Whenever I thought of these abducted women and girls, all I could see were swollen, distended bellies. What would happen to these bellies? Who is the Owner of that which lies stuffed in these bellies- India or Pakistan? And what of the nine months of labour? Who would pay the Wages-India or Pakistan? Or would it all simply be put in the account of cruel nature? Isn’t there a blank column somewhere in this ledger?
I have said before that Manto is an absolute fraud. A proof of this is that he has always maintained that he never thinks of his story; his story thinks of him. I think this is complete rubbish! Though I can tell you that at the moment of writing a story his state is a bit like a hen that is about to lay an egg. He doesn’t lay his eggs in hiding but in full view of anyone who cares to see. His friends loll about him, his three daughters run around making a din while he squats in his special chair laying his eggs, which soon become chirping-cheeping stories. His wife is almost always angry with him. She often tells him to stop writing his stories and open a shop instead. But the shop that is open inside manto’s head is stuffed with more stock than the glittering bangles and baubles crammed in a trinket-seller’s cart. And that is why he sometime worries what if one day he were to become a cold storage house or a deep freezer where all his thoughts and feelings become frozen
SAADAT HASAN MANTO (1912-55) is one of the finest Urdu short story writers. Provocative, outrageous, scandalous, sometimes even blasphemous, Manto was the original enfant terrible of Urdu literature. Cocking a snook at society, literary norms and most notions of propriety, Manto touched the hearts of many with his convincing and utterly original portrayal of human fallibility. In this collection of sixteen stories and three sketches, translated by Rakhshanda Jalil, Manto brazenly celebrates the warts of a seemingly decent society as well as its dark underbelly - tired and overworked prostitutes in 'The Candle's Tears' or 'Loser all the Way'; ruthless as also humane pimps in 'The Hundred Candle Watt Bulb' and 'Sahay'; the utter helplessness of men in the face of a sexual encounter in 'Naked Voices' and 'Coward'; and the madness perpetrated by the Partition as witnessed in 'By God!' and 'Yazid'. In one of the three sketches, which form part of this collection, the author brilliantly reveals himself to the world in a schizophrenic piece titled 'Saadat Hasan' calling 'Manto the writer' a liar, a thief and a failure! And in another titled 'In a Letter to Uncle Sam', Manto superbly couches his anti-imperialistic views in an innocent letter from a poor nephew to a capitalist and prosperous uncle in America.
Naked Voices, Stories & Sketches is one the most authentic collections showcasing the best of Saadat Hasan Manto as a great storyteller and an honest commentator of all times.
RAKHSHANDA JALlL has edited two collections of short stories: an anthology called Urdu Stories and a selection by Pakistani women called Neither Night Nor Day. She has published five works of translations: Premchand's short stories entitled The Temple and the Mosque; a collection of satirical writing in Hindi by Asghar Wajahat entitled Lies: Half Told; thirty-two satirical cameos by Saadat Hasan Manto entitled Black Borders; nazms by Urdu poet Shahryar called Through the Closed Doorway; short stories by Intizar Husain entitled Circle and Other Stories; and a collection of Premchand's short stories for children called A Winter's Tale and Other Stories. Her translations have appeared in a number of journals and magazines, she has also co-authored, with Mushirul Hasan, Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia and written Invisible City, a collection of essays on the little-known monuments of Delhi. She contributes regularly on issues of faith and community to major English newspapers and journals; co-edits Third Frame, a journal devoted to literature, culture and society; and, works as Media & Cultural Coordinator at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Earlier, she has taught English at the universities of Delhi and Aligarh.
In an impudent epitaph written for himself a year before his death, Saadat Hasan Manto wrote: 'Here (Manto) lies buried - and buried in his breast are all the secrets of the art of story-telling.' Immodest, yes, but by no means outrageous, for it is true that whatever the merits of Manto's style and craft, he was a storyteller par excellence. He had the rare gift of being able to narrate the most blood-curdling events with faithful accuracy and an unsparing eye for detail.
Dismissed variously as a voyeur, a purveyor of cheap erotic thrills, a scavenger of human misery, a compulsive scraper of the wounds of a sick and ailing society, or at best a mere rapporteur and no more, Manto upset every conceivable notion of literary propriety and license. An under-achiever all through school and college (he even flunked in Urdu!), Manto drifted through various jobs in All India Radio and the Bombay (now Mumbai) film industry before he found his true calling as a storyteller. Like his near contemporary, Ismat Chughtai, he too loved to handle bold and unconventional themes that had so far been taboo in Urdu literature. However, unlike Chughtai's homely and colorfully idiomatic language, Manto chose a stark, spare, almost staccato style, unembellished and unaffected, deliberately shorn of all appendages of style and convention.
Never one to impose his own interpretation of events, Manto could look at people and events with a consciousness uncoloured by notions of nationalism, religion, morality, least of all sentimentality. He wrote what he saw and felt, and wrote compulsively and prodigiously. In the forty- three years that he lived, he published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five (some say seven) collections of radio plays, three collections of essays and two collections.. of sketches of famous personalities (one called, rather evocatively Bald AngeLr!). Though much of his writing was in the nature of 'command performances' - to feed the twin demons of drink and acute, chronic poverty - there is still a great deal in his vast and variegated oeuvre that is touched by greatness. Of his various collections, many stories appear in more than one collection, occasionally appearing under different names. Always hard up, Manto was known to 'sell' his stories to different publishers at different times, sometimes he would tweak a story or its ending to make it somewhat different.
Manto, meaning 'weight' in Kashmiri, belonged to a family of wealthy Kashmiri traders who had moved to the plains and settled in Lahore. His grandfather, a dealer in pashmina, later went to Amritsar where the family prospered but remained deeply, quintessentially, religious. Manto's father, Maulvi Ghulam Hasan married twice and had twelve children in all. Manto, born from the second wife, was in awe of his stepbrothers who were not only older but much better educated. While he was fond of his mother, his relations with other family members remained distant. He lived in especial dread of his father, who had retired as a sub-judge from Samrala, a town near Ludhiana, and returned to Amritsar to live in the Kucha Vakilan neighbourhood of the old city.
Manto's rebellious streak can be traced to living under threat from the sharp edge of his father's acerbic tongue and authoritarian ways. Harshly critical of films, theatre, music and other forms of plebian entertainment, Maulvi Ghulam Hasan wanted Manto to study hard and do as well as his other sons, who had studied abroad and become barristers. He despaired of Manto's growing irreligiosity and impertinence. Yet, despite all his chaffing against his father's harshness, Manto dedicated his first collection of short stories, Aatish Parey (Slivers of Fire), to his father and hung his somewhat grim and disapproving portrait in his room.
Bent upon ploughing his own furrow from an early age, Manto's early waywardness and willfulness soon took the form of an idiosyncratic individuality. Having failed twice in the intermediate exam, Manto embraced a life of hedonism with single-minded dedication. Gambling, drinking, smoking charas, keeping the company of idle but idealistic and impetuous men like himself, these were Manto's trivial pursuits all through the early 1930s. Things would have continued along this trajectory of despair and dissipation had Manto not met Bari saheb, editor of Mussavat. Bari saheb introduced Manto to the great Russian novelists, to the skilfully crafted stories of Oscar Wilde and Guy de
Maupassant, to Victor Hugo's Les Miserable’s and, most significantly, the curious possibility of earning a living by wielding the pen. Manto took to dabbling in revolutionary poetry, writing articles for magazines, translating Wilde and Hugo with the enthusiasm of the neo convert.
Manto was twenty-three or so when he was struck by tuberculosis. Initially he tried to stifle the pain by drinking more country liquor than usual but when even that didn't serve to dull the ache in his chest, he was packed off to the mountains. Born to Kashmiri parents but raised in the Punjab, this was Manto's first visit to Kashmir. Though he never managed to go beyond Bator, he was clearly enchanted by the land of his forefathers and its people. He also had his first, and some believe his only romantic experience, with a tantalizing shepherd girl. Many of his stories draw on the time he spent among these idyllic hills and vales. In A Letter, he speaks (presumably) of her as a girl who was 'young and totally young ... one who left some beautiful inscriptions on the pages of my life.'
Manto went to Bombay in search of work sometime in 1935, landing a job as editor of a weekly called Mussavvir. The glamour and gaiety of the city's high society, as also the grit and grime of its underbelly, provided ample fodder for a man of Manto's disposition. The red light district of Forres Road, the chawls of Nagpara, the paanwallas, taxi drivers, washer men, Parsi landladies and Jewish hotel keepers, the editors of motley Urdu newspapers became rich sources of inspiration.
Manto wrote prolifically and some of his most memorable characters are drawn from the people he met in these halcyon days in Bombay from 1935 to 1947. Manto hobnobbed with film stars, first as a film journalist and then as a scriptwriter, made money and frittered it all away on drinking, gambling and the good life. He did, briefly, live in Delhi for a year and a half when he worked at the All India Radio but irreconcilable differences with the legendary Pitras Bukhari, the station director, made him give up the only job he enjoyed, one that also fetched him a regular salary.
No one quite knows why Manto went away to Pakistan. Was it in a huff or on a whim? Was it to seek a better future, broken as he was by chronic drinking and acute poverty? Was it the thought of starting a fresh, on a clean slate as it were, that attracted him whenever he did think of his wife and three daughters whom he loved dearly? Was it out of genuine disenchantment with the increasingly strident and communally charged atmosphere of the so-called bohemian film industry? Or was it, as some suggest, the dream of owning an 'allotted' mansion the moment he crossed over? One gets a glimpse into Manto's state of mind when he made the journey across in Sahay and in Zebmat- e-Mehr-e-Darakhshan, but with Manto there never are any clear answers. Manto migrated to Pakistan in 1948 and lived there for the next seven years. These were years of hard drinking, acute penury, a near hand-to-mouth existence and a time of ever-mounting frustrations andhumiliations. The mansion of his dreams did not materialize, nor did he, by all accounts, seriously pursue the 'allotment' issue. The film industry in Lahore was in doldrums and there was very little work for a writer who wanted to write his own SOft of stories. Yet Manto wrote like a man possessed, often producing one story a day, a bit like a hen laying an egg a day! Some of his finest work was produced during these years of near- manic productivity, poverty and profligacy. Manto died on 18 January 1955 in Lahore of cirrhosis of the liver. His last wish, literally made with his dying breath, was for a drink of whiskey.
This collection - subjective as all collections inevitably are - attempts to provide a glimpse into the formidable body of work that is Manto's legacy. There is far more to Manto, I do believe, than Toba Tek Singh, Khol Do or Kaali Shalwar. While these stories have been most anthologized and are therefore most well known, they are by no means representative of Manto's writings. Most of these provocative stories belong to the last years of his life when the shadows were darkening not just in his personal life but over the subcontinent too and when Manto's demons had begun to trouble him to the extent of driving him, briefly, into a mental asylum. These are dark stories, unrelieved by even a tinge of the humanity and liberalism that one sees in his early work. Unfortunately, it is these stories that are understood, in popular perception, to define Manto's oeuvre. The truth, however, is that his world is peopled by the good as much as the bad; if anything, Manto possesses the rare knack of making the reader share his delighted discovery of goodness and beauty whenever he comes across it in the midst of wickedness and ugliness. Maybe it was the age he was born in, or the circumstances of his own life that made Manto see the darkness more acutely than others. But Manto was not blind to light. He cherished goodness whenever he stumbled upon it.
Manto was many things but he was definitely not a poseur. He wrote what he saw or felt; his stories, therefore, cover many subjects.There is, of course, the Partition and the communal divide that left a gash on not just men like Manto but on millions who were affected by the terrible events before and after 1947. Some writers shape their oeuvre, others have it shaped by events and circumstances larger and beyond them. The cataclysmic events of the Partition influenced many writers who lived during that period. So, while Manto wrote almost obsessively about the events that lead to the division of the subcontinent and the terrible suffering it inflicted on innocent people, he wrote on other subjects too. Most notably on sex! So much so, that those who do not see Manto's prolific outpouring over a period of twenty-odd years, often regard him as a writer unhealthily obsessed with sex.
Having read Manto in driblets over a longish period of time and then systematically and comprehensively at the time of making this selection, I can say that Manto wrote about human nature in all its diversity. And he wrote about all sorts of people. While he wrote with particular empathy about women, simulating a certain naturalness in speech and behaviour that can only come from close interaction and minute observation, he wrote with astonishing perspicacity about fellow men as well. And all sorts of men: writers, film-makers, photographers, social workers, office workers, village folk, tinsmiths, tongawallahs, washer men, water-carriers, pimps, shopkeepers, in short he could claim a nodding acquaintance with every form of low life, high society-types and those in the middle rungs as well.
In this selection, I have strived to give as broad-based a sampling of Manto's work as possible. There are dark stories of the evil that lies hidden in the hearts of men. There are stories of exploitation, double standards, greed, corruption, lust, in short every imaginable vice and venality. Bismillah is one such story as is Comfort. The Maker of Martyrs and Loser All the ~y are light-hearted spoofs on man's degeneracy and moral bankruptcy. But there are other stories of the goodness too that Manto saw in men who lived less-than-exemplary lives, like the pimp in Sahay. Then, there are stories such as Sharifan in which otherwise decent men are forced to commit acts of bestiality; the culprits here are not the men but the circumstances that they find themselves in. The horrors of Partition are central in some stories like Sharifon and incidental in others like By God. In Hundred Candle ~tt Bulb, a woman kills her pimp because she hadn't slept in a long, long time and he keeps forcing her to sleep with customers. No one knows how long the woman's torment had been going on, who the woman was or how she met the pimp. Nothing matters in the explosive end when the woman, agonized beyond endurance by her lack of sleep, clobbers the pimp with a brick and finally sleeps, her head covered with her dupatta, lying in the blinding glare of a hundred candle watt bulb, blissfully oblivious. What did this woman want from life? Sleep. And the pimps stood in the way of her and sleep. So she kills him.
Although Manto wrote obsessively about sex, and the kind which happened between those who were equally obsessed with it, he often treated sex as part of life's essential pangs - hunger, sleep and love. In Naked Voices, for instance, Manto paints a very realistic picture of a group of robust but hard-working families living on the fringes of acute poverty and dealing with not just the demands of their bodies but also the constraints of communal living. What is a man to do when the instinct for privacy is as strong as the instinct for sex? How does one consummate a marriage behind a screen of sack cloths strung on a bamboo frame in the midst of a sea of sleeping, coughing, copulating couples crowded on a tiny roof top on a summer night? Only Manto would consider this a perfect scenario for a short story. And only Manto can do justice to it. Just as he portrays an ordinary young man's obsessive-compulsive need for a woman, any woman in the story called Coward. Despite his sexual fantasies, when Javed in the story eventually fails to pluck the courage to go up the seedy brothel of a soiled, sorry looking prostitute, he takes solace as only a coward can; by occupying the high moral ground and seeking the sanctuary of religion that would have deemed Javed's act - had he committed it - a sin!
Then there are stories that reveal Manto's take on contemporary politics. A Day in 1919 is a recasting of the terrible slaughter visited upon the poor benighted city of Amritsar in the wake of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Drawing upon popular accounts of the French Revolution which ascribe the first bullet fired in the revolution hitting a prostitute, here Manto makes a 'hero' out of the good-for-nothing brother of the city's twO most famous prostitutes. An early story, this is, to my mind, a fairly sophisticated one and shows. Manto's propensity for busting myths and forcing his readers to revisit both past shames and legacies. I have chosen Slivers and Slivereens not just for its needle-sharp take on politics and politicians, especially the murky politics of Kashmir, Manto's home state, but also because it is a most unusual little story. Not a story in the conventional sense, since it has no beginning, middle or end, not even a plot or character, it is striking nevertheless for its staccato sound and the slivers of biting satire.
A gentle story, most unusual for the Manto of popular imagination, is Yazid. It shows a glimmer of the pacifist in Manto, a man who hated wars, who espoused reflection and contemplation, who urged his fellow men to look within. By placing his protagonist in a rural setting, Manto also makes a point about rough-hewn country folk being repositories of the wisdom distilled from the ages. Karimdad, who decides to call his newborn baby Yazid, is an evolved man, willing to think outside the straightjacket of convention and stereotype, and name his child after one of the worst offenders in Islamic history. 'What's in it? It's only a name!' he tells his horrified wife, reasoning thus: 'It needn't be the same Yazid. He had closed the river; our son will open it.'
Manto wrote about women in a way that no other writer from the Indian sub-continent had or has till today. By the Roadside is a beautiful elegy to a mother forced to abandon her illegitimate baby. Here Manto, quite literally, gets under the skin of a woman, and describes the very physical changes that take place in a woman's body as it prepares to nurture life deep inside it - and the equally 'real' physical trauma whenthe baby is snatched from her and tossed on a rubbish heap by the roadside. And again in The Rat of Shah dole he talks of a mother's despair in giving up her son as mannat at a saint's shrine where a perfectly healthy baby is 'miraculously' disfigured and mutilated into a rat-boy before being sold to an itinerant tamashawala. A scathing attack on the shrines that thrive on poor, desperate and superstitious people, The Rat of Shah dole derives it punch from a mother's steadfast desire to keep her son's memory alive inside her heart.
Similarly, By God is a mother's refusal to accept that her daughter may have been killed in the riots. Old, blind and nearly half-crazed with grief, she refuses to believe that anyone can kill a girl as beautiful as her daughter. In the end, she finds peace in death when she spots her daughter unexpectedly on the street one day, married though she is to the man who abducted her. A most unexpected story in this collection is Comfort. A young widow is raped at a family wedding. Initially angry and inconsolable, she finds comfort in the arms of another man immediately thereafter!
In several stories, the woman is both 'subject' and 'predicate'. In Bismillah, a woman by the strange, eponymous name, is the object of a man's lust, though she appears to be the legally wedded wife of another man. Saeed is attracted, in equal measure, by Bismillah's large, sad- looking eyes as well as the lush fullness of her breasts and is torn between the voyeuristic delight that Bismillah's body offers him and the prick of his own conscience. In the end, it turns out that the sullen, sphinx-like young woman is not his friend Zaheer's wife; she is a Hindu girl who got left behind during the riots and was forced into prostitution by Zaheer who had been, all along, posing as a loving husband and budding film-maker.
The only three examples of Manto's non-fiction writing here are autobiographical and each tells the story of Manto's complex love-hate relationship with himself and the world at large. Saadat Hasan reveals the schizophrenia that lies at the heart of Manto's self-image: betweenthe man called Saadat Hasan and his far-more (in)famous alter-ego, t writer who masquerades as Manto or vice-versa, that is the le;s-tha likeable man called Manto who pretends to be a great writer. Zebmat- Mehr-e-Darakbshan is a rambling account of his early days in Pakista plagued as he was by penury and the threat of punitive damages imposed by harsh judges bent upon browbeating him into submission. (The incidentally, is the only story I have taken the liberty of abridging for I found the original unwieldy and long-winded.) A Letter to Uncle Sam one of a series of such letters, pretending to be written by a fawning nephew in awe and admiration of his vastly-superior uncle, is trenchant critique of the Pakistani judicial system but takes several impertinent swipes at Uncle Sam who had just begun to woo the new established Islamic Republic of Pakistan drawing it towards t hedonistic pleasures of capitalism in the early 1950s.
Rebutting charges of voyeurism and sacrilege, Manto had written:’ I am no sensationalist. Why would I want to take the clothes off a society civilization and culture that is, in any case, naked? Yes, it is true I make no attempt to dress it - because it is not my job; that is a dressmaker job. People say I write with a black pen, but I never write on a blackboard with a black chalk. I always use a white chalk so that the blackness of the board is clearly visible.' And that is precisely what he does in story after story.
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