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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"The Insult" by Saadat Hasan Manto (1948, translated by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmed)

Novels about the dark side of the great Indian Mega Cities are common place now.  Some of them are among the best of 21th century literature, as I know it.  Saadat Hasan Manto (1912 to 1955, born Samrala, India) was among the very first writers to focus on the lives of the millions of people living on or beyond the edges of polite society in Bombay. "The Insult" takes us into the life of a Bombay prostitute in 1947 or so.  We see her various clients and we ponder what drives them to visit her.  It is rarely just sex as most have wives.  Manto's evocation of her sensuous nature and voluptuous body did make me wish for a moment I was back in old Bombay, before they changed the name, with ten rupees to spare.  We get a bit of an understanding as to why she became a whore (not a lot of euphemisms in Manto- the much more gentle R. K. Narayan uses the term "public woman").  Lots of her clients temporarily fall in love with her and make all sorts of promises to save her from her life.  In fact she sort of likes it.  She gets ten ruppes  from her clients (Manto says prostitutes normally get from ten to a hundred rupees so she
is at the bottom of the hooker hierarchy.  Her pimp, who has 120 girls under him, gets a cut of 2.5 rupees per customer.  You can see the starkness of Manto in the opening lines of "The Insult".  She loves the compliments her customers pay to her body and thrives from the temporary euphoria.

You can see the harsh world Manto depicts and the deep rooted corruption of Bombay in these opening lines of "The Insult".

I have posted on several of Manto 's wonderful stories and you can find background information on him in those posts.  I was given a free copy of the collection in which I read "The Insult ".  It is a first rate anthology.

The New Yorker recently had a very good article on Manto

Please share your experience with Manto with us.


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