Sunday, December 9, 2018


Conversations in hell
By Rabisankar Bal
Translated into English by Arunava Sinha
Published by
Penguin Random House India
Pp 533

  • Price: Rs. 450/-

DOZAKHNAMA is a novel by Rabisankar Bal originally written in Bengali.
The narrator, a journalist visits Lucknow in connection with some research on Tawaifs of Lucknow and  per chance stumbles upon a manuscript of an Urdu novel purported to have been written by Saadat Hassan Manto, the iconic short story writer of the sub continent.Curiosity gets the better of him and he decides to learn Urdu so as to be able to read it.He engages someone to tutor him but finds the task daunting . It is decided that the said tutor would read out the novel to the narrator.
Mirza Ghalib , the Urdu - Persian poet & Manto , the short story writer- both geniuses in their respective fields divided in time by more than a century, indulge in conversation with each other from their graves.They talk to each other alternately through chapters , with Manto addressing Ghalib as Mirza Sahib and Ghalib adressing Manto as Manto Bhai,with due respect to age.The readers are also addressed as dear friends.
Both  have some similarities. Both have had disturbed childhood full of miseries and deprivation, been through turbulent times, Ghalib  being a witness to the 1857 rebellion and the aftermath; Manto ,a witness to the 1947 partition .Both are given to vices like drinking and visiting Tawaifs & brothels, but not without purpose. The reader is taken through  a mix of fact and fiction so intricately woven that the novel comes across as a valuable chronicle of times.One gets to know the creative process of the two geniuses, their troubles, miseries, financial insecurities and  humiliations-in short vagaries of fate.
Ghalib talks about the loss of seven children, none surviving more than a year and a half, the meager pension not sufficient to pull through as besides other things, he needs a daily quota of liquor. Still he nanages to keep up appearances, proud of his ancestry of Turk soldiers.There is also some spiritual quest when he talks of ishq majazi and ishq haqiqi.A brief sojourn at Kashi proves a spiritually rewarding experience to Ghalib. In between  shers of Mir and Hafiz are quoted by Ghalib inter alia his own poetry.
Manto  too has a disturbed childhood, neglected by his father , not providing for him whereas his step brothers get the best of education abroad .He takes to drinking with habit remains with him, and  hastens his end at the age of 43.The novel also provides a peep into the background to some of the stories and the characters depicted therein. His stay at Bombay, his stint as the editor of a magazine, his meetings with Ismat Chugtai with whom he enjoys some equation.His working at Delhi and migration to Pakistan all find mention. He dies a frustrated man as the country of his adoption does not seem to accept him.In between is discussed the court cases slapped on him and Ismat Chugtai for alleged obscenity in their writings.
All this makes an interesting reading and perhaps no other single work discusses the two greats in such detail.It is a result of thorough research. The non Urdu knowing readers like me do feel handicapped because the poetry is quoted in Urdu script and the English translation given alongside does not do full justice to the  wonderful poetry.Otherwise the English translation of the novel is excellent .
I being a fan of both Ghalib and Manto liked it immensely.

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