Thursday, May 10, 2012

Birth Centenary: Saadat Hassan Manto 1912-2012

Saadat Hassan Manto: 1912-2012
Whenever Urdu literature is talked about, beside many respectable names, a very controversial name also figure out prominently - the name of none other than Saadat Hassan Manto.

Manto, famous for one of his most controversial story 'Thanda Gosht (cold meat)' was never cold at heart. He had a tireless, warm blooded and restless soul which bled with the sufferings of the ordinary, who suffer at the hands of the ills of the society, yet do not have a voice. Or even if they raise a voice that is so meak and inaudible that it is not heard by those who matter. Or even if they are heard, they are silenced.

The same happened to Manto when he wrote 'Thanda Gosht.' He was dragged into the courts and was ultimately convicted of writing obsene fiction. In fact he was tried for obscenity half a dozen times, thrice in the undivided India, and thrice after he migrated to Pakistan.

Manto was born 11 May 1912, exactly one hundred years ago from today in the undivided India. Manto received his early education from the Muslim High School in Amritsar. He had difficult times in his schooling but he somehow managed to overcame these. His interest in literature came not becasue of following or having been impressed by any fictionist or lieterary person, but rather by Abdul Bari Alig, an itinerant journalist who  changed young Manto's raw mind with nineteenth century French and Russian literature, which was then becoming available in India in English and Urdu translation. Manto discovered the works of such leading writers as Victor Hugo, Lord Layton, Gorky, Chekhov, Pushkin, Osar Wilde, Maupassant and others.

Once Manto's interest in literature had been sufficnetly aroused, Bari asked Manto to translate Hugo's 'The Last Days of Condemned,' into Urdu. Manto did his first translation 'assignmnet' and sold it to the Urdu Book Stall, Lahore, which published it under the title Sarguzasht-e-Aseer (A Prisoner's Story). The success prompted Manto to attempt a translation of Oscar Wilde's Vera, which was published in 1934. From here on Manto was on his own into the literary world and never stopped his pen till his death.

Manto moved in between Dehli, Bombay and Lahore in the 30s and 40s, joined newspapers but his destination lied in story telling and short stories, which rose him to fame. His stint with All India Radio and involvement in drama writing had his four radio plays, Ao (Come), Manto ke Drame (Manto's Dramas), Janaze (Funerals) and Tin aurraten (Three women)  published. From Radio, Manto moved into the film world of Bombay, where he became a film and radio scriptwriter, and journalist. 

Manto's first collection of short stroies in he form 'Atish Pare' was published in 1936. In 1941, he came to Delhi from Bombay and accepted the job of writing for Urdu Service of All India Radio. Soon four of his collection of radio plays, Ao, Mantoke Drame, Janaze and Tin Aurraten were published. In his short life, he published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches. He is one of the few writers who are revered on both side of the border between Pakistan and India.

Titles of some of Manto's collection of short stories
Manto is best known for his Urdu short stories that include ''Khol Do' (Open It), 'Thanda Gosht' (Cold Meat), Bu' (Odour), and his magnum opus, Toba Tek Singh'.

In 1948, Manto, much to the detest of his Indian writers' circle, moved to Pakistan and settled in the Lasmi Mansions of Lahore - a building off the Mall Road, near the famous Beaden and Hall roads and once thriving Regal Cinema (sometimes also called the Victory Cinema) of Lahore. Choosing of Laxmi Mansions was not much of choice but of compulsion as his cousin Hamid Jalal lived there and since Manto did not know anyone in town, it was easier to start his new life - though very short lived just next to Hamid's apartment. In those days, the Mansions was under use by a number of literary and other personalities which rose to fame like: Professor G M Asar, a lecturer of Urdu at the famous Government College, Lahore. Malik Meraj Khalid, the humble man who later entered politics and was also care taker prime minister of the country for a while also lived there.

Once settled down, he paicked up his controversial, bold and 'obscene' pen and started to write. Manto initially wrote for some literary magazines. But it was the time when his controversial stories like Khol Do and Thanda Gosht were picked up the conservatives and he was labelled as a dirty writer. People like Choudhry Muhammad Hussain played a role in banning and prosecuting Manto as well as the publishers and editors of the magazines that printed his stories. Among the editors were such amiable literary figures as Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Hajira Masroor and Arif Abdul Matin. Soon the publishers who were more interested in commercial aspects of their ventures, slammed their doors shut to Manto’s writings. He, therefore, started contributing stories to the literary supplements of some newspapers. Even this practice could not go on for long. Masood Ashar who was then editing the literary page of “Daily Ehsan” published some of his stories but the conservative owner of the paper soon asked him to refrain from the practice.

Manto once tried to present the sketch of Mulana Chiragh Hasan Hasrat in a literary gathering organized in YMCA Hall Lahore to celebrate the Maulana’s recovery from heart attack. The sketch entitled 'Bail Aur Kutta  (Bull and the Dog)' was written in his characteristic style exposing some aspects of Maulana’s life. But once he started reading, he was stopped midway and asked to leave the forum. But Manto did not stop, and it was after some great difficulty that he was finally ousted from the literary sitting.

Manto was always immaculately dressed in plain white starched long shirt and loose trousers (kurta and pyjama). Once he came to Government College Lahore to read his article 'How do I write a story,' he wore a light brown gabardine shirwanee with a silken trousers and saleem shahi shoes. 

Like famous Urdu poet Asad Ullah Khan Ghalib, Manto too was into heavy drinking. And it really made the life of the writer and his family, wife and three daughters, a mess as most of his earning were spent on drinking. And this started to take a heavy toll of health and appearance. He appeared pale with wandered hair when he turned up at the famous YMCA of Lahore to read his epic story 'Toba Tek Singh.'He looked older than his years wearing an overcoat with collars turned up. The big eyes that darted out of the thick-rimmed glasses looked pale and yellow. But he read his story in his usual dramatic style and when he finished reading it there was pin drop silence in the hall and there were tears in everyone’s eyes.

His last days were diffficult - the once calm and sober Manto turned jittery and short tempered, mostly becasue of monetary problems and extreme criticism on his writings. 

Epitaph at Manto's Grave - written by Manto in his life

Manto wrote his own epitaph, which read, ‘There Saadat Hasan Manto lies buried, and buried in his breast are all the secrets of the art of story-writing. Even now, lying buried under tons of earth he wonders whether he or God is the greater writer of the short story.' 

Manto did not live long - only 44 years from 11 May 1912 to 18 January 1955. His life in Lahore was just seven years since his migration to Pakistan. He made his mark and immense impression on the shorty story writing and the Urdu litereature - though he would remain a controversial figure for as log as Urdu fiction is read and really understood.

I do not know whether hew was given any national or government award. But on January 18, 2005, the fiftieth anniversary of  Manto's  death, Pakistan Post which issued a commemorative stamp on the occasion. I hope he gets another honour by Pakistan Post on the birth centenary this year.

What others think of Manto and his literary work:

Mustansir Hussain Tarrar, the prominent Urdu writer, story teller and travelogue writer came to know Manto in his very early age when Manto moved in to the Laxmi Mansions in 1048, where Tarrar's family was also living. He saw Manto in  and out of the Mansions many a times and it was fro m here he got into reading the entire collection of Manto even at the early age of adolesence of 12-13. Remembering Manto, Mustansar says:
"The Laxmi Mansions days are important in the history of Manto's story writing. It was in this Mansions that Manto wrote 'Toba Tek Singh,' 'Kholdo,' 'Gurmukh Singh ki Wasiyyat,' 'Thanda Gosht,' and his famous sketch of Mr Jinnah 'Mera Sahib.'
Prominent woman writer Fahmida Riaz supports 'usage of women character' as the main substance of Manto's controversial writings and writes:
"The woman in Manto's story is self-respecting, not accepting an insult from anyone, and a realist who could cast away even the last comforting illusion, preferring to follow her painful, friendless path in the company of only her dog, rather than continue to bear exploitation and falsehood (describing a character of a prostitute from Manto's story Hattak - 'Insult')."
"Manto saw woman is a human being, the same way he saw men.""Manto's stories sometimes merrily describe good, healthy female anatomy. His story 'Mozel' is full of long legs, strong calves and full breasts of his female protagonist."
"Manto was a creative writer - though his heart was all for the causes of the left, he was not a propagandist, nor a proselytiser for the political right or left. He would never try to teach us humanity, but such was his craft that before you knew, your eyes could be filled with tears of compassion and deep regret for what we do to one another."
Famous actor, narrator, entertainer and celebrity Zia Mohyeddin writes:
"I admire Manto for his genius for walking out of hypocrisy that lies at the roots of human behaviour. I admire him for writing prose which is bold in character and adult in texture; and I admire him for bringing characters who roam that unknownable garden from which, by being born, they were exiled. Manto's narrative in his short stories is thoroughly distilled and shorn of convolutions." 
Commenting on the criticism he drew from all quarters, Manto once remarked: If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth.”

Saadat Hassan Manto (Wikipedia)
Manto Saw Women the way he saw Men
Mera Sahib (Pak Tea House)