I’m continuing, now and then, to read Saadat Hasan Manto’s book, Stars from Another Sky: The Bombay Film World of the 1940s. (Actually, I am not reading it in order but, rather, according to whim or my interest in the subject. But I don’t think there is any reason to read this collection of articles in order, or to read it without interruption.) Now, at this point, I have probably read about half the book, and while I can see why he is considered a fine writer, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this long gossip sheet, especially his descriptions of the famous actresses. Manto seems to have been a bit too eager to go on about these famous women’s sexual exploits, the way they kept having affairs, the specifics in the affairs they had, etc. He did this in the chapter on Noor Jehan and even more enthusiastically in the chapter on Sitara Devi. Right now, I’ve started the chapter on Kuldip Kaur, and he’s doing this to her, too, at least to some extent, beginning with a description of Pran as her “male mistress.” (I will grant that some of this is rather funny… Maybe she gave Pran a few lessons on how to be a dacoit.) But strangely, out of all the women I’ve read about in this book so far, the one who seems to be the most faithful and pure (at least in the way that Manto describes her) is the one who’d been brought up to be a courtesan; that is, Jaddan Bai. (By the way, the chapter in general – which is mainly about Nargis – might be my favorite. It has very interesting descriptions of Nargis’ personality, and the writing in this chapter appeals to me most – but I’ll get back to that another time.) Anyway, to show what I mean, here is a nice passage:
In Jaddan Bai’s family, there was Mohan Babu, Baby Nargis and her two brothers. All of them were the responsibility of Jaddan Bai. Mohan Babu came from a rich family and had been so fascinated with the musical web Jaddan Bai’s mellifluous voice had woven around him that he had allowed her to become his entire life. He was handsome and he had money. He was also an educated man and enjoyed good health. All these assets he had laid at her feet like offerings in a temple. Jaddan Bai enjoyed great fame at the time. Rajas and nawabs would shower her with gold and silver when she sang. However, after this rain of gold and silver was over, she would put her arms around Mohan because he was all she really cared about. He stayed by her side until the end and she loved him deeply. He was also the father of her children. She had no illusions about rajas and nawabs; she knew that their money smelt of the blood of the poor. She also knew that when it came to women, they were capricious.
Of course, after reading such a passage about Jaddan Bai, I had to look for examples of her singing – and I was very pleased to find some selections on YouTube…
And there is a really nice post about her, with a filmography and MP3s, at Indian Raga.