Saadat Hasan Manto’s Obscenity Trial: Zehmat-i-Mehr-i-Darakhshan

Posted on January 18, 2011
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, Art & Literature, Books, History, People
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Aziz Akhmad

(Editor’s Note: Today, January 18this the death anniversary of Saadat Hasan Manto. Two day’s ago (January 16) was the anniversary of the ‘judgement day’ in his  famous ‘obscenity trial.’ To mark these anniversaries, we are re-posting this, the last of a three part series on ‘Manto ka Muqaddama,’ by Aziz Akhmad (first two parts here and here). Manto’s literary genius is always relevant, but the story of this trial is all the more relevant in these times when questions of morality, of speech and of laws are so prominent once again. We also encourage the reader to re-read this tribute to Manto, our other posts on him, and of course Manto’s own works in his own words!)

Saadat Hasan Manto walked out of the courtroom of Sessions judge Inayatullah Khan a free man (here and here). The story Thanda Gosht was declared not obscene, and Manto’s conviction by the lower court was quashed – his sentence declared void and his fine, which Manto had already paid, ordered reimbursed.

Manto was a happy man once again. He wrote this delightful story, Zehmat-i-Mehr-i-Darakhshan, about the saga of his trial, in August 1950, which was published as foreword to the collection of stories called Thanda Gosht. Publishers, who wouldn’t publish Thanda Gosht before, started approaching Manto for the story.

Manto’s happiness, however, was short-lived. The Punjab government, not happy with the Sessions court’s judgment, went into an appeal.

The case landed with Justice Mohammad Munir of Lahore High Court (who later rose to become the chief justice of Pakistan). Justice Munir had a reputation of being a fearless, unbiased and an independent judge. However, he ruled the story obscene, re-imposed the fine on Manto, but, mercifully, waved the imprisonment sentence. He wrote an ambivalent judgment, which said, among other things, (and I am quoting from an article by Zia Mohiyuddin):

‘Leanings of the writer’ had to be taken into account and not his ‘intentions’. A story could not escape from being obscene if the details of the story were obscene. A story was not like a book, which could be good in some parts and bad in some parts.

How does one interpret this judgment?

I have read these lines several times but could not make any sense of them. The only way I can describe this judgment is by resorting to an American slang, actually Texan, which may not be quite as elegant but very expressive: Justice Munir is “trying to pee down both legs”.

It seems Pakistan owes more than just ‘doctrine of necessity’ to Justice Munir.

Manto lived another 4 years to write numerous stories and short pieces, including his most famous Toba Tek Singh. He died shortly before reaching his 43rd birthday, on 18 January 1955, in extreme poverty and broken hearted.

Manto has been described as one of the greatest short-story writers of South Asia, but Pakistani establishment never owned him. However, on his 50th death anniversary, in 2005, the government officially recognized Manto by issuing a commemorative postage stamp in the series of stamps called Writers of Pakistan.

Technically, Justice Munir’s judgment on Thanda Gosht still stands, but practically there is no ban on the story, today, in Pakistan, and it is freely printed and sold along with Manto’s other works.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if someone petitioned the Supreme Court today to overturn Justice Munir’s judgment on Thanda Gosht or else ban the story. I was told, Aitzaz Ahsan has the record of this court case and is amply qualified to petition the Court. Perhaps, ATP could petition Mr. Ahsan to take up this case with the Supreme Court.

Now, back to the title, Zehmat-i-mehr-i-darakhshan. It is a phrase from a couplet of Ghalib. Here is the couplet first, then a translation by Khalid Hasan, then meanings of difficult words and, finally, an explantion.

Larazta hai mera dil, zehmat-i-mehr-i-darkhshaN par
Main hooN woh qatra-e-shabnam, keh ho khaar-i-bayabaN par

I am like a drop of dew that rests on a thorn in the wild;
My heart trembles at the thought of the sun that will (soon) rise (and annihilate me.)

darakhshaN = Brilliant light, sunlight
mehr = The sun, favor, kindness
zehmat = trouble, pain, uneasiness of mind
khaar-i-bayabaaN = thorn bush in the wild

Normally, the morning sun brings new life, hope and a new beginning in a person’s life. But for a drop of dew in the wild, the morning sunshine heralds its death, for the moment the sun comes up, the dew evaporates. This is how Manto saw his daily life. Every new day brought new worries, new trials and tribulation.

Earlier Parts of This Post can be Read at:
1. Manto ka muqaddama: Obscentiy Trial Part I
2. Manto ka muqaddama: Obscentiy Trial Part II

21 Comments on “Saadat Hasan Manto’s Obscenity Trial: Zehmat-i-Mehr-i-Darakhshan

  1. October 9th, 2009 2:19 am

    I am delighted to see the stamp on Manto. The series of posts on obsecenity trial is interesting. Thanks for the post. Congratulations to the writer.

  2. Farrukh says:
    October 9th, 2009 8:18 am

    Wonderful writeup. Excellent.

    But is All Things Pakistan becoming All Things Manto!

    I like it!

  3. October 9th, 2009 8:40 am

    Great post! Excellent write-up as well.

  4. Rashid J says:
    October 9th, 2009 12:10 pm

    Minto made carrier out it.

    Minto figured an easy and cheap way to advertise his writings. As soon as his essay/ magazine arrived in bookstores/ newspaper stalls, he use to HIMSELF inform the relevant law enforcement authorities. Next day in newspaper order to ban book/ magazine was published. And before police could confiscate them, they were all SOLD OUT in a day or so.
    Brilliant. Marketing tactic. Long before Salman Rushidi figured it.

  5. Aziz Akhmad says:
    October 9th, 2009 12:49 pm

    Rashid J:

    Minto was the name of a British viceroy to India, Lord Minto.

    The guy we are talking of about is Saadat Hasan Manto, with a Kashmiri family name.

    My conjecture is that the rest of the information in your comment might possibly have to do something with Lord Minto, because no such thing is reported against Saadat Hasan Manto anywhere in the newspapers of the time, the literary magazines or from the prosecution side in the court records .

  6. USMAN says:
    October 9th, 2009 7:10 pm

    This is another excellent piece in the series. I should say I have not yet finished reading the second part (will do so on the weekend which is often when I catch up with reading longer posts), but I did read this one because I was intrigued to find the meaning and context of Zehmat-i-Mehr-i-Darakhshan.

    I fear, however, that I have spoiled the suspense of the second part for myself.

  7. Sherjeel says:
    October 9th, 2009 7:29 pm
  8. Rashid J says:
    October 9th, 2009 8:59 pm

    @Aziz Akhmad

    Thanks for correcting the name. I meant Manto.
    Personally, I have never read any story by Manto. Only heard that he wrote “pornographic” stories.
    My comment about Manto is based on information by some one who knew publisher of Manto’s stories.
    Anyways….

  9. ASAD says:
    October 9th, 2009 10:51 pm

    Wah Mr. Rashid J, wah.

    So, yo have never read Manto’s stories but you are fine character assassinating him thru jhoot and buhtaan. All based on rumor and inuendo.

    How would you like if someone spread such lies about you.

    Maybe, there is a story about you waiting to be written!

    Or, maybe, you should read him before commenting on him.

  10. Rashid J says:
    October 10th, 2009 2:00 am

    @Asad:
    Please don’t take me wrong. I just shared some thing that I had heard about Marhoom Manto sahib. Interestingly, I heard this in 80s when riots were going on in Pakistan and other countries on publication of Salman Rushdi’s “Satanic Verses”. I heard this information from an important person. Point was how negative publicity can boost sales.
    Anyways, I would say, good for Manto sahib….

  11. adeel says:
    October 10th, 2009 7:39 am

    I wonder if towards the end of his days Manto had become disillusioned at the State of Pakistan (that was supposed to bring in happiness and new opportunities but failed to deliver on its promise) Didn’t Mehr-i-darkhshaN became zehmat-i-mehr-i-darkhshaN for him.

  12. Jabbar says:
    October 10th, 2009 8:25 am

    I found the mention of Justice Munir very interesting and also his decision.

    Yes, indeed, he gave us more than the doctrine of necessity. And nothing good.

  13. Arifa says:
    October 12th, 2009 11:29 am

    I finally found the time to sit and read all three parts together.

    It was a joy to do so. I had also missed on this when reading the book years ago so I am glad that you translated this. My normal view is that such things should never be translated because they loose their original flavor. But now I think that at least for younger people we need to reintroduce them to masters like this.

    I say this because it was my young niece who first told me to read this series here. She knows that I come to Adil Najam’s site sometimes but she is more regular than me and so she alerted me about this. I think this is a great contribution itself that people who have not or cannot read the originals are being made aware about there great intellectuals.

    I was very happy that with the lawyers movement many young people got reintroduced to Jalib. Faiz luckily has stayed in people’s imagination. I am glad that this site is bringing others to light for a new readership. There are other sites that focus only on literature but the problem is that only those who are already interested go there. The great thing about this one is that it has general audience and lots of people get education.

  14. Hassan Goraya says:
    October 19th, 2009 5:14 am

    Manto was a genius. What i cannot comprehend for the life of me is how come a writer of such depth and class should be viewed as obscene.
    That was his style of seeing things and the more u read the more you begin to love this tender and sensitive writer.
    Such a shame for letting something like that happen to a great writer. That couplet describes his conundrum. What were they scared about? His stories would plunge the country into depths of sin or something like that..when you see on television the blasts, the killings i think that 100 times more obscene and whats worst is that they all use Islam (pinnacle of human justice) as an excuse.
    Maybe this is what we are getting for not nurturing free thinkers such as Manto.

  15. Gardezi says:
    January 18th, 2011 12:38 pm

    I had not made that connection, but yes his obscenity trial is so very relevant today. Makes one realize that things have not just gotten bad they were always so!

  16. Naan Haleem says:
    January 18th, 2011 1:04 pm

    I have read most of the Manto’s stories and without any bias for or against him.

    Believers in Manto claim that his stories are social with a touch of sex. But with the frequency and details of sex in his stories, I would describe them as “sexist with a touch of societal injustice”. How could a writer incorporate sex in each and every piece of work without having a sexist mind?

    This opinion is about his work and not the trial(s).

  17. Daal Roti says:
    January 18th, 2011 9:34 pm

    @Naan Haleem.

    I why you made it a point to read ALL of Manto’s work. Was it because you were looking for a sexuality kick?
    On a more serious note, sexuality is a natural and necessary part of the human psyche. The abnormal behavior is of those who do not talk about it or suppress their frustrations and then sneak to watch porn over internet or in dark rooms. Also, sexuality (I assume you did not mean ‘sexist’ since that means something else) is in the readers mind. Frustrated people will get ‘shehwat’ from watching daily TV ads, the cure for these sexual frustration lies with the reader, not the writer.

  18. January 18th, 2011 10:14 pm

    Justice Munir did a good decision… Interesting article.

  19. Ghani says:
    January 18th, 2011 10:59 pm

    Timely topic. This whole idea of having courts decide on questions of morality (Manto) or religion (Blasphemy) is itself ridiculous and the root of too much evil.

  20. Eidee Man says:
    January 18th, 2011 11:48 pm

    “Perhaps, ATP could petition Mr. Ahsan to take up this case with the Supreme Court.”

    I don’t think this would be a good idea. Given that the books are being sold freely, it seems that this issue is not on the extremist radar; the only thing such a case would do is open up booksellers to attack. One can only imagine what would happen if mullahs started combing through bookstores to look for disapproving material.

  21. rubcent mtnl says:
    January 19th, 2011 11:47 am

    we have been constantly your presentations
    the earlier note on the subject have been preserved
    the renewed efforts shall be appreciated
    perhaps some more details on the renowned author shall be of considerable interest
    remember -a recent insertion about KRISHAN CHANDER- DEATH ANNIVERSARY
    HT TROUGH HIS BROTHER-NEW DELHI based was quite an heart-touching event.

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