I used to sit on the 21st floor. Now I am retired

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Freestyle kiss to Heddy Lamarr

Found from Buoy.Antville, a set of marvellous letters written by Saadat Hasan Manto to his Uncle called Sam, at the Chowk.

The letters were written between 1951 and 1954, but they still ring relevant and are eminently readable, even after (or perhaps due to) the translation. Take this, for instance.
As for your military pact with us, it is remarkable and should be maintained. You should sign something similar with India. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us, the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle.
It can very well be written in 2006, except now Uncle has gone ahead and signed something similar with India. In fact, the Pakistani nephew is whining for the gift package now.

Manto doesn't stop at commending his Uncle on the Americal foreign policy in Pakistan or advise him on India. He also asks his kindly uncle for one personal favour.
The number of your nephews runs into millions but a nephew like yours truly you will not find even if you lit an atom bomb to look for him. Do pay me some attention therefore. All I need is an announcement from you that your country (which may it please God to protect till the end of time) will only help my country ( may God blight the distilleries of this land) acquire arms if Saadat Hasan Manto is sent over to you.
Overnight, my value will go up and after this announcement, I will stop doing ‘Shama’ and ‘Director’ crossword puzzles (2). Important people will come to visit my home and I will ask you to airmail me a typical American grin which I will glue to my face so that I can receive them properly.
Such a grin can have a thousand meanings. For instance, ‘You are an ass.’ ‘You are exceptionally brilliant.’ ‘I derived nothing but mental discomfort from this meeting.’ ‘You are a casual-wear shirt made in America.’ ‘You are a box of matches made in Pakistan.’ ‘You are a homemade herbal tonic.’ ‘You are Coca Cola.’ Etc. etc.
I have read the four letters three times over. They are a precursor to the work of the Beat Generation, Bob Dylan and Beatles. One can very well imagine a few Beat poets writing the following lines.
"You are an ass,
you are exceptionally brilliant,
you are a casual-wear shirt made in America.
You are Coca Cola"

In another remarkable section, Manto goes on and asks for a 'tiny, teeny weenie atom bomb' so that he can pull out the bomb and lob it at the Mullah when one of them 'with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the after-drops of urine as they resume their walk'! Just the thing you need an atom bomb for.

In fact, the four letters are so full of irreverence, that it is difficult for me to choose a favourite section or two. Willie Moretti's funeral, Gregory Peck's affection for Surayya, Max Factor cosmetics, Charlie Chaplin, Jawaharlal Nehru - all come under the scanner. However, there is one line which has stayed in memory since morning - it's the last line of the third letter, "I now close my letter with a freestyle kiss to Heddy Lamarr."


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