"Whorehouses and shrines—I feel at peace nowhere else. I’ll quit going to whorehouses soon enough because my money’s about to run out. But India has thousands of saints. I’ll go find one when my time comes.’ ‘Why do you like whorehouses and shrines?’ I asked. He thought for a moment and then answered, ‘Because there, from top to bottom, it’s all about deception. What better place could there be for a person who wants to deceive himself?’ ‘If you like listening".
Saadat Hasan Manto (often called "The Sage of Pakistan") was born in 1912 in Sampala, in then British India, he died in Lahore Pakistan in 1955. He published twenty two collections of short stories. He wrote about the impact of the Partition, the lives of those involved with Bollywood, but his best work seems to often involve prostitutes, pimps, and their clients. Just like Guy de Maupassant. The extreme poverty and the rigid caste system funneled millions of women into prostitution, the rigid moral code which stipulated a woman should remain a virgin until marriage produced a massive demand. The workers range from super expensive actresses to young girls following the family tradition. Many Dalit women became prostitutes.
"Hamid's Baby", I decided to post on this particular story as it can be read online, is a very well done work.
A wealthy older friend of Hamid's late father has arrived from Lahore for a ten day
visit. He expects Hamid to be at his beg and call as he tours the brothels of Bombay.
The friend's wallet is crammed with 100 Rupee notes. We soon learn a fresh young girl just in from her village is 100 rupees for 24 hours. Of course women can be had for much less. We also learn gangsters charge 1000 Rupees to kill someone.
They hook up, after renting a nice private taxi, with a well known pimp. He takes the pair to several brothel apartments but nothing suits the guest. Finally the pimp says ok I know of a Maratha girl, 17, just starting working recently, very innocent and lovely. They go there and Hamid is struck by how lovely she is and almost offended when he finds out you can have her for 100 rupees. His friend doesn't want her, saying he doesn't really fancy her. He recognizes Hamid does and insists on treating him, Hamid is married with kids and feels a bit ashamed of himself, but he goes to a hotel and has sex with the girl while his rich friend goes off with the pimp to explore the decadence and depravity of Bombay.
Hamid becomes infatuated with the girl and sees her twenty days in a row. Realizing this is a dangerous course of action for a married man, he stops going to the brothel apartment to get her. But then four months later he feels the urge to go back. To his dismay she is visibly pregnant. Fearing he is the father he buys her drugs supposed to cause a miscarriage but they don't work. He knows his marriage will be ruined if his wife discovers his indiscretion. Her pimp when the man returns to see if she is still pregnant tells Hamid he sent her back to her village to have her baby. About six months later, shortly after the baby would have been born, Hamid goes to her village. Once he gets there he hires a gangster to kill the baby but the gangster has a heart and he just turns the baby over to Hamid and tells him to kill the baby, a boy. Hamid is just ready to smash the baby with a huge grinding stone when he decides to see what his baby looks like. I will leave the ending for new readers.
The best way I'm aware to sample Manto's work is in the collection Bombay Stories.
His work belongs in the canon of short stories.