband. I was relieved to feel this way.
I saw, out in the balcony, a piece of string with stuff hanging from it, drying, fluttering in the wind.
And so it had begun.