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Two Unforgettable Books

September 25, 2009


shahabnamaShahabnama 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.


mantoramaI 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.manto

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
2) Mozalle
3) Naya Qanoon
4) Khol Do

Mantorama is the collection of all his short stories, novelettes etc.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2009 2:53 pm


    i think u havent yet read other books that’s why u may be saying that these are the unforgettable!

    but really i agree that one of them is mine choice too..!

    • September 25, 2009 4:29 pm

      I have read quite a few books but you just can’t deny the popularity and class of the above mentioned books. Besides these are my favorite, hence, unforgettable.

  2. September 25, 2009 4:36 pm

    There was a time when I liked collecting books because I thought I’d read them, but… (Story ends)

    I have heard so much about Shahab nama that I want to read it first thing I do, but this has been my attitude for so many books, that I just keep on adding a name to my to-read books and forget after that. But this book is definitely going to get my time Insha-Allah…

    • September 25, 2009 4:42 pm

      I too have the same problem but I somehow manage to get the book and read it too!

      Do give ‘Shahabnama’ a try. I am sure it wouldn’t disappoint you because it touches various aspects of (his) life. Childhood, professional life as a CSP, history of Pakistan (50s, 60s and the early years of 70s), his personal life and the glimpses of his spiritual life.

  3. September 26, 2009 1:59 am

    i m also suffering from this problem hehe, when i take such books to read, a JIN comes infront of me and says, ‘Pehle MBBS ki Books to Niptalay’.

    • September 27, 2009 10:47 am

      Had to edit your comment. I hate sectarianism. So I run away from all such debates. Allah and alone He can decide who is right and who is wrong!


  4. captureuniverse permalink
    September 26, 2009 12:41 pm

    I will give a read to Shahab nama…Inshallah….
    I like to read books but the only problem is least time i have for myself…. 🙂

    • September 27, 2009 10:49 am

      Try it! Hopefully you wouldn’t be disappointed. Time constraint is an issue in everyone’s life indeed!

  5. azure permalink
    September 27, 2009 2:26 pm

    ayesha, maybe the ’90’ thing is related to that particular house number 90 in karachi notorious for a nasty political party it houses.. was mr. shahab a member of the MQM by any chance? or was he fond of the good old altaph bhai?

    i have read the translation of ‘toba tek singh’ by manto and really liked it.. i also read another story called ‘botal’ (bottle) but couldn’t really understand what he was talking about.. i guess it’s the guessing and deciphering of his philosophical stories that one enjoys more than anything.

    • September 27, 2009 7:19 pm

      Are you kidding me?! 😛

      That house is called Nine Zero (9-0) and not ninety. Besides Shahaab was dead by the time MQM ‘bhai’ established himself.

      One thing I like about Manto, Ashfaq Ahmad and Mumtaz Mufti etc. is that they always leave the reader guessing about the end. I usually don’t get most of Ashfaq Ahmad’s stories ending but reading them is fun nonetheless 🙂

  6. September 29, 2009 9:28 am

    I never read these books, thinking about getting them somehoe, maybe I could get it from UK…

    • September 29, 2009 9:32 am

      You may like Shahabnama while I believe you’d hate Mantorama 😛

  7. September 29, 2009 9:45 am

    Spreading mystery about Mantorama. Mystery; the fairest thing in this world. 🙂

    Both are my fav. Ashfaq Ahmed was inspired by Qudrat Ullah Shahab.

    Afsana genre is my fav. most.

    • September 29, 2009 10:55 am

      I too like ‘afsana’ and I liked Qudratullah Shahab’s afsanas too.

      How was Ashfaq inspired by Shahab? I think Ashfaq was already a established writer with his own distinct style.

  8. September 29, 2009 9:51 am

    yeah, the sahabnama author has a beard and manto person doesnt ahve a beard, is that why:P?

    • September 29, 2009 10:56 am

      Nope 😛

      It is the content. You may find Manto’s work offending!

  9. September 29, 2009 11:14 am

    not the style but general theme, baba-ism.

  10. September 30, 2009 6:53 am

    Excellent share…Very Nice Post(Y)

    Would like to read your detailed posts on

    1) Toba Tek Singh
    2) Mozalle
    3) Naya Qanoon
    4) Khol Do

    in b/w i am also wondering about shahab mystical codenamed Ninety, may be one of the political organizations in Pak got inspired and they named thier headquarters with that;)

  11. laila khan permalink
    February 9, 2010 2:35 am

    i jus start readin shahabnama n m lovin it….its one of an awesome book…:) no doubt we got talented ppl..

    • February 9, 2010 5:37 pm

      It’s an engaging read indeed! 🙂

  12. adeel arif khan permalink
    August 9, 2011 5:06 am

    i think ayesha is absolutly right. her remarks about shahab nama having depth of thought and containing well inside view. i had read shahab nama several times. it is a milestone in pakistani political history.

  13. April 26, 2012 3:57 pm

    Brilliant post. I haven’t read Shahabnama yet, but I plan to.
    Manto was a visionary, in my opinion. What he wrote was misunderstood, and taken out of context. His writings were taken out of proportion and then used against him. What he wrote then, is more relevant in this era. A genius, who was thrashed around. Had he been born in West, he would have become a legend. Sadly, he found himself in a hypocrite society.

    Well done, again. Loved the post 🙂

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