Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 17 June 2012





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Remembering Manto:

Master of Urdu Literature and Pakistan's D.H Lawrence

If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth." For anyone who finds Saadat Hasan Manto's comment outrageous in absolute fashion, then he is not for you. His words might seem liquorish to taste- like what his mouth begged for perhaps, he who penned his own epitaph: "Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto. With him lie buried all the arts and mysteries of short story writing.

Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who of the two is the greater short story writer: God or he." Drawing a question mark with knitted eyebrows, of course, the plot hovers in a thick cloud as to why the attention suffers a minimum to Manto following his stellar contribution serving as a tool of human aspect amid the deft fingered literature in a language linking only by tongue and not by hearts of its people, that is, Urdu.


For even when the veteran film critic and historian Rafique Baghdadi asks the residents of Byculla in Mumbai today, they question back in the need to know who Manto is- oblivious to what Manto had, within a short spell, given the twelve of his later years to film writing for the then Bombay Talkies and Filmistan.

With so much to hold close to the bosom common to care, this year commemorated his 100th birth anniversary on May 11. But in contrast how many of us like the Byculla residents know Manto as one of the most prolific South Asian literary figures not forgetting his insightful legacy trailing behind him- once threatened to be cut off?

Toba Tek Singh, a fine example of his ilk, leaps from the page at the reader with a whiff of his irascibility at play no sooner you start reading in that moment. Throwing together bravado, less of insensitivity but what he termed was an undertone of irony to the air, he conveyed, in every sense, immorality is exactly what a conflict can cause whose incense was ache, a smoke of shame faintly dropping to mere ash, what then, had to be cleaned up.

Unbiased stand

Unbiased to stand against what he thought was, in existence and to march among the profane and be plucked out from the endemic corruption, Manto reflected concerns for the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947 by the British; taking a bold leap as does

the word literature, most of all, demanding a writer take inventory beyond sounding precious.

As the years wore on, Manto stumbled upon and between questions pecking on the quintessence of identifying him, and to whom he now belongs within the startling dislocation bespattered by the birth of Pakistan in India's Partition. He was deeply affected and through this painful daily advance, anointed by the devil in his people, which tore the rhythm and struck a chord that never will a world be reasonable or just again.

Toba Tek Singh reveals it all: "One inmate had got so badly caught up in this India-Pakistan-Pakistan-India rigmarole that one day, while sweeping the floor, he dropped everything, climbed the nearest tree and installed himself on a branch, from which vantage point he spoke for two hours on the delicate problem of India and Pakistan. The guards asked him to get down; instead he went to a branch higher, and when threatened with punishment, declared, 'I wish to live neither in India nor in Pakistan. I wish to live in this tree.'"


What Manto represented, then, was the urging request for reconciliation of the divided two. The question becomes, if we develop a stream of fondling or fury upon reading his bare stripped sensory details and what we can do with this shameless soul? And here is where things get threatened as Shakespeare's Feste may reveal a truth, as jests can do in a harsh world. There was still within Manto an element analysing of the folly of those around him and what was beneath the decorous yet pretended friendship of an order conscious discriminating system.

We hear him drum the loss of heartbeat as one nation by its way of 'ethnic cleansing' through his portrayal of these tragedies by cultivating an elegance of delight, and mastery at once everything indeed, with each of them fine and new almost always revealing itself when we come back. To return to that of anything by Manto is something vibrant and fresh as rising, but also never really setting. It stays like an uncleared blood of evidence.

Uncle Sam

In Letters to Uncle Sam that takes form by putting terrible creases into the garment of American policy with nine letters written in Urdu between 1951 and 1954, clearly, the lour lipped culprits are brought forward. Arguing rational matters and giving it square to the face, then interposes often, in full force, a tight tension of slap stick comedy, with a psychoanalytic theory- conceptualising two different worlds in contrast- that of what is enjoyed by the Western American splashed in the media available and the communists in Pakistan.

His thoughts on the movie 'Bathing Beauty' from the second letter comes forth: "Uncle, is this how women's legs look like in your country? If so, then for God's sake (that is, if you believe in God) block their exhibition in Pakistan at least."

The migration from Bombay to Lahore in January 1948 sadly did not work in his favour. What was to follow were several chapters of unsettlement for Manto. He remained desperate to make ends meet for his family in 'Laxmi Mansions' in Hall Road, only cutting deep the regret in his collection 'Yazid' he mourns: "My heart is heavy with grief today.

I feel enveloped by a strange listlessness. More than four years ago when I said farewell to my other home, Bombay, I experienced the same kind of sadness. I was sorry to have left the place where I had spent many working days of my life.

Bombay had asked me no questions. It had taken me to its generous bosom, me, a man rejected by his family, a gypsy by temperament. And the city had said to me: 'You can live here happily on two paisa a day, or if you wish, on ten thousand rupees. It is up to you...'."

Jovial characters

To add, thumping jovial characters into the dough of his short fiction, Manto's ability to utilise them and mirror a snapshot of the savagery and human behaviour bespoke none other than, simply, the present situation those days.

In opening up thought tied to a real-world driven thrust in the works of Manto for his pimps, swindlers, drunkards, thieves, thick bearded Sikhs, child prostitutes, degraded women of the patriarchy, half baked mullahs, murderers, cheating spouses, desperate fathers, liars and gamblers to help draw pathos in the cold light of uncouth public, brings my toes to dip into places one sojourns in the hope of what may hold and move us through the clever in the callow.

A great deal of this is enjoyed in Ten Rupees so seldom heard as if hit by hard a breeze, absorbing the senses beyond the mere reading of words than, a distinct yet disturbing view invites us in say, Thanda Gosht (Cold Flesh), Mozelle, and Khol Do.


Manto dusted off topics left untouched and if nothing else, that wanted to be written following the breakthrough of the Partition both ironically and problematically watered by blunt diction and the lyrical hem in regard of style.

As he kept observing the matter yet disagreeing with a mind of his own in a time capable of watching from an extremist's distance, if not, with an open mouth in horror behind a covering hand.

There were moments of restrictions and moments of political pollution acting as a fillip. Finding this useful, in the mould of D.H Lawrence, Manto fought those shores gnawed by human hypocrisy, with it came a string of rapes on an unwinding spool and mayhem squirting communal violence and atrocities then rushes into a sunken poignancy washing the face of exposure away like a footprint when deception makes a fine camouflage jacket.

Manto was tried for obscenity many times more than a dozen, and yet never convicted, all because his work learnt the lyrics of those ghazals no one dances to and be deemed impermissible for society although much to the amusement ,were sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the only honest answer.


It is terrifying a revelation; Manto failed his matriculation exam in Urdu and dropped out of Hindu Sabha College in Amritsar having failed twice whilst still a freshman. But then how does one pick up the pen and battle oppressive diseases looming large? It is, soon after meeting,

Abdul Bari Alig, a journalist, scholar and writer, he embraced the thirst for reading works of the literary heavyweights namely- Chekhov, Pushkin, Oscar Wilde, Gorky, Victor Hugo, Maupassant and many who ultimately provided the champions of influence. Manto published twenty-two collections of stories, three collections of essays with seven collections of radio plays, some film scripts, letters and a novel to his name, juggling controversy and criticism stinging as sad an attempt throughout the spread of a two-decade career.

Tucked in the pockets of literature and that what can be said like everything else turning sore overnight, Manto remains a forgotten napkin but daring to remind not something of a gull trap perhaps, what drew a resisting decay so becomes difficult to remove. People just a few like Manto with not many years in hand, who toiled to speak for the hopeless languishing in their chains, let alone expounds the abusive silence we bring to ourselves and others are less recognised.

Perhaps even more telling, this, when we, with our insincerity in the cast of mind, accept the devils in ourselves but not an attempt or thought is cobbled for Manto's, that too not his own but in his written word as we know it. There again, lies in the human forever separate.

Mesmeric essay

Untimely, journeys begin with the end in mind; like salt which ate through the grill guarding the windows of actor Ashok Kumar's seafront house in Manto's mesmeric essay Stars from Another Sky: The Bombay Film World of the 1940s, inebriety corroded his liver causing cirrhosis to creep into its walls.

Manto breathed his last in 1955 before his 43rd birthday, although life for him entailed, only and always, to shake the realism out of impulsive predicaments- tossing its revolutionary head in the pre and post colonial subcontinent where this was least considered a right.

But then there is always Camus who you go to listen, who said: "The pur-pose of a writer is to keep civilisation from destroy-ing itself."

Yet most frankly, in fact, standing by himself, between the divisional destruction to help maintain the goodness in its absence where too, the crescent of Manto's love for humanity left unnoticed in the sherwani of his prose, in some of us, retains the honey in the curd.


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