Manto Ka Muqaddama: Obscenity Trial-1

Posted on September 29, 2009
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, Art & Literature, History, People
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Aziz Akhmad

Occasionally, we go back to the books and stories that we had first read years ago, in school or college. It can be fun – sometimes more than when we first read them.

When we re-read a book, we are not bothered about finding who does what to whom – we already know it. Rather, we pay attention to the language and other niceties of the writing. Plus, the additional education and exposure we may have acquired over the years provides a new perspective from which to look at the story. Also, while re-reading, we are more likely to read the author’s foreword, introduction or pesh lafz than we were when we first read the book. Personally, I always skipped the forewords.

Recently, when I revisited Saadat Hasan Manto’s Thanda Gosht (‘Cold Flesh,’ literally), a collection of stories so named because his famous (or infamous?) short story Thanda Gosht is part of the collection, I read the foreword first. It is a fascinating read.

It is titled Zehmat-i-Mehr-i-Darakhshan. A daunting name for most of us, but has a charming explanation once we understand its meaning and the context. In it, Manto describes, in great detail, his thoughts, feelings and tribulations when he migrated from Bombay to Pakistan, in 1948. He also tells the story of his obscenity trial, which is absorbing and educative, perhaps more educative today than it was when written, 60 years ago. Manto was probably the first writer tried for obscenity in Pakistan.

Here is the story, translated, paraphrased and abridged:

Zehmat-i-Mehr-i-Darakhshan

Having left Bombay, I came to Karachi and then proceeded to Lahore, arriving there probably on the 7th or 8th of January 1948. Initially, for 3 months, I was totally lost. I didn’t quite know whether I was in Bombay, Karachi or Lahore. I was confused, and unable to decide what to do for living. I would spend days sitting in a chair, lost in my thoughts.

Finally, one day, I woke out of my stupor to find that I had virtually no money left. I had spent all the money that I had brought from Bombay, some on day-to-day household expenses and some at the bars in Clifton, Karachi.

Gradually, I reconciled with the reality that I was in Lahore. I started looking for work.

I met my dear friends Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and Sahir Ludhianvi, and others. Everyone seemed to be in a state of paralysis like myself. It seemed as if the volcano of Partition that had just erupted had still some lava left trapped inside, still simmering. I thought, perhaps, there might be a few more tremors before things settle down and the air clears up.

I wanted to write, but could not focus my thoughts. I would roam around Lahore all day, aimlessly, listening to what others said – incoherent, illogical arguments and unfounded political commentaries. My aimless wandering helped clear my mind though. I started writing light and humorous articles such as “Naak ki qismayn” (Different types of noses), “Deewaron par Likhna” (Writing on walls), which were published in