Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell

‘To be in hell with him is better than being alone in heaven…Indeed!’

I’ve always believed that its story that chooses its writer, feels as if Dozakhnama has chosen the best for itself. Rabisankar Bal’s Dozakhnama is a trip to the magnificent era of Urdu Literature. There’s a short background of this novel. According to Rabisankar, he visited Lucknow to write a novel about the courtesans of the Mughals but destiny led him to the door of Farid Mian’s haveli right in the heart of Lucknow.

This meeting with Farid Mian unveiled the secret hidden for many years: Manto’s unpublished novel. By some means, these unpublished words knocked Farid Mian’s door- a forgotten writer himself- and all he wanted was to get the world see the wisdom of these words. Many said that this is a fabrication and that Manto never wrote anything like that, but to Farid Mian, these words had Manto’s fragrance. 

Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell

Rabisankar Bal was curious to read this piece of Urdu but he couldn’t as he was not familiar with the twirls of this language. His search led him to the house of Tabassum who translated these untold Urdu words for Rabisankar, and here is the masterpiece he created: Rabisankar’s writing merged with Manto’s or, let me put it this way, Manto’s words revealed by Rabisankar. 

This book is published by Penguin Random House, written by Rabisankar Bal in Hindi, and translated by Arunava Sinha in English. 

The book revolves around two flowers on Urdu literature, who aromatized the world of writing- the two dozakhis (people of hell)- Manto and Ghalib who narrate their stories from their respective graves. Both Manto and Ghalib had a dreadful life.

The people of that era slandered them and jibed their work. Ghalib witnessed British taking over Hindustan and dismantling the beloved Delhi while Manto saw subcontinent tearing apart sorrows of partition and separation from the dear Bombay.

These events made both sensitive to the core and their writings a reflection of the tragedies around. This book is a kind of biography of the lives of Saadat Hassan Manto and Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, with a glimpse of their works as well as the events attached. 

Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell

Manto, the so-called obscene writer, was considered as a blemish on the literary world. He faced many court hearings due to his outspokenness, and the words of his were regarded as vulgar, alas, he only wrote what the society did but didn’t want to read.

His works on the stories of whores and lady of nights were always objected- in one of the hearings- he said that ‘If ladies of the night are a stain on human race then wipe them off from the face of the earth, but if you can’t do that then nobody can stop Manto from giving them a voice.’

The habit which shrunk his life was drinking. Manto was addicted to alcohol and although he tried to leave it on many occasions, he was never successful. The book said that he was unable to write without it and although it is a poison, to earn, he must drink it.

Manto’s life was different and so was his work, yet, he adored Ghalib and wished to write a novel about his neighbour in hell, and this is exactly what he/Rabisankar Bal did in Dozakhnama. 

“Anyone can write history. All it needs is memory. But to write a story you must have the power to dream.” ~ Rabisankar Bal, Dozakhnama: Conversation in Hell 

This novel can, Indeed, be stated as the greatest of the dreams. A mind-blowing blend of history, literature, emotions, and soul. A fault in this novel is not easy to find. 

Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell

Ghalib, the 18th-century poet, discussed in this novel worked hard to establish himself as the royal poet, but soon he understood the reality of his own words and dived deep into them forgetting the materialistic world and finding his Falak Ara- those imaginary eyes he dreamt of as a child.

Ghalib wept in his dreams and bled in his words. The book narrates his trip to Lucknow which transformed him and his soul. After the British took over India, Ghalib was considered an intellectual but soon all good in the relationship ended and the was the clouds of dejection settled upon him again. 

Dozakhnama- a well-weaved story- is a great insight in both writers’ lives and the way they related. It’s a fiction, yet most near to reality. To any admirer of literature, this one is for you. To give you a taste of the words of these two flowers, let me share phrases of both:

“Ham ko ma.alūm hai jannat kī haqīqat lekin

Dil Ke hush rakhne ko ‘ġhālib’ ye hayāl achchhā hai” ~Mirza Ghalib

“Agar aap meri kahaniyo ko bardasht nahi kar sakte to iska matlab ye hai ki ye zamana hi na-qabil-e-bardasht hai.” 

Saadat Hassan Manto

Definitely a must-read which allows you to feel the adab that Rabisankar Bal has filled it with. Get it now to share the grave with the two giants of Urdu literature.

By Yashal Jalil

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