The book “The Collected Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto: Volume I, Bombay and Poona” has been translated from the Urdu by Nasreen Rehman.
This book is the first of a three-volume series which will contain all of Saadat Hasan Manto’s 255 known stories translated into English for the very first time.
Volume I collects fifty-four stories and two essays written by Manto about his time in Bombay and Poona in colonial India. These meticulous translations by award-winning writer and translator Nasreen Rehman, distil the aura that Manto creates of a time, a place, and a moment.
Read the complete short story ‘The Psychoanalyst’, that has been excerpted from the book below.
Today, I’ll tell you an absurd and entertaining story. It was the age of curfews, and by that, I mean the days when communal riots had started in Bombay. Every morning, newspapers arrived to inform us how many Hindus and Muslims had lost their lives. The house felt empty because my wife had gone to Lahore to attend her sister’s wedding. I should not call it a house because it was just an apartment with two rooms, plus a bathroom with sparkling white tiles and a dark kitchen around the corner from it.
We had two young servants who were brothers, but I could not stand the younger chap, a smooth talker too crafty for his years. Taking advantage of my wife’s absence, I sacked him and employed another fellow called Iftikhar. I regretted my decision because he turned out to be a fox. The moment I sat down to conjure a short story, he darted in from the kitchen and asked, ‘Sahib, you called me?’
I asked myself, ‘When did I call the imbecile?’ and pounced on him, ‘Iftikhar, your ears must be ringing. Come only when I call you.’ Iftikhar responded, ‘But, Sahib, I heard your voice.’
I told him firmly, ‘No, Iftikhar, I did not call you. Go, do your work.’
He left. Nonetheless, it became a daily routine for Iftikhar to walk in and ask, ‘Sahib, you called me?’
Finally, one day, I lost my temper and snarled at him, ‘Don’t talk nonsense! You’re too clever for your own good. Get lost now!’ And he got lost.
Since I was on my own, my friend Raja Mehdi Ali Khan moved in with me. He liked Iftikhar’s manner and was full of praise for him, ‘Manto, I like this servant of yours; he’s so efficient.’
I turned around and said, ‘Raja, my dear man, you’d do me a great service by taking him away to your place. I don’t need such an efficient servant.’
I’m not sure why Raja didn’t employ him. One evening, I told him, ‘Look here, this chap is treacherous. I know he’s a thief and one day he will rob me.’
Raja laughed at me, ‘Now, now Manto! You think you’re Freud. Such good servants are a rare commodity. You haven’t got the measure of him.’
I reflected on the matter and questioned my opinion of Iftikhar, telling myself, perhaps, Raja was right and Iftikhar was an honest fellow after all. Still, the more I dwelled on the subject, the more I was convinced that I was right. I am an expert in human psychology, and I knew my opinion of Iftikhar was spot on, but—and this ‘but’ is at the heart of the story.
Every evening, after I returned home from Bombay Talkies, as a routine I tucked any paper money in a celluloid wallet with my monthly rail pass, which I kept with all loose change on a tray on my desk. One evening, I returned home loaded, with sixty rupees in six ten-rupee bills. As always, I tucked the sixty rupees into the celluloid wallet which I left on the tray on my desk. Then, I drank my brandy, had dinner, and fell asleep. That evening, Iftikhar laid the table with added speed. When I finished dinner, he said, ‘Sahib, do you want me to get some cigarettes?’
Furious, I bellowed, ‘I don’t want cigarettes,’ and asked, ‘where do you think you’ll get cigarettes? Don’t you know there is a curfew from nine at night to six in the morning?’
Iftikhar remained silent.
I tend to wake up early, around five o’clock. The following morning, I woke up, as usual, but there was no newspaper because of a curfew, and the servants were asleep. In Bombay, newspapers arrived around five-thirty, so I sat aimlessly on the sofa. I was about to nod off but decided to walk up to the window and look down at the deserted bazaar that usually came to life every morning at three o’clock, with a rumble of trams and the clamour of mill workers. On the morning in question, by the time I had finished with the newspapers, the clock had struck six and I headed for a bath.
The room had just one window, and my desk stood near it. Coincidentally, my gaze fell on the tray where I had kept my rail pass and money. However, I could not see the pass or the celluloid wallet in which I had tucked the six ten-rupee notes. I kept my wallet on the tray with such regularity that it had become a part of my personality. At first, I thought perhaps, I might have hidden it under some papers, but when I lifted the wad of papers, I did not find anything. Perplexed, I sifted through the documents one by one but did not find the pass. Both the servants were asleep in the kitchen. Mystified, I tried to figure out what might have happened. I thought if I had consumed alcohol before I came home, the matter would make sense, but I had not touched a drop of alcohol on my way home from Bombay Talkies because I knew I had a full bottle of brandy at home. Perhaps, my memory was failing, or I might have dropped the money while taking my handkerchief out of my pocket.
I rummaged around and found the rail pass with the six tenrupee notes between some files in the lower drawer of my desk. I could not figure out what had happened because I had not hidden the pass. I realized Iftikhar was up to his tricks. He had taken the pass from the tray while I was asleep and hidden it between the files in the lower drawer since he could not leave the flat because of the curfew. His scheme became clear to me—he would wait for the curfew to end in the morning, remove the pass from the drawer, and disappear. Nevertheless, I was no less cunning. I wanted to catch the worried expression on Iftikhar’s face when he failed to find the pass under the papers, and I put the celluloid wallet back on the tray.
That night, I had to go to Bombay Talkies. As usual, I took out a kurta–pyjama, put the drawstring through the pyjama, took a fresh towel, and went to the bathroom, with just one wish: to catch Iftikhar red-handed. Knowing he would look for the pass in the bottom drawer of my desk, I imagined him seeing it on the tray, tucking it into his waistband, and walking away. The bathroom was right opposite my room, and I thought I would leave the door slightly ajar, lie in wait, and catch Iftikhar in the act of stealing. I had no intention of handing him over to the police. All I wanted was to summon him before Raja and have my credentials as a psychoanalyst validated.
I entered the bathroom and left the door slightly ajar. Elated, I poured two mugs of water on my body, rubbed soap all over, and peeped into the room several times. Although the curfew had lifted, there was no sign of Iftikhar. I sat under the steady cold flow of water, and as I washed my body, I began to mould my scheme into a short story. Soon, the water, my story, and I, became one. Thoroughly rinsed with soap and water, the entire story became crystal clear. I was thrilled. In the climax, I catch my servant in the act and my reputation as a psychoanalyst spreads far and wide! I was so pleased with myself that I smothered my body with more soap than usual and poured more water than necessary, but the story was luminous in my mind.
I emerged from my bath on a high. I had written the entire story in my head with soap and water. Now, all I had to do was put pen to paper and send it off to some publication. I went into the other room to change my clothes. The first room held the entire story—I mean my railway pass and the six ten-rupee notes. When I came out of the second room, or should I say when I emerged from the world of fiction, I recalled my scheme in a flash. To be a writer of fiction is a curse. I had forgotten the task at hand. I leapt back into the room with the tray and the pass. The moment my eyes fell on the tray, my entire world of storytelling crumbled. My railway pass and the six ten-rupee notes had vanished. I hollered for my decent servant, ‘Karim, where is Iftikhar?’
He said, ‘Sahib, he’s gone to get some coal.’
I said, ‘Ah well then, he’s blackened his face.’
Karim tried to find Iftikhar. I returned to my bathroom and tried to wash the human condition clean with soap and water. Iftikhar had cleaned me out. My journey to Bombay Talkies was a series of bilingual puns in Urdu and English. I did not have a ‘pass’, ‘on my person’ in Urdu (Mere paas pass nahin thaa). When the ticket checker came, I lost my paas (‘self-respect’ in Urdu) and had to pay a hefty fine.
Excerpted with permission from The Collected Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto: Volume I, Bombay and Poona, translated from the Urdu by Nasreen Rehman, Aleph Book Company. Read more about the book here and buy it here.