Two Unforgettable Books
Shahabnama by Qudratullah Shahab is undoubtedly one of the unique books in the Urdu literature. It is a bestseller autobiography that has never gone out of print since its release in the late 80s.
The books discusses at length the pre-partition era, the post-partition Pakistan, details about the growing influence of military and bureaucracy in the mainstream politics. It is a mammoth book but it has been written in such interesting and simple style that the reader cruises through it. I read it 6-7 years ago and once I started I couldn’t put it down until I finished in a few days. The book’s most surreal and debatable chapter (other than the haunted house) is where Shahab claims to have been in touch with a mysterious mystical figure codenamed Ninety. Ninety, according to Shahab, provided him the spiritual guidance. Shahab also expressed his deep respect and affiliation with Silsila-i-Owaisia. So the readers get the ample dose of Sufism too which appealed to many people.
Mumtaz Mufti, Shahab’s close friend shed more light on Shahab’s spiritual facet in the second part of his autobiography ‘Alakh Nagri’. In his words: In the first half of his life he discovered women and in the second half Qudratullah Shahab.
One interesting fact is that Shahab’s autobiography was published posthumously so no one could question him but there are several books available in the market that rebut all his and Mumtaz Mufti’s claims about Shahab’s spiritual personality.
Call it a reality or a fictionalized fact, the truth is that ‘Shahabnama’ exhibits the writing prowess of the author. It’s been one of my favorite books of Urdu literature. I, like many people, will always be in search of truth. I am neutral about his claims of spirituality.
I had once written a post about Manto as to how just by sheer chance I stumbled upon Mantorama in the library of my college. Manto’s personal life has nothing special to write about. He was apparently an ordinary married man with three daughters, got sued many times for obscenity. He was a short story writer, scriptwriter and a journalist. He died of excessive drinking in 1955 at the age of 42. In 2005, fifty years after his death, he was commemorated on the postal stamp.
It is indeed Manto’s larger than life work that has kept his name alive. Manto in my view is the best thing to have happened to the contemporary Urdu literature. His work carries strange depth, bitterness, indifference and melancholy. His work was termed as lewd which is neither true nor false; it all depends upon the reader’s perception and sensitivities.
When I had first read his certain stories – I had taken a slight offence. It was perhaps I was reading him with my elder’s eyes – who had detested him. But later on when my thinking reached certain level of maturity, I realized the class of Manto. It is difficult to name his best stories because each one is a gem but usually the following of his stories always receive special
1) Toba Tek Singh
3) Naya Qanoon
4) Khol Do
Mantorama is the collection of all his short stories, novelettes etc.