Tuesday, November 27, 2018

One may hoot, and hoot, and be a villain still

My mother used to say (always with affection) that the actor Pran strongly resembled one of her aunts, and also that their facial structure and demeanour reminded her of certain varieties of owls: prominent Punjabi beak, large round eyes (which could quickly become droopy or sensuous depending on time of day), a general air of thoughtfulness, and so on. 

And now I discover this passage in Saadat Hasan Manto’s essay “Kuldip Kaur: Too Hot to Handle”. Manto has just finished telling us that the young Pran was “like a male mistress” to Kuldip, and that another young actor, Shyam (whom you will recall if you have seen Manto the film), was competing for her affections. Now Kuldip, Shyam and Manto are in a train together when Shyam ardently says:

“Darling, dump that owl’s offspring you call Pran and come to me. He is a friend of mine; I will explain it to him.”
Of course, the “owl’s offspring” here would be a direct translation of the original “ullu ka pattha” (this is from the book Stars from Another Sky, English translation by Khalid Hasan), but I like to think Shyam was being literal-minded too in making that analogy.

I also like the “He is a friend; I will explain it to him”. Creates mental image of young Pran listening with owlish stoicism as Shyam informs him that Kuldip Kaur will henceforth have a new male mistress.


  1. Had you posted this elsewhere too? Because I remember reading this, and written by you. Or I'm experiencing deja vu.

    But this reminded me of something else. There's a PG Wodehouse novel (I think Brinkley Manor, though I'm not sure) where Bertie Wooster ends up riding a bicycle in the middle of the night and comes across an owl perched on a signpost. The owl looks so much like his nasty Aunt Agatha, that he falls off.

    1. Madhulika: yes! See what we old-time bloggers are reduced to -- putting things up as Facebook statuses first, then on the blog as an afterthought.
      About Bertie: I can empathise. I would definitely not wish a sighting of any of my aunts on a tree while I'm cycling in the dark.

  2. Ah! So that's what it was. I was certain I'd come across that anecdote before, and that too written by you. And I am a firm believer in the art of recycling!