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Rabisankar Bal’s Bengali novel Dozakhnama: Conversations in Hell (translated into English and published in 2012) is an imaginative biography of Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869), and Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) recreated through their conversations from their respective graves. The narrative is enmeshed with the respective historical periods inhabited by the two writers, the first war of Indian independence in 1857 and the Partition in 1947 respectively. It is as if Ghalib bares his heart out to Manto from his grave, while the latter in turn realises that his life too has witnessed a similar kind of socio-cultural and literary marginalisation that destiny determined for both of them. The ‘narrator’ pieces together the traces left behind by the dead themselves and thereby constructs a compelling narrative that resonates in the larger literary and cultural life of India, along with the associated marginalisation of history, politics, and linguistic identities of their times. This study undertakes a comparative examination of the ‘lives’ of both Manto and Ghalib as recreated in the novel through the textual traces left behind by the persons themselves.
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