Thursday, 9 January 2014

Barbey, Bombay, Manto, Narayan, Haapaniemi?

In March this year, Vintages US and UK are publishing a collection of Indian/Pakistani writer Saadat Hasan Manto's Bombay short stories. It will be wonderful to be able to read these in English at last. I first discovered Manto through his entertaining Stars From Another Sky, a collection of writings about Bombay's film world in the 1940s. It's gossipy, funny and throughly enjoyable even if, like me, you know none of the films or actors he writes about.

Published by Penguin India, it's sporadically available in other countries depending on your luck.

Back to Bombay Stories: the US edition uses a photo by Bruno Barbey, taken in Bombay itself in 1980.

It's a wonderful picture: what at first glance looks like an idyllic image of a man sleeping, watched by peacocks on a luxurious pedestal, snaps into focus as you realise the peacocks and window are a print on paper or fabric, and he's sleeping on a hard wooden floor.

It's a photo I forst encountered on the cover of the old Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition of the sadly underrated R. K. Narayan's The Guide. Much decorated and frequently rediscovered by various classics publishers, Narayan still doesn't get the respect he deserves outside of India.

The photo is also on the cover of this collection of Bruno Barbey's photographs, many of them from India. The book is published by Turkey-based Fotografevi.

The Vintage UK edition of Manto's Bombay Stories also makes use of peacocks, in a detailed and slightly hallucinatory illustration that looks very like the work of Klaus Haapaniemi (see his Leskov peacocks in this post).

While waiting for March, seek out these other Manto collections, also from Penguin India.

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