Saadat Hassan Manto: A Forgotten Literary Voice from a Troubled Subcontinent

On 18th January some literary circles in Pakistan celebrated 53trd death anniversary of Manto – one of the strongest literary voices of the forever troubled Asian subcontinent. Manto’s controversial works (both fiction and non-fiction) were about individual and collective madness fanned by religious fanaticism, politics and social fabric during and after bloody India-Pakistan partition in 1947. Ironically, the context and theme of Manto’s fiction and non-fiction still remains relevant internationally. Collective madness and fanaticism still continue to thrive – largely unfathomed and undeciphered.

Saadat Hasan Manto was born in Bombay(1912) and later had to shift to Pakistan after partition. He was a victim and witness to the bloody partition which left a permanent bloody unhealed scar not only on his soul but on multitudes of people who were displaced and uprooted from their roots and thrown into a riots and worse violent madness ever witnessed in the history of the subcontinent. People became their own enemies. Manto chose to stand on the very ground of riots as a troubled sensitive observer/victim seeking to find little sanity and hope to survive.

Manto’s short stories collections were sharp incisive criticisms of the system which perpetuates crime and genocide. In his short story, Toba Tek Singh, inmates of a lunatic asylum try to make sense of partition and protagonist agonizes over the national identity of his home and village. The absurdity and futility of geographical divides could not have been expressed better.

Manto also explored underbelly of society and wrote legendary tales about prostitutes and pimps, insane and other people often forsaken by so called civil society. Manto never received due recognition in his country and sub-continent. His works were banned several times for their pornographic content. He remained a troubled man forever tearing away masks to reveal true naked beauty and ugliness of the human soul and society. He died at a young age of 42 due to alcoholism.

With the rising enmity between India and Pakistan, the celebration of his death anniversary may hold a special significance for the warring neighbours. After the recent Bombay terrorists attack, artists and theatre groups in Pakistan have not been able to showcase their talent as part of the people to people contact. In fact, all sorts of exchanges of ideas and cultural programmes across the borders have been halted indefinitely. Unfortunate as it is, art based linkages have been the only bond between the countries. That seems to have snapped too.

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  • Robert Lourembam

    The story “Toba Tek Singh” is absolutely wonderful. A Nation’s identity is just a concept, which is imagined but strongly defined by the geographical boundaries. These boundaries play the villainous roles and, bring in disparities amongst the people of two different Nations!

  • Prashant Mardolkar

    Even after 60 yrs of partition,his stories evoke a tint of sadness that is called paertition.
    His next death anniversary must be celebrated by Indians and pakistani’s together

  • Johnk

    Your facts are not correct when you state “Saadat Hasan Manto was born in Bombay(1912)”