Manto on FM
This will remind you of the radio plays All India Radio used to broadcast all those years ago. Yet, this is something unique – a story reading session on a popular radio station. The programme is ‘Ek Purani Kahani with RJ Sayema’, available on Radio Mirchi, where the RJ reads the short stories of Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto.
According to RJ Sayema, this is the first season of a planned series where the radio station will reintroduce renowned Hindi and Urdu authors to its listeners across the country.
The first season, which went on air in December 2015, is dedicated to the works of Manto. The programme has featured such classic stories as Thanda Gosht, Aulad, Do Quamein, Barish, Aankhein, and Khol Do, Kali Shalwar, Bu, Tithwal Ka Kutta, among others, where Sayema, the radio jockey, reads out one story during one session.
The season will run until April 2015. So far, RJ Sayema has read 16 of Manto’s stories. She reads a new story each week, on Friday at 11 pm. The recording is rebroadcast on Saturday and Monday. The recordings are also available on the Radio Mirchi website. The programme is available across all Radio Mirchi stations in the country.
RJ Sayema says the idea was simple: to reintroduce Manto to the new generation. His stories depict a society in crisis, and the truth of his stories remains relevant today as it was then.
This is not all. After reading a story on air, RJ Sayema asks her listeners a question pertinent to the story. The listeners must answer the question in writing on the official Facebook and Twitter pages.
This comes with a reward too – the Manto Dastavez, a set of five beautiful books by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Rajkamal Prakashan.
Reading Manto for the public
This is clearly a rare lineup in a FM radio station, which mostly relies on popular music from Bollywood to attract young listeners. RJ Sayema hosts a popular segment in the radio station called ‘Purani Jeans’ which plays the Golden Age Bollywood music, songs which have come to be a part of our lives. “It started here,” says RJ Sayema. “We wanted to do something that nobody has done before. Radio readings are not new, but we wanted to do something more, reach out to more people, create a deeper influence.”
For this, Manto is an ideal choice. His outlook in his stories, his point of view is very modern even though he wrote his last story in 1955. “An interesting aspect of Manto’s writing is that he did not mince his words, something which reflects upon the new generation, who are eager to discuss and debate issues,” says RJ Sayema. His stories are also about social awareness and perspectives, something, which is still relevant today.
It was, of course, not an easy task for RJ Sayema to convince a commercial radio station to run a series on renowned Urdu and Hindi authors, but she prevailed. For this, she credits the support of Akash Banerjee, associate VP at Radio Mirchi who suggested that they started the season with Manto’s works.
This needed a change in the station’s traditional programming format. It’s not just reading, RJ Sayema says. The producers had to work on sound effects, while she had to work on voice modulation to bring out the nuances of the different characters, different emotions. “What we wanted to achieve was visual storytelling, where a listener can imagine that the events are unfolding before her eyes,” she says. “This is important to draw the listeners in, especially because Manto’s stories are not usually easy. They are dark and there is no happy ending.” To achieve this, the radio station does not run ads during the reading, a usual practice otherwise.
RJ Sayema says the response has been tremendous. Though people may have heard his name, as he has been controversial, a few have read him. The show has given the listeners an opportunity to rediscover Manto.
What is the appeal of Manto? RJ Sayema explains, “His characters are real. They are all within us. His stories hold a mirror before us. It is not pretty to look at it, but it is real. We must accept it and we must strive to get over it.”
RJ Sayema hopes that the programme will help the writer come forth to a large audience. The programme has evoked an interest in Manto’s work. What’s more, it has initiated a public conversation, on Facebook and Twitter. “This is 360 degrees of reach. We have the radio show. We have the show in the web. We have the social media. And of course, we have the books.” And, the public is showing interest. “I have received numerous enquiries from listeners, who did not win the Manto Dastavez, but wanted to know where they could find it,” she adds. This is the beginning.
Manto and Rajkamal
This is what prompted Rajkamal Prakashan, a major Hindi publisher, which recently celebrated its 67th anniversary, to be a part of it.
“When we heard the promos for the programme, we decided that we had to be a part of it, not to promote ourselves, but to spread this love for literature and be a part of it,” says Alind Maheshwari, director, Rajkamal Prakashan Group. “This is such a unique initiative! You don’t see such readings being aired on radio. Our idea was to maintain the momentum, so that the public do not forget the stories after they have listened to it. We wanted them to read Manto for themselves after they have heard it, and then read some more.”
Thus, Rajkamal contacted RJ Sayema and the competition and the award was born. Maheshwari says, so far, 30 listeners have won the awards. It is a hefty prize too. The cover price of the Manto Dastavez, a set of five books, is Rs 2,000.
Beside the award, Maheshwari says the response has been tremendous. Rajkamal has seen a marked rise in the sale of Manto’s works. “Beside the online sales, during book fairs and exhibitions, we have seen people approaching us for Manto’s work, asking about such and such stories which they have heard on the radio and enquiring where it would be available,” says Maheshwari, adding, “And it’s not just the older readers. Even youngsters are showing a renewed interested in Manto. For that matter, not just Manto, younger readers are showing a renewed interested in Hindi literature in general, busting the myth that only older people read Hindi.”
In all this, however, what RJ Sayema has done to popularise Manto is without a precedent. During the New Delhi World Book Fair in January, Rajkamal Prakashan had organised a live reading of Manto’s stories by RJ Sayema at its stall. Maheshwari says Rajkamal did not expect much of a crowd, as during book fair visitors do not linger at one place for long. In this case, however, visitors stayed back to listen to RJ Sayema creating a massive crowd around the stall.
The story was Khol Do. RJ Sayema says it was heartwarming to see the story, whose theme reflects upon what is happening around us today, touch a chord with the listeners. There was dead silence after the reading was over, she says this is the biggest reaction Manto’s stories can receive.
Once the Manto short story series is over, RJ Sayema is planning to pick up another writer and continue the silsila, as they say in Hindi, in the next season. Of course, Rajkamal would be a part of it.
Manto in Hindi
Saadat Hasan Manto wrote in Urdu. Now his works are in public domain, as it has been more than 60 years since he passed on. Thus, any publisher can issue his works. The works published by Rajkamal is a Hindi translation of the original Urdu. The publisher has the translation rights. Translation here mostly means conversation of the Urdu original into Devanagari script.
Manto’s stories in Hindi are also available from Rajpal & Sons, namely, Toba Tek Singh Aur Anya Kahaniyaan issued in 2014.
There have been numerous translations of Manto in English. By far the most popular one is by Aatish Taseer, Manto: Selected Stories, published by Random House India. Other translations include Bombay Stories, by Maat Reeck and Aftab Ahmed, Random House India; Bitter Fruit, Penguin India; Mottled Dawn: Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition, Penguin India, among other. The most recent translation is My Name Is Radha: The Essential Manto, by Muhammad Umar Memon, Penguin India.