Manto’s typewriter

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Wajid Ali Syed

Ten years ago, known literary figure Iftikhar Arif delivered an aging typewriter to the Government College University in Lahore. It’s displayed outside the librarian’s office with a description card stating that it belonged to Urdu’s illustrious poet Noon Meem Rashed. The machine was in the possession of UK based writer Saqi Farooqi for decades. Iftikhar was told that Rashed had bought the typewriter from none other than Saadat Hasan Manto.

This claim was intriguing. Intizar Hussain further corroborated it in his Urdu column published in October 2005. He wrote: “An Urdu typewriter, after traveling long distances and passing through different hands, has eventually reached Lahore for being preserved in G.C.U as a precious relic reminding us of Manto.”

Intizar Hussain had not mentioned any evidence. He, however, reckoned: “Perhaps it was during years of his stay in Delhi as a Radio artist that Manto had purchased this typewriter. A large number of drama scripts were then typed on it. But at some stage for reasons unknown to us, Manto decided to dispose of it. Noon Meem Rashid, who was posted on Delhi station in those years, offered to purchase it. Rashid deserves our thanks and our praise for preserving the machine with him unto his death keeping in view its value because of its association with Manto.”

Iftikhar Arif maintains that he has no confirmation of this claim.

It’s a fact that Manto and Rashed had worked together at All India Radio in Delhi. But their relationship was rarely cordial, owing to their over-boosted egos that clashed most of the time. One was sententious, and the other haughty. A number of published instances elaborate that any interaction between the two remained stifled and limited.

In one famous incident, Manto asked his supervisor, Noon Meem Rashed, about a script he had submitted. Rashed responded: “It’s very well typed.” Apparently, Manto’s script had so many red marks that it appeared to be bleeding.

Manto had two typewriters then, one in English, the other Urdu. His obsession with typewriters was so well-known that his adversary – well-known Urdu and Hindi writer Opendranath Ashk – would bring two typewriters (a Hindi and an English one) with him to work, just to mock Manto.

In his essay titled “Manto Mera Dushman”, Ashk recalls that he had an on-going tussle of sorts with Manto. In one of the incidents Manto bought Ashk a typewriter and allegedly charged more than the going market rate.

Manto enjoyed admiration yet faced opposition. He spent almost 20 months at the station. His balderdash conflict with Ashk escalated to the point where Manto left the job voluntarily and moved to Bombay without informing anyone. That’s where the ‘rumor’ of Manto selling his Urdu typewriter started. But Manto could not have let go of his typewriter when he moved to Filmistan. He preferred typing scripts rather than writing by pen when he later joined Bombay Talkies.

After the partition, Manto left Bombay and moved to Lahore. He brought his Urdu typewriter with him. According to Agha Ameer Hussain, editor of Urdu monthly Sputnik, Manto would sit at the office of Sawera magazine at Urdu Bazaar Chowk, pounding away on an Urdu typewriter. He was so proficient that he would write stories and hand them over to Agha, saying: “Fix any minor mistake you come across.” Agha never found any error.

There’s yet more evidence of Manto’s constant reliance on typewriters. According to Abul Hasan Naghmi, who recently penned a book on his personal recollections about Manto, times were tough and the only resource Manto had was the typewriter. He recalls that famous film producer Shaukat Hussain Rizvi called Manto at the Shahnoor Studios. Rizvi asked Manto to write a “first-class” film script. Manto replied that he ‘types’ all film scripts and his typewriter needed fixing. Rizvi asked about the problem with the typewriter and Manto said: “Its centerpunch is damaged.” It was a made-up word for “Central Punch.” Rizvi got the typewriter fixed. Days later, Manto wrote a story titled, “Centerpunch” where he portrayed his awareness of his own deteriorating situation and linked the ‘Centerpunch’ to his own central processing system unable to work as required.

Manto’s fascination with typewriters must be surprising to readers because the pictures available of him portray him as a typical, poor, money-strapped poet. That image is mainly post-partition when he was hardly writing a film script and mostly busy churning out short stories.

One of his close friends, Akmal Aleemi, whose memoir ‘Lahore key ehley qalam’ carries a separate chapter on Manto, says the writer was very fond of typewriters but he had none in his possession in the last few years of his life – or at least he had not seen any with him. Aleemi thinks that even if Manto had a typewriter it was damaged. Naghmi concurs.

They had not seen him using the typewriter because it must have been broken thus not in use. Both directed me to contact Manto’s children, who were about to sell his Lakshmi Mansion residence. His daughter, Nusrat Jalal revealed that the Urdu typewriter that Manto owned and used in Bombay was, in fact, brought to Lahore. I visited Nusrat to see the historical item myself.

The Manto typewriter that Nusrat has at her home is a non-operating rusty machine. The typewriter’s origin would have remained a mystery, but luckily she also has in her custody along with the typewriter two documents – a contract and a receipt. The “agreement papers” declare that Manto bought the typewriter on installments and had two guarantors sign the deed as well. He had paid over 500 rupees for it.

The records available show that in January of 1910, a U.S. company placed an advertisement in the Times of India of their typewriter in varieties that now seem peculiar. The advertisement placed from the Remington Typewriter Co. (India) offered vernacular Remingtons in Marathi, Gujurati, Devanagri, Urdu, Arabic, Gurmukhi and of course English.

The Manto typewriter was manufactured by Remington Rand Inc.; and the Noon Meem Rashed typewriter was made by Olympia and purchased in New York, most likely when Rashed was serving at the UN.

The facts declare that the controversy of Manto selling his typewriter to Rashed holds no water. There’s no proof available so far that Manto and Rashed crossed paths after partition, even though Rashed was posted in Peshawar, and used to visit Lahore occasionally. Noon Meem Rashed’s machine was wrongly attributed to Manto. But as his Olympus sits in G.C.U, Manto’s Remington should also be put on display to share with the public.

Wajid Ali Syed, “Manto’s typewriter,” in The Friday Times, May 22, 2015. Accessed on June 13, 2015, at:

The item above written by Wajid Ali Syed and published in The Friday Times on May 22, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on June 13, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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