Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Siraj" by Saadat Manto (1951)

Saadat Hasan Manto (1912 to 1955, born Samrala, India, died Lahore, Pakistan) is considered one of the greatest Urdu language short story writers.  He is most known for his fiction about the impact of the Partition of India.   His life was constant struggle to make a living from journalism and his fiction.   

"Siraj" is an entertaining well plotted story set, like others of Manto's stories, is set in the mean streets of Bombay (Mumbai) among pimps, prostitutes and their customers.  Sirja has caused a lot of trouble for her pimp.  She gets more than her share of clients but she never has any form of sex with any of them, not as much as hand holding.  Siraj, like many of the street girls of Bombay was from a small town in rural India.  Her past is kept a bit mysterious but she seemed to have disgraced her family in a failed romance in which she was the pursuer. The pimp is friends with one of his clients and when the client says he wants Siraj for the evening the pimp tells him not to bother as she won't provide service like he is used to receiving. He tells the pimp he will seduce her but he in fact ends up with no satisfaction and falls in love with Siraj.  Here is her description:

"i I had seen Siraj once or twice. She was really skinny but beautiful, and her prominent eyes overshadowed every other feature of her oval face. When I saw her for the first time on Clare Road, I was puzzled. I wanted to tell her eyes, ‘Excuse me, please move aside a little so I can see Siraj.’ Needless to say, it didn’t happen.”

Siraj maneuvers her client into falling in love with her. She gets him to take her back to her home town and in a twist ending we learn how she wound up a prostitute.

Novels about the "dark" side of Indian Mega-Cities are all the rage now.  Manto wrote about this seventy years ago.  He knew first hand what he was writing about.  

I read this in Best Indian Short Stories Vol. Ii, edited by Kushwant Singh.  It was translated by Fatima Ashmed.

Mel u

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