I Have Not Seen Mandu – Swadesh Deepak (मैंने मांडू नहीं देखा – स्वदेश दीपक)

दिल्ली में जो पैदल चलते है, कहीं नहीं पहुचतें।

I was rightfully warned by friends who’ve read this book that it won’t be easy to read this cover to cover. The book traverses through so many worlds- real and imagined, oscillates between so many timelines – past and future, but what remains constant is the deafening suffering of its writer who is condemned to be the protagonist of this fable.

It would be an understatement to say Swadesh Deepak is a brave man. The book is a vivid description of his seven years of suffering from bipolar disorder where he was haunted by a seductress who came to watch his play in Calcutta and requested that he accompany her to Mandu.

Of the very few Hindi writers I’ve read, Deepak has been one of earliest and the finest. My father translated his magnum opus play Court Martial and staged in 1998. He also translated Deepak’s another classic play Sabse Udaas Kavita and staged it in the early 2000s. Reading through this was a constant reminder of dad’s last days in the hospital and trying to make sense of his hallucinations.

This book is a collection of images. Images of pain and trauma. Deepak convinces his readers that he’s condemned to live and gives up on chasing death after not one but three unsuccessful attempts of taking his own life. There’s a moment in the book where he has slit his wrists but is saved by his wife and daughter. Deepak narrates a scenario where both his bleeding hands are in a bucket collecting the blood, while his wife holds a cigarette for him and the daughter has rushed to get the doctor. He was fascinated by Sylvia Plath’s death drive and believed that he embodied her spirit.

The roster of characters that recurrently make an entry in the book are Krishna Sobti, Nirmal Varma, Saumitra Mohan, Rajesh Yadav, Ebrahkm Alkazi and yes, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Narrating his encounter with Faiz Sahab in Ambala, Deepak shares with him (and his readers) how he learnt Urdu. His family migrated from Rawalpindi after partition. While in the camp, his father would write messages to his lovers in Urdu and asked young Swadesh Deepak to deliver the letters, knowing very well that he couldn’t read Urdu. His mother on the other hand would ask him to take the letters to the Munshi and ask him to read it aloud to Deepak before delivering so that Swadesh could share with his mother what his father was upto. If he didn’t tell her what was written in the letters, Deepak’s mother would beat the shit out of him. Deepak learnt Urdu from the Munshi out of his fear of his mother’s bearing. The Munshi, also a partition refugee, would otherwise sit under a tree and abuse Congress. This read like one of the stories Manto didn’t write. Later in the book, Deepak also mentions that his father would anonymously translate his short stories into Urdu periodicals and was one of the reason why Urdu reading public considered Deepak as their own.

This is certainly not an easy read but I would strongly recommend reading it. It’s a journey of man who is eventually redeemed, albeit temporarily, as he confesses that अब मैं अपना अनुवाद नहीं रहा।

Reads old newspapers and researches on Goan History.

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