Manto ka Muqaddama: Obscenity Trial-2

Posted on October 5, 2009
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, Art & Literature, Books, History, People
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Aziz Akhmad

This is the second part of my rendition of Saadat Hasan Manto’s description of his own trial, as presented in Zehmat-i-Mehr-i-Darakhshan. This is not a literal translation are readers are highly encouraged to read the original.

The first part of this was posted last week (here). We pick it up from where we left off then. You may want to go back just to refresh yourself of where the story was at the end of Part-1.

Zehmat-i-Mehr-i-Darakhshan (continued…)

On the next hearing, Mr. Tassadaq Hussain Khalid, my lawyer, could not attend because of some family exigencies. We got a new date, but Mr. Khalid could not make it to that hearing either. I requested the magistrate for another postponement but he refused and ordered the proceedings to begin. I was helpless.

Dr. Saeedullah, (M.A, Ph.D, D.Sc.), who was a civilian officer in the Pakistan Air Force those days and was number four on our list of witnesses, was called to the witness stand. I didn’t know what to do without a lawyer. But, since a lot of legal blood flowed through the veins in my family -most of my elders were lawyers, my father had been a sub-judge, two older brothers were barristers – I gathered enough courage to start examining Dr. Saeedullah myself.

Every now and then, the magistrate would interrupt me saying I could not ask this or that question, but I persisted. I was only half way through examining Dr. Saeedullah when four young, smart lawyers, in black coats, entered the courtroom. One of them, wearing a thin mustache and a dusky complexion, moved towards my enclosure and, leaning against the railing, whispered in my ear: ‘Manto Sahib, can we be your lawyers?’

Without a second thought, I said yes. The young lawyer started examining the witness without much ado. The magistrate interrupted: ‘Who are you?’ The lawyer smiled and answered: ‘Sir, I am Mr. Manto’s lawyer. Yes, Manto Sahib?’ I nodded in affirmative. His other three colleagues also started taking part in the proceedings. Their youthful confidence and enthusiasm was fascinating. The magistrate, annoyed at the intrusive lawyers, asked: ‘Why are you intervening? Who are you?’ ‘We are also lawyers for the accused. Isn’t that so, Manto Sahib?’ I nodded, again, as before.

Dr. Saeedullah continued his statement:

After reading Thanda Gosht, I have become cold flesh myself. Sorrow and gloom was what I felt after reading the story. The story does not agitate you sexually… The writer has used profanities at times to present Ishar Singh’s true character. But he has used them in such a way that they do not sound like profanities. Even if they did, in my opinion, the overall story isn’t obscene. I believe, a profanity is not necessarily obscene by itself. A good writer would not use a profanity unless he has to. In this story, the writer has handled profanities skillfully.

The prosecutor, (one Mr. Iqbal) then, proceeded to cross-examine the witness. He asked: ‘Different writers have been given different titles according to what they write. For example, Rashidul Khairi is called the ‘painter of pathos’ (mussavar-i-gham), Allama Iqbal, the ‘painter of reality or Truth’ (mussavar-i-Haqeeqat) and Khawaja Hasan Nizami, the painter of nature. How would you …” Doctor Saeedullah got the drift of the question and interrupted the prosecutor in mid sentence and said: ‘I would give the writer of Thanda Gosht the title of ‘Musavvar-e-Hayat‘ or the painter of life.”

It was now Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s turn to take the witness stand. He said:

“In my opinion, the story in question is not obscene. It is meaningless to declare individual words in a story as obscene or otherwise. While criticizing a story, one needs to keep in mind the whole story and the context… Nakedness by itself is not obscenity. The writer of Thanda Gosht has not written anything obscene, but the story does not come up to higher standards of literature either, for there is no analysis of the basic problems of life in the story.”

Under cross-examination, Faiz said: “I would not mind using phrases like ‘meri baphian lay rahay thay’ (they were necking), ‘Munh bhar bhar kay bosay liye’(they had a mouthful of a kiss) or “choos choos kar sara seena thookon say lathairr diya” (he slathered her breasts with saliva). Use of such phrases is legitimate, if the story so demands. The words may not sound mannerly, but they are literary necessities.”

The next on the witness stand was Soofi Tabassum, Professor Government College Lahore. He stated:

“The story Thanda Gosht does not affect public morality. It is possible, though, that some of the sentences in the story, read separately, may sound obscene – a literary story or piece of literature cannot be obscene – the reader also has an independent mind and judgment. It’s not only the writers’ motive that influences the reader.”

Getting nowhere with Soofi Sahib, prosecutor Iqbal shot probably the last arrow in his quiver: “If a writing negatively affects the morals of the society, wouldn’t you hold the writer responsible?”

Without batting an eye, Soofi Sahib answered: “The author is absolved.”

Exasperated, the prosecutor asked: “What is, then, an immoral writing?”

Soofi Sahib: “immoral writing is where the sole object of the writer is to undermine morality and encourage lustful or lewd conduct.”

Our next witness was was Dr. I. Lateef, Head of The Psychology Dept. F.C. College Lahore. I had heard his name but had never seen him before. He was sitting with the magistrate when Soofi Sahib was giving his statement and holding the Special Edition of Javed in his hands. I had not paid attention to him until he started speaking:

I have just read Thanda Gosht. I think, the story should not have been published in a popular magazine. Were it published as a case history in a scientific journal, discussing impotency or otherwise, it would not be obscene… I would consider the offending words in the story obscene only when used in ordinary conversation, but in a case history, they would be considered important.

Then, suddenly, in the midst of his statement, Dr. Lateef looked around and asked “who is Mr. Manto?” When I said “Janab yeh khaksar hai” (it’s me!), I noticed the doctors sharp and pointed mustache quiver a bit. He didn’t say anything to me and continued with his statement.

My lawyer whispered into my ear “Manto Sahib, your witness has turned hostile. You may cross-examine him”. I said let it be, but the lawyer did ask him a question to which the doctor replied: “The story should not have been published in a magazine that can be read by young and old, boys and girls alike, for such impressionable minds can get agitated by reading this kind of stuff.”

When the cross-examination finished, the doctor came to me, shook my hand and said, “if you had called me as a witness, you should have, at least, met me beforehand. I said smilingly, “Inshallah, next time.” He shook my hand, again, and left.

I would like to say something here about those young lawyers who had a made a dramatic entrance into the courtroom in my defense. The man with thin mustache, sharp nose and dusky complexion was Sheikh Khurshid Ahmed. The coffee house would be incomplete without him. The other three were Mr. Mazharul Haq, Mr. Sardar Mohammad Iqbal and Mr. Ejaz Mohammad Khan. They had heard in the barroom that I didn’t have a lawyer and was conducting my own case. They decided to help me.

Contrary to the earlier agreement between the defense and the court, whereby the court had accepted a list of 14 defense witnesses, the magistrate, after hearing only seven, wouldn’t allow any more witnesses. Instead, the court produced four “heavyweight” prosecution witnesses of its own to counter the detailed and scholarly arguments put up by the defense. They were: Maulana Tajwar Najeebabadi, Professor Dayal Singh College Lahore; Shorish Kashmiri, Editor weekly Chattan, Abu Saeed Bazmi, Editor Ehsan Lahore and Dr. Mohammad Din Taseer, Principal Islamia College Lahore.

The first three condemned Thanda Gosht, unequivocally, as obscene while Dr. Taseer disapproved of it but didn’t quite call it obscene.

Finally, after lumbering through several hearings and postponements, the trial came to an end and the ‘judgment day’, literally, arrived on 16 January 1950.

We anxiously waited all day outside the courtroom until we were called in at 5 Mian A. M. Saeed, Magistrate Class-I, sat there, absorbed in his thoughts, with the pen tucked in his teeth, staring at the papers lying in front of him. The tension in the room was palpable. My heart was beating hard. Arif Abdul Matin (the editor of the ‘offending’ magazine) repeatedly licked his dry lips. The few press reporters in the room, with their notepads and pencils at the ready, waited impatiently. For a while, there was silence in the room. Then, the magistrate cleared his throat, released the pen from his teeth, dipped it in ink, turned the papers back and forth, filled some blanks on them, and announced the judgment: Guilty!

I was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment (qaid-ba-mushaqqat) for 3 months and pay a fine of Rs 300 or, in case of non-payment of the fine, additional imprisonment for 21 days. The other two accused, Naseer Anwer and Arif Abdul Mateen, the publisher and editor, respectively, were also found guilty but only fined Rs. 300 each or, in case of non-payment, would serve rigorous imprisonment for 21 days. It was a harsh punishment, more than we had expected.

I paid the fine and, simultaneously, my lawyer, Sheikh Khurshid Ahmed, applied for bail pending an appeal to the Sessions court. After some haggling, the magistrate reluctantly agreed to grant me bail, which meant I didn’t have to go to jail until my appeal was decided. The others paid their fine, too, and decided to appeal.

We requested the court for a copy of the judgment, which we needed to file an appeal. We didn’t get it, but when we attached ‘wheels’ to the request, we promptly received a copy.

We filed an appeal in the court of Mr. Mehrul Haq, Sessions Judge Lahore, on 28 January 1950. When the appeal came up for hearing, Mr. Haq, declined to hear it on the grounds that he knew my family very well as we both came from Amritsar, and transferred the case to Additional Sessions judge Mr. Joshua (full name not given).

Mr. Joshua, too, declined to hear the case saying that since he did not understand Urdu very well he would not understand the short story in question. He transferred the case back to Mr. Merhrul Haq. After giving it some thought, Mr. Haq transferred the case to Additional Sessions Judge Inayatullah Khan.

Finally, when we appeared before Mr. Inayatullah Khan, he told my lawyer that this case was the first its kind before him, therefore, he needed time to study it carefully. He said he needed a month’s time. My lawyer agreed and July 10 was fixed for the first hearing. When we came out of the courtroom, he told me that this would also give him sufficient time to prepare the case well. But he also expressed concern about the judge. He said the judge was not only a practicing Muslim, who grew a beard, prayed and fasted regularly, but was known to be a narrow minded person. I said, never mind, if need be, we could always go to the high court. So, we settled to appear before judge Inayatullah Khan.

Meanwhile, he (my lawyer) asked me to write a short explanatory note on Thanda Gosht for his guidance, which I did.

July 10, 1950. The date of court hearing. I was terribly anxious. Everyone in my family prayed for me. The judge had set aside 4 hours for discussion of the case. I was only hoping that that judge would not turn out to be hostile like Mian A. M. Saeed, the magistrate who had earlier convicted me.

When we appeared in the court, the judge turned to Sheikh Khurshid, my lawyer, and softly said, “excuse me, you will have to wait for about half an hour, I have a few things to sort out before we can start.” We came out of the courtroom.

Arif Mateen was silent. Sheikh Khurshid was also silent. He had brought thick volumes of law books with him. Possibly, he was consulting them in his mind. I was already thinking of the next step – the High Court. Naseer Anwer, the publisher, spread his handkerchief on a thin patch of grass on the ground outside the courtroom and sat on it, humming a song.

After about 45 minutes, we were called in. We, the three accused, proceeded towards the dock to stand there, as we always did in the lower court, but the judge quietly said, “please, you may take a seat.” First, I thought the judge was talking to someone else, but then I realized he was addressing us, the accused. I was pleasantly surprised. We sat down.

The judge said: “I have studied the case thoroughly: I have studied the judgment of the lower court I have also read the story Thanda Gosht very carefully.” Then he proceeded to discuss some legal points with both the defense and prosecution lawyers, asked for some explanations. After about half an hour of legal hairsplitting, the judge looked at the audience, to no one in particular, and said smilingly: “If I punish Saadat Hasan Manto, he would blame my beard for it”, and continued commenting on the judgment of the lower court for sometime.

Finally, he turned to us and asked: “Have you already paid the fine?” We all said, yes. The judge, then, without raising his voice, announced: “You are all acquitted. The fine you have paid will be reimbursed to you.”

The judge had announced the verdict so unexpectedly that I didn’t quite absorb the announcement and continued sitting in my chair. Sheikh Khurshid, my lawyer, shook my shoulder and said, “get up, you are acquitted!”

When I came out of the courtroom and tipped Rs.10 each to the chaprassis (menial staff), only then I realized I was free. I was happy and thanked God that the nightmare was finally behind me. Sheikh Khurshid was also very happy, and justifiably so.

Sometime after my acquittal, I received a letter from an officer cadet from Kohat, Mazhar Ali Khan. It read:

“I hope you would remember who I am. After meeting you at Riaz Sahib’s shop a few times, I had become your ardent fan. I read in the papers that you have finally gotten over the problems related to Thanda Gosht. I am sorry, I could not send you a letter of congratulations earlier. Even though belated, please do accept my congratulations. I am sure, with all that opposition you have faced, the number of your fans will increase even further.”

“I have heard that Chaudhry Mohammad Hussain [the person who had originally triggered the charge against Thanda Gosht], who kept you busy for so long, has passed away. Without him, it won’t be fun anymore. But there is no shortage in this world of mad (sar phiray) people. Someone else would take his place. “

I was sad to hear about Chaudhry Mohammad Hussain’s death. May God bless him. Since he is no more in this world, I don’t want to say anything about him. If anyone else takes his place, all I will say is:

sar-i-dostaN salaamat, keh tu khanjar aazmaai

14 responses to “Manto ka Muqaddama: Obscenity Trial-2”

  1. Aziz Akhmad says:

    Watan Aziz: I appreciate your comments. Such comments, whether for or against, add value to a post. I wish we would more of these.

    Do look out for tailpiece — and “The End”, as I predicted, has disappeared from the end of part-2. ATP does a better job of editing than our mainstream English papers back home.

  2. Watan Aziz says:

    Obscenity as a topic or object of social behavior holds little interest for me.

    Obscenity as a legal matter is whole different animal.

    Manot’s story disappointment me but not his observation and narration of the trial. He was able to see himself both as a defendant and an observer. A keen observer. Perhaps his acquittal made this easier. Successful prosecution might have produced a different observation?

    At any rate, I laud your efforts in translating the Muqaddama. It is a great snapshot of history in time.

  3. Aziz Akhmad says:

    Watan Aziz: It is an interesting discussion you have started. Perhaps we need a separate post on the subject of obscenity. Anyway, currently, ATP, like the media back home, is busy with the “obscenity” of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. So, we will have to wait.

    You are right, “The End” should not have been there. I am sure the ever vigilant ATP will take care of that, unless, of course, they intend to censor the tailpiece for it being obscene.

  4. Watan Aziz says:

    A story, in this instance, is obscene or not depends on the choice of words and the context of the construction.

    The entire defense was based on the premise that the story is ‘literature’ and has ‘value’. High or low is a degree.

    For the court (or readers) to consider if there exists obscenity without the literary value or to ignore the vulgarity of the words is like tasting a tea with cold milk. It is impossible. It is the whole that either digs the hole or comes out of one. This is precisely the intent of the Hinklin Test. The parts form the whole.

    Every authorship that has tested the limits of the era or the society has met it’s day in the court. This is to be expected. This should continue to be expected.

    What is however, desired, that it be tasteful. That it pass the Miller Test.

    Every land has it’s common language and language of doublespeak. It is to keep conversation flowing without raising the brows. TV hosts all over the world have made adaptations to artfully express the inexpressible. It is coarse to say F* but not freaking. Each society imposes it’s own moral standards on permissible. FCC has a list of words that cannot be said on air.

    To say this is the language of “common folks of Punjab” is to imply that therein lies the problem and not the author. Perhaps that was not the intent of the discussion but it demanded a clarity.

    But regardless, as agreed, this is not the best of literature (or that of Manto). And it was not the best use of the obscenity law, nor that of the defense or the prosecution witnesses but it certainly was one of the best illustrations of good court room proceedings in the early days of Pakistan.

    Oh, the tailpiece after “The End” is most unexpected but welcomed. An “End Piece” following it will be also welcomed.

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