Saadat Hassan Manto (Punjabi, Urdu: سعادت حسن منٹو) (May 11, 1912 – January 18, 1955) was a Pakistani Urdu short story writer, most known for his Urdu short stories , 'Bu' (Odour), 'Khol Do' (Open It), 'Thanda Gosht' (Cold Meat), and his magnum opus, Toba Tek Singh'. Unfortunately having spent life on both sides of the border he was portrayed as an Indian writer in Pakistan and in India he was portrayed as a Pakistani writer. But truly he was a writer of the subcontinent above distinctions of country or religion.
He was also a film and radio scriptwriter, and journalist. 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 was tried for obscenity half-a-dozen times, thrice before and thrice after independence in Pakistan, but never convicted. Some of his works have been translated in other languages.
Combining psychoanalysis with human behaviour, he was arguably one of the best short story tellers of the 20th century, and one of the most controversial as well. When it comes to chronicling the collective madness that prevailed in the Indian subcontinent, during and post the Partition of India in 1947, no other writer comes close to the oeuvre of Saadat Hassan Manto.
Since he started his literary career translating works of literary giants, like Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde and many Russian masters like Chekov and Gorky, their collective influence made him search for his own moorings. This search resulted in his first story, Tamasha, based on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar. Though his earlier works, influenced by the progressive writers of his times showed a marked leftist and socialist leanings, his later work progressively became stark in portraying the darkness of the human psyche, as humanist values progressively declined around the Partition. So much so that his final works that came out in the dismal social climate of post-partition Indian subcontinent and his own financial struggles reflected an innate sense of human impotency towards darkness that prevailed in the larger society, cultivating in satirism that verged on dark comedy, as seen in his final great work, Toba Tek Singh , that not just showed a direct influence of his own stay in a veritable mental asylum, but also a reflection of collective madness that he saw in the ensuing decade of his life. To add to it, his numerous court cases and societal rebukes, deepened his cynical view of society, from which he felt ever so isolated No part of human existence remain untouched or taboo for him, he sincerely brought out stories of prostitutes and pimps alike, just as he highlighted the subversive sexual slavery of the women of his times . To many contemporary women writers, his language far from being obscene brought out the women of times in realism, seen never before, and provided them with the human dignity they long deserved. Unlike his fellow luminaries, he never indulged in didacticism or romanticised his character, nor offered any judgement on his characters. No matter how macabre or immoral they might seem, he simply presented the characters in a realistic light, and left the judgement on to the reader's eyes. This allows his works to be interpreted in a myriad ways, depending on the viewpoint of the reader. They would appear sensationalist or prurient to one, while exceedingly human to another. Yet it was this very non-judgemental and rather unhindered truism of his pen that put him in an opposite camp from the media censors, social prejudices and the legal system of his times, so much so that he remained banned for many years and lost out on many opportunities to earn a healthy living. Throughout the Indian subcontinent he is still known for his scathing insight into the human behaviour as well as revelation of the macabre animalistic nature of an enraged subcontinent, that stands out amidst the brevity of his prose .
He is often compared with D. H. Lawrence, and like Lawrence he also wrote about the topics considered social taboos in Indo-Pakistani Society. His topics range from the socio-economic injustice prevailing in pre- and post- colonial subcontinent, to the more controversial topics of love, sex, incest, prostitution and the typical hypocrisy of a traditional subcontinental male. In dealing with these topics, he doesn't take any pains to conceal the true state of the affair - although his short stories are often intricately structured, with vivid satire and a good sense of humour. In chronicling the lives and tribulations of the people living in lower depths of the human existence, no writer of 20th century, came close to Manto . His concerns on the socio-political issues, from local to global level are revealed in his series, Letters to Uncle Sam, and those to Pandit Nehru . On his writing he often commented, "If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth" .
In many ways his writings can be considered a precursor to the minimalist writing movement of nineties. Instead of focusing on composition, Manto created literary effect through narration of facts, often mini stories, often gritty. Characters are not defined exclusively by the way they look, but by what they've done in their lives. Places are not described as a collection of sensory observations but as settings for events, sad, poignant, happy or otherwise.
Early life and education
Saadat Hassan Manto was born in a Kashmiri Muslim family of barristers, on May 11, 1912.
He received his early education at Muslim High School in Amritsar, but he remained a misfit throughout in school years, rapidly losing motivation in studies, ending up failing twice in matriculation. His only love during those days, was reading English Novels, for which he even stole a book, once from a Book-Stall in Amritsar Railway Station.
In 1931, he finally passed out of school and joined Hindu Sabha College in Amritsar, which was already volatile due the independence movement, soon it reflected in his first story, 'Tamasha', based on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre
After, his father died in 1932, he sobered up a bit to support his mother, though the big turning point in his life came, when in 1933 at age 21, he met Abdul Bari Alig, a scholar and polemic writer, in Amritsar, who encouraged to him find his true talents, and read Russian and French authors.
Within a matter of months Manto produced an Urdu translation of Victor Hugo's The Last Days of a Condemned Man, which was published by Urdu Book Stall, Lahore as Sarguzasht-e-Aseer (A Prisoner's Story). Soon afterwards he joined the editorial staff of Masawat, a daily published from Ludhiana His 1934 Urdu translation of Oscar Wilde's Vera won him due recognition amongst the literary circles. At the continued encouragement of Abdul Bari, he published a collection of Urdu translation of Russian stories as Russi Afsane.
This heightened enthusiasm pushed Manto to pursue graduation at Aligarh Muslim University, which he joined in February 1934, and soon got associated with Indian Progressive Writers' Association (IPWA). It was here that he met writer Ali Sardar Jafri and found a new spurt in his writing. His second story 'Inqlaab Pasand' was published in Aligarh magazine in March 1935 .
There was no turning back from there, and his first collection of original short stories in Urdu, Atish Pare (Sparks; also Quarrel-Provokers), was published in 1936, at age 24.
He left Aligarh within a year, initially for Lahore and ultimately for Bombay.
“ "A writer picks up his pen only when his sensibility is hurt."
-- Manto to a court judge
After 1936, he moved to Bombay, where he stayed for the next few years, editing Musawwir, a monthly film magazine. He also started writing scripts and dialogues for Hindi films, including Kishan Kanhaya (1936) and Apni Nagariya (1939). Soon he was making enough money, though by the time he married Safia on 26 April 1939, he was once again in dire financial crisis. Despite financial ups and downs he continued writing for films, till he left for Delhi in January 1941.
He had accepted the job of writing for Urdu Service of All India Radio in 1941. This proved to be his most productive period, as in the next eighteen months he published over four collections of radio plays, Aao (Come), Manto ke Drame (Manto's Dramas), Janaze (Funerals) and Tin auraten (Three women). He continued to write short stories, and his next short story collection Dhuan (Smoke) was soon out, followed by Manto ke Afsane and his first collection of topical essays, Manto ke Mazamin. This period culminated with the publication of his mixed collection Afsane aur Drame in 1943. Meanwhile, due a quarrel with then director of the All India Radio, poet N. M. Rashid, he left his job and returned to Bombay in July, 1942, where he started working with film industry once again, and entered his best phase in screenwriting, giving films like Aatth Din, Chal Chal Re Naujawan and Mirza Ghalib, which was finally released in 1954 . Some of his best short stories also came from this phase, including 'Kaali Shalwar', 'Dhuan' (1943) and 'Bu' which was published in Qaumi Jang (Bombay) in February 1945. Another hightlight of his second phase in Bombay was the publication of an important collection of his stories, Chugad, which also included the story 'Babu Gopinath' . He continued to stay in Bombay, till he moved to Pakistan in January 1948, much after the partition of India in 1947.
After partition of India
Saadat Hassan Manto arrived in Lahore sometime in early 1948. In Bombay his friends had tried to stop him from migrating to Pakistan because he was quite popular as a film writer and was making reasonably good money. Among his friends there were top actors and directors of that age—many of them Hindus—who were trying to prevail upon him to forget about migrating. They thought that he would be unhappy in Pakistan because the film industry of Lahore stood badly disrupted with the departure of Hindu film-makers and studio owners. But the law and order situation post-partition of British India was such that many Muslims felt insecure in India, just as many Hindus felt insecure in newly created Pakistan. That was the reason that Manto had already sent his family to Lahore and was keen to join them. Manto and his family were among the millions of Muslims who left present-day India for the newly created Muslim-majority nation of Pakistan.
Life in Lahore
Manto had at least one consolation. His nephew Hamid Jalal had already settled his family in a flat next to his own in Lakshmi Mansions near The main Mall. The complex was centrally located. From there every place of importance was at a stone's throw. These flats were occupied by families of some of the people who were destined to become important in the intellectual and academic fields. Manto's next door neighbour was his nephew Hamid Jalal who later became an important mediaman. In another flat, lived Professor G M Asar who taught Urdu at Government College, Lahore. Hailing from Madras, he wrote and spoke excellent English as well. Then there was Malik Meraj Khalid who was to play an important role in the politics of Pakistan. Writer Mustansar Hussain Tarar's family also lived in one of the flats there after shifting from Gowalmandi, though Tarar's presence cannot be referred to as a contribution to literary ambience as Tarar was just an adolescent at that time and hadn't even started to write.. Thus when Manto arrived in Lahore from Bombay he found an intellectual atmosphere around him. His only problem was how to cater for his family. Sadly for him, Lahore of that period did not have many opportunities to offer.
After the writers who had migrated from various Indian cities settled in Lahore, they started their literary activities. Soon Lahore saw a number of newspapers and periodicals appearing. Manto initially wrote for some literary magazines. These were the days when his controversial stories like Khol Do (Urdu: کھول دو Open it) and Thanda Gosht (Urdu: ٹھنڈا گوشت Cold Meat) created a furor among the conservatives. People like Choudhry Muhammad Hussain played a role in banning and prosecuting the writer 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.
During those days, Manto also tried his hand at newspaper column writing. he started off with writing under the title Chashm-e-Rozan for daily Maghribi Pakistan on the insistence of his friends of Bombay days Ehsan BA and Murtaza Jillani who were editing that paper. But after a few columns one day the space appeared blank under the column saying that due to his indisposition Manto couldn't write the column. Actually Manto was not indisposed, the owner was not favourably disposed to some of the sentences in the column.
The only paper that published Manto's articles regularly for quite some time was "Daily Afaq", for which he wrote some of his well known sketches. These sketches were later collected in his book Ganjay Farishtay(Bald Angels). The sketches include those of famous actors and actresses like Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Nargis, Noor Jehan and Naseem (mother of Saira Banu). He also wrote about some literary figures like Meera Ji, Hashar Kashmiri and Ismat Chughtai. Manto's sketch of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was also first published in Afaq under the title Mera Sahib. It was based on an interview with Haneef Azad, Qauid-e-Azam's driver of Bombay days who after leaving his job as driver became a well known actor. The article included some of the remarks related to the incident when Dina Jinnah married Wadia. Later when the sketch was included in the book these lines were omitted.
Manto created a new tell-all style of writing sketches. He would mince no words, writing whatever he saw. "I have no camera which could wash out the small pox marks from Hashar Kashmiri's face or change the obscene invectives uttered by him in his flowery style," he wrote.
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 was written in his characteristic style exposing some aspects of Maulana's life. The presiding dignitary stopped him from reading the article and ordered him to leave the rostrum. Manto, however, was in 'high spirits'. He refused to oblige and squatted on the floor, and was with difficulty prevailed upon by his wife, Safia, to leave the stage.
Those days Manto was writing indiscriminately in order to provide for his family and be able to drink every evening. For everything he wrote, he would demand cash in advance. In later days, he started writing for magazines like Director. He would go to its office, ask for pen and paper, write his article, collect the remuneration and go away. This Manto was different from the one who arrived in Lahore in 1948.
The Manto in 1950 had a glowing Kashmiri complexion and a thick crop of long brown hair on his head. He was wearing a light brown gabardine shirwanee with a silken trousers and saleem shahi shoes. He came to Government College, Lahore to read his article How Do I Write a Story.
A changed man
But the necessity to earn his livelihood consumed him very fast. In a few years, his complexion became pale and his hair turned grey. We saw him reading his story Toba Tek Singh at YMCA Hall at the annual meeting of Halqa-e-Arbab-e-Zauq. 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.
In later days, though Manto appeared in the Pak Tea House and other literary functions regularly but he seemed to be in great stress. Earlier, he was known for his witty remarks in literary gatherings. However, in later days he would present his writings in literary meetings but would not tolerate any criticism. He had become extremely touchy and would shout back at his critics. There were days when he was welcomed everywhere and literary organisations clamoured for his participation in their meetings. But then came the days when people started avoiding him because he would not hesitate from borrowing money from them.
His famous literary works
Manto lived in Laxmi Mansion, The Mall Lahore for seven years. For him those years were full of a continuous struggle for his survival. In return, he gave some of his best writings to the literary world. It was in Lahore that he wrote his masterpieces that include Thanda Gosht, Khol Do, Toba Tek Singh, Iss Manjdhar Mein, Mozalle, Babu Gopi Nath. Some of his characters became legendary.
Simultaneously he had embarked on a journey of self-destruction. The substandard alcohol that he consumed destroyed his liver and in the winter of 1955 he fell victim to liver cirrhosis. During all these years in Lahore he waited for the good old days to return, never to find them again.He was 42 years old at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife Safiyah and three daughters.
On January 18, 2005, the fiftieth anniversary of his death, Manto was commemorated on a Pakistani postage stamp.
Manto collection (Books)
Atishparay -1936 (Nuggets Of Fire)
Manto Ke Afsanay (Stories of Manto)-1940
Dhuan (Smoke) -1941
Afsane Aur Dramay (Fiction and Drama)-1943
Lazzat-e-Sang-1948 (The Taste Of Rock)
Siyah Hashiye-1948 (Black Borders)
Badshahat Ka Khatimah (The End of Kingship)-1950
Khali Botlein (Empty Bottles)-1950
Nimrud Ki Khudai (Nimrod The God)-1950
Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat)-1950
Pardey Ke Peechhey (Behind The Curtains)-1953
Sarak Ke Kinarey (By the Roadside)- 1953
Baghair Unwan Ke (Without a Title)-1954
Baghair Ijazit (Without Permission)-1955
Sarkandon Ke Peechhey-1955 (Behind The Reeds)
Shikari Auratein - 1955 (Women Of Prey)
Ratti, Masha, Tolah-1956
Kaali Shalwar (Black Pants)-1961
Manto Ki Behtareen Kahanian (Best Stories of Manto)-1963
Tahira Se Tahir (From Tahira to Tahir)-1971