By Saira Agha
July 10, 2018
Saadat Hasan Manto
In current times when Urdu literature seems to be in a supposed decline, and what abysmal writers of the medium are left, opt for drama serial screenplays. Writer and playwright Saadat Hasan Manto’s post-partition writings are treasures held sacred.
The controversial writer condemned in his time, but lauded post his death, for his courage, guts and straight forwardness, has legendary and recognised writers speaking highly of him.
“Why can’t the writers of today be like Saadat Hasan Manto? I know it is too much to ask, but I miss how beautifully and simply, he used to form a story out of something as ordinary as two people having coffee at a café. We don’t have that anymore,” award-winning scriptwriter and TV host Anwar Maqsood had told me sometime back.
“Normal people can’t observe and think like we do and put it to pen. There has to be something twisted somewhere in our minds to produce the kinds of things we have with our pens. We do see the same things as others, but the window in a writer’s mind is different. Manto was like that too,” acclaimed writer and travel enthusiast Mustansar Hussain Tarar says.
Speaking of a different window, Manto did not have that. He only penned the obvious, the truths we deny every day, that part of mindset we are too afraid to reveal or admit even to ourselves.
In Tithwal Ka Kutta, Manto wrote about the prejudice and hatred present in the minds of Indians and Pakistanis for each other, so much that even a dog from either’s side is not spared. However, it is for stories like Khalid Mian, The Mice of Shah Daulah, For Freedom and Smell, that the readers gets an insight of not Manto’s but his/her own thoughts that have been pushed and held back so much that when we read or hear people like Manto express them, the natural reaction is shock and condemnation.
It is hard for most of us to admit the phobias that we have, secretly straightening out the wrinkles on our bed sheets before getting in, because they any crease on the fabric would bother us. Or longing for the lost love that we might have let go to gain something else? It will be hard for many men to admit their affairs with their maids and domestic workers, and for some it will be harder to accept how they observe a woman’s body at first glance.
But Manto dared. And for his guts alone, Manto was tried for obscenity six times; thrice before 1947 in British India and thrice after independence in 1947 in Pakistan. To which he had said, “If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth.”
Manto talked about the objectification of a woman which is so rampant, the agony of a woman when she undergoes emotional and in many cases physical torture when she can’t bear a child, the exploitation of innocence when a young girl is forced into prostitution so she could earn bread and butter for a her single parent. Manto talked about taboo topics especially in those times, such as rape, openly in his story Khol Dou, for which he was tried three times in Pakistan after 1947 under section 292 of the Indian Penal Code and the Pakistan Penal Code in Pakistan’s early years.
Two much-hyped over re-enactments of his life have surfaced of late, out of which one recently came out. Actor and director Sarmaad Khoosat’s portrayal of Manto struck a chord with everyone who watched the film on his namesake. However, it is actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s recently-released ‘Manto’ which had everyone anticipating the film as the actor, known for his expert acting chops, seems to be a fine fit for the role.
It is owing to Manto’s distinct way of storytelling that has now, years later, been recognised. On Manto’s 50th death anniversary, he was commemorated on a Pakistani postage stamp.
In 2012, Manto was posthumously awarded the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Order of Excellence) by the government of Pakistan.
And now, very recently, BBC listed his work among the 100 stories that shaped the world, alongside works by authors like Homer and Virginia Woolf.
Manto stands unparalleled with his way of storytelling, the observation he put forth and the harsh realities of life he dared to reveal. After all, he did say, “I feel like I am always the one tearing everything up and forever sewing it back together.”