Happy Birthday Manto… Artists Never Die: Saadat Hasan Manto (May 11, 1912 – January 18, 1955)

Happy Birthday Manto!

Saadat Hasan Manto (May 11, 1912 – January 18, 1955) died when he was just 42, a little compassion & kindness from our society and he might as well lived and celebrated his 100th Birthday today.

Artist never die, even when soul leaves this material body, the art remains  for ever, enthralling the generations to come, reminding them about the person who created something which can never be destroyed by anyone, including Time – which is the silent killer.

Manto died in 1955 but maybe in August 1947 itself he started dying a slow death when his beloved country was divided and he saw ordinary people becoming devil’s incarnation themselves, killing, looting, raping own neighbors. The people who lived peacefully together for centuries, overnight became thirsty of each others blood. If the events in 1940’s in the Indian Subcontinent were a bit more humane, Manto may not have drunk himself to death, he may not have died the way he ultimately did. But then, if nothing of that sort had happened, he wouldn’t have written all that he did.

Saadat Hassan Manto was a writer who migrated from Bombay to Lahore after the partition of India but could never really adjust himself in the newly created nation. The seven years he spent living in Laxmi Mansion, The Mall, Lahore in Pakistan were full of a continuous struggle for his survival. It was truly the toughest time of the short life that he lived. But in return of all the pain and suffering that came his way, he gave some of his best writings to the literary world. It was in Lahore that he wrote his masterpieces that include Thanda Gosht, Khol Do, Toba Tek Singh, Iss Manjdhar Mein, Mozalle, Babu Gopi Nath. And created some of the legendary characters of literary world.

He wrote some letters to imaginary Uncle Sam (United States of America) which are not just a window on the social scenario existing 6 decades back in the newly created nation, Pakistan, but also shows the fore-sight & in-depth understanding of global political environment, things haven’t changed much and these letters are as relevant today as they were more than 60 years back. He also wrote letters addressed to the first Prime Minister of Independent India Jawahar Lal Nehru. In these Letters to Uncle Sam, and those to Pandit Nehru, his concerns on the socio-political issues, from local to global level are revealed.

As he moved from Bombay to Lahore, he also started his journey of self-destruction. Alcohol destroyed his liver and in the winter of 1955 he fell victim to liver cirrhosis. During all these years in Lahore he waited for the good old days to return, never to find them again. Manto was survived by his wife Safiyah and three daughters.

Although Manto is best known for his short stories and ‘Toba Tek Singh‘ is considered to be his magnum opus, he was also a film & radio scriptwriter, and a journalist. In his short life, he published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches.

Manto is considered as the one of the best short story tellers of the 20th century, recently in a speech an equally, if not more, controversial Salman Rushdie said that he feels proud to be named alongside Manto. Combining psychoanalysis with human behaviour,  When it comes to chronicling the collective madness that prevailed, during and after the Partition of India in 1947, very few other writer comes as close to the painful realities of those times as close to Saadat Hassan Manto who combines psychoanalysis with human behaviour while creating those legendary characters.

Since Manto started his literary career translating works of literary giants, such as Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Russian masters Chekov & Gorky, their collective influence made him search for his own moorings. This search resulted in his first story, Tamasha, based on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of unarmed Indian Men, Women & Children protesting against the British Rule at the hand of British army led by General Dyer at Amritsar, Punjab. 

Though his earlier works, influenced by the progressive (Leftist) writers of his times showed a marked leftist and socialist leanings, his later work progressively became stark in portraying the darkness of the human psyche, as humanist values progressively declined around the Partition. So much so that his final works that came out in the dismal social climate and his own financial struggles reflected an innate sense of human impotency towards darkness that prevailed in the larger society, cultivating in satirism that verged on dark comedy, as seen in his final great work, Toba Tek Singh, that not just showed a direct influence of his own stay in a veritable mental asylum, but also a reflection of collective madness that he saw in the ensuing decade of his life.

His numerous court cases and societal rebukes, deepened his cynical view of society, from which he felt ever so isolated. No part of human existence remain untouched or taboo for him, he sincerely brought out stories of prostitutes and pimps alike, just as he highlighted the subversive sexual slavery of the women of his times. 

To many contemporary women writers, his language far from being obscene brought out the women of times in realism, seen never before, and provided them with the human dignity they long deserved. Unlike his fellow luminaries, he never indulged in didacticism or romanticized his character, nor offered any judgement on his characters. No matter how macabre or immoral they might seem, he simply presented the characters in a realistic light, and left the judgement on to the reader’s eyes. This allows his works to be interpreted in a myriad ways, depending on the viewpoint of the reader. They would appear sensationalist or prurient to one, while exceedingly human to another. Yet it was this very non-judgemental and rather unhindered truism of his pen that put him in an opposite camp from the media censors, social prejudices and the legal system of his times, so much so that he remained banned for many years and lost out on many opportunities to earn a healthy living.

He is still known for his scathing insight into the human behaviour as well as revelation of the macabre animalistic nature of an enraged people, that stands out amidst the brevity of his prose.

Saadat Hasan Manto is often compared with D. H. Lawrence, and like Lawrence he also wrote about the topics considered social taboos in Indian-Pakistani Society. His topics range from the socio-economic injustice prevailing in pre- and post- colonial era, to the more controversial topics of love, sex, incest, prostitution and the typical hypocrisy of a traditional male. In dealing with these topics, he doesn’t take any pains to conceal the true state of the affair – although his short stories are often intricately structured, with vivid satire and a good sense of humour. In chronicling the lives and tribulations of the people living in lower depths of the human existence, no writer of 20th century, came close to Manto.

On his writing Manto often commented, “If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth”.

  • Toba Teg Singh : A Short Story by Saadat Hasan Manto

Toba Tek Singh by Saadat Hasan Manto

“A couple of years after the Partition of the country, it occurred to the respective governments of India and Pakistan that inmates of lunatic asylums, like prisoners, should also be exchanged. Muslim lunatics in India should be transferred to Pakistan and Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistani asylums should be sent to India.”

One such asylum was located in Lahore, in what became Pakistan. Upon learning of this decision, the inmates could not comprehend its meaning: “As to where Pakistan was located, the inmates knew nothing. That was why both the mad and the partially mad were unable to decide whether they were now in India or in Pakistan. If they were in India, where on earth was Pakistan? And if they were in Pakistan, then how come that until only the other day it was India?

“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.’”

The protagonist of the story is a Sikh inmate named Bishan Singh who, fifteen years earlier, had gone mad and was committed by his family. Everyone in the asylum calls him Toba Tek Singh, the name of his village. Almost bald, his legs swollen because he seemed to be standing all the time, he also has the habit of speaking this nonsensical phrase, “Uper the gur gur the annexe the bay dhayana the mung the dal of the laltain.”

The protagonist of the story is a Sikh inmate named Bishan Singh who, fifteen years earlier, had gone mad and was committed by his family. Everyone in the asylum calls him Toba Tek Singh, the name of his village. Almost bald, his legs swollen because he seemed to be standing all the time, he also has the habit of speaking this nonsensical phrase, “Uper the gur gur the annexe the bay dhayana the mung the dal of the laltain.” Family members, who used to visit him, now no longer come. He repeatedly asks his fellow inmates whether Toba Tek Singh, his old town, is in India or Pakistan, but nobody seems to know. One day Fazal Din, an old Muslim friend from his village, visits Bishan Singh, who doesn’t recognize the man. Fazal Din brings word that Singh’s family has safely gone to India. Fazal Din speaks of the water buffalos left behind and the calves they have produced.

Singh asks him, “Where is Toba Tek Singh?” To which his old friend replies, “In India … no, in Pakistan.” “Without saying another word, Bishan Singh walks away, murmuring, ‘Uper the gur gur the annexe the be dhyana the mung the dal of the Pakistan and Hindustan dur fittey moun.’”

The transfer of inmates takes place on a cold winter evening. Hindu and Sikh lunatics are placed on buses and taken to the border. When Bishan Singh steps from the bus and is asked to register, he asks the official, “Where is Toba Tek Singh? In India or Pakistan?” The official tells him it is in Pakistan, the place Singh is leaving.

“Bishan Singh tried to run, but was overpowered by the Pakistani guards who tried to push him across the dividing line towards India. However, he wouldn’t move.”

The story concludes as follows: “’This is Toba Tek Singh,’ he announced. ‘Uper the gur gur the annexe the be dhyana mung the dal of Toba Tek Singh and Pakistan.’ “Many efforts were made to explain to him that Toba Tek Singh had already been moved to India, or would be moved immediately, but it had no effect on Bishan Singh. The guards even tried force, but soon gave up.

“There he stood in no man’s land on his swollen legs like a colossus. “Since he was a harmless old man, no further attempt was made to push him into India. He was allowed to stand where he wanted, while the exchange continued. The night wore on.

“Just before sunrise, Bishan Singh, the man who had stood on his legs for fifteen years, screamed and as the officials from the two sides rushed towards him, he collapsed to the ground. “There, behind barbed wire, on one side, lay India and behind more barbed wire, on the other side, lay Pakistan. In between, on a bit of  earth which had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh.”

  • Manto’s Writings
  • Atishparay (Nuggets Of Fire)-1936
  • Chugaad
  • Thanda Gosht (Cool Meat)
  • Manto Ke Afsanay (Stories of Manto)-1940
  • Dhuan (Smoke) -1941
  • Afsane Aur Dramay (Fiction and Drama)-1943
  • Lazzat-e-Sang-1948 (The Taste Of Rock)
  • Siyah Hashiye-1948 (Black Borders)
  • Badshahat Ka Khatimah (The End of Kingship)-1950
  • Khali Botlein (Empty Bottles)-1950
  • Loud Speaker
  • Nimrud Ki Khudai (Nimrod The God)-1950
  • Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat)-1950
  • Yazid-1951
  • Pardey Ke Peechhey (Behind The Curtains)-1953
  • Sarak Ke Kinarey (By the Roadside)- 1953
  • Baghair Unwan Ke (Without a Title)-1954
  • Baghair Ijazit (Without Permission)-1955
  • Burquey-1955
  • Phunduney-1955 (Tassles)
  • Sarkandon Ke Peechhey-1955 (Behind The Reeds)
  • Shaiytan (Satan)-1955
  • Shikari Auratein – 1955 (Women Of Prey)
  • Ratti, Masha, Tolah-1956
  • Kaali Shalwar (Black Pants)-1961
  • Manto Ki Behtareen Kahanian (Best Stories of Manto)-1963 [1]
  • Tahira Se Tahir (From Tahira to Tahir)-1971

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