Saadat Hasan Manto: A Tribute

Posted on September 19, 2009
Filed Under >Adnan Ahmad, Art & Literature, Books, People
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Adnan Ahmad

Saadat Hasan Manto, one of the greatest short story writers of the 20th century was born on May 11, 1912 in Ludhiana district of Indian Punjab. I could have referred to him as one of the greatest short story writers in Urdu but many would agree that given the depth and the quality and the uniqueness of his stories, he stands among the giants of this genre.

His writings have had a profound impact on millions who read them as he dared to address topics that were typically considered taboo for his time. My love for short stories started with reading Qurratulain Haider’s translations of Russian short stories (Songs of the Alps, etc.) but when I moved on to Manto it was almost as if I had matured by years within days.

The power of his expression along with his command on human psyche often leaves readers wondering if they could ever forget his stories, even if they wanted to, considering the hard, cold truth about the dark side of humans highlighted in his stories. One could write dissertations about his life and his writings and may be even about certain events of his life but I would only briefly mention two of his great short stories that come to my mind as I write these lines.

Given the turbulent times he lived in, the two stories, like a few of his other stories, focus on partition. While writers like Amrita Pritam lamented on the atrocities and heinous crimes committed by people who once were friendly and peaceful neighbors, in their poetry and writings, Manto wrote in a way that it left little room for poetry or any thing subtle. As he used to say,

I am simply telling the truth – as it is.”

And perhaps that is why he wasn’t much liked by the literary circles of his time.

In his story Toba Tek Singh, the main character is a Sardar named Bishan Singh from the town Toba Tek Singh. He is an inmate at a mentally disabled facility around the time of the partition. According to guards at facility, Bishan Singh had not really slept or lied down in the last 15 years. Occasionally he would lean against a wall and rest a little. In the story, as the days get closer to the partition, his inquiry about Toba Tek Singh, a present day Pakistan town, about whether it was in India or Pakistan, gets more and more frequent. There is also a mysterious, mindless set of words Bishan Singh would speak on occasion which went like:

Uper dee gur gur dee annex dee bay dhayaana dee mung dee daal of the laltain.

Without writing the actual story here, Bishan Singh finally finds out that he would be transferred to India and that his town Toba Tek Singh will be left behind in Pakistan. Upon hearing this he speaks his gibberish words perhaps for the last time with a bit of a twist;

Uper dee gur gur dee annexe dee mung dee daal of the Pakistan and Hindustan dur fittey.

On the day the inmates are to be transferred to their respective countries, Bishan Singh or Toba Tek Singh, as he is known by his fellow inmates, breaks free from the guards on the border and stands in the no man’s land. Given his harmless being guards let him be. After a few hours of standing at one spot on his swollen legs he finally collapses with a scream and dies in an area that belonged to neither India nor Pakistan.

The second story that I want to very briefly mention is titled Khol Do. After reading the story the feeling was that of almost being hit by a truck or similar to how I felt when I first saw the movie Schindler’s List. The story in a way epitomizes Manto’s works and also shows that one needs nerves to handle his stories as they deal with the darkest and the harshest realities of life that we often tend to look away from lest they rattle our peaceful world.

The story is about a woman, a victim of the brutal riots of 1947, who is discovered and is pronounced dead. In that moment of death as the doctor orders the windows to be opened, she uncovers the horrendous side of the humans and shows how humanity had died at that point in history. The readers are essentially left shell-shocked.

In Pakistan of 1950s many labeled this story and a few others from Manto profane and he was tried several times for obscenity, albeit he was never convicted. In one of his trials Manto said to the judge

“A writer picks up his pen only when his sensibility is hurt.”

(Editor’s Note: Some of the finest translations of Manto’s work were by the late Khalid Hassan).

17 Comments on “Saadat Hasan Manto: A Tribute”

  1. Firdaous says:
    September 19th, 2009 11:55 am

    Indeed, he was the greatest short story writer and once you read any of his stories you can never forget them. They are so very very powerful.

  2. Haroon says:
    September 19th, 2009 3:19 pm

    Toba Tek Singh is an amazing story. Funny as well as sad. Political as well as human. And one that you keep thinking about for hours and months and years.

  3. MQ says:
    September 19th, 2009 4:02 pm

    Good to see a post on Manto.

    Had Manto been alive today, I am sure, we would have another literary gem from him, on Gojra or Sialkot — as soul-searching as Toba Tek Singh.

  4. Natasha says:
    September 19th, 2009 6:15 pm

    Read only one story by him so far – Toba tek Singh.Loved it.I wonder what Bishen Singh meant when he said:

    ”Uper dee gur gur dee annex dee bay dhayaana dee mung dee daal of the laltain.”

  5. Azlan says:
    September 19th, 2009 11:00 pm

    no doubt the work of manto is matchless and yeah toba tek sing is agreat job done by him

  6. Nihari says:
    September 19th, 2009 11:54 pm

    The sad part is that after his death, none of the stalwarts of Urdu Literature had the balls to even write half honestly as he used to do.

  7. Shahid Rafiq says:
    September 20th, 2009 1:57 am

    Manto touches the heart through is narrations of the truth. I read some of his masterpieces, he was well ahead of his time! I salute to the man who dared to speak truth a few decades ago, while still we have not made ourselves educated enough to absorb the reality! Well done Manto Sahib, you are genius of all times!

  8. Sumaiyya says:
    September 20th, 2009 5:33 am

    He is undoubtedly second to none when it comes to short story writing in subcontinent,I second this statement of the author..

    “when I moved on to Manto it was almost as if I had matured by years within days”.

  9. Musaddiq Virk says:
    September 20th, 2009 5:44 am

    A great and unfortunate writer. He was a brave person and has some guts. Todays writer’s can’t mach him ‘cuz they all are hypocrites.

  10. Anwar says:
    September 20th, 2009 9:36 am

    He was ahead of his time – a typical misfit. I started reading him when I was in 12th grade – but with little understanding of the affairs. With time, I matured into his work. My favorite was “License.” The biggest shocker was his writing “Noor Jehan” – I later found out that it was a true writeup about the melody queen…

  11. Usman says:
    September 20th, 2009 10:10 am

    Good to see something on Manto. Though he deserves a more detailed post. He was indeed a literary giant and his stories are still as fresh and invigorating to read today as they were then.

  12. Dr.Daniyal Nagi says:
    September 20th, 2009 5:51 pm

    Hi Friends,
    My father took a autograph of Manto Sahib in early 1950s as a student of Urdu Literature at GC.
    Manto Sb wrote,
    Zindigi muj say ha main zindigi say nahin
    (Life is from me,not me from life)
    No doubt he really meant it.Indeed one of the greatest sons of Urdu.
    Dr.Daniyal Nagi
    Ireland

  13. Aamir Sajjad says:
    September 22nd, 2009 7:50 am

    I wonder if somebody knew whereabouts of Mantoo’s daughters. Much more could be known from them.

  14. Aliya says:
    September 23rd, 2009 1:14 pm

    He was a great literary giant, not just of Pakistan but of the world.

    I hope you will write more about him.

    Also, glad to see the stamp on him.

  15. Baber says:
    September 24th, 2009 4:44 pm

    There is always a question in the end of Manto’s writing. Who did it? or Why this happened? Whoes to blame? Manto, a true Intellectual genius. I wish they had taught us Manto in School and college. It would have given our imagination a kick start.

  16. Syed Sammer Abbas says:
    November 3rd, 2010 4:14 am

    One Thing Might Seems to be Apparent ,A DeadLock,for Intellectual,Historians,Social Sientist,Reformist,and Literary Critics that is “HEN EGG DILEMMA”

    Whether MANTO CAME FIRST OR URDU AFSANA

  17. Khurram says:
    November 13th, 2010 8:16 am

    A great writer,and a noteable literature work by him…

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