A tribute to Saadat Hasan Manto

Sat Parkash Suri & Dr Gurdev Singh
Saadat Hasan Manto, popularly known as Manto was arguably one of the greatest Urdu short story writers of 20th century but a misfit in the social scenario and extremely controversial figure who was dragged half a dozen times to courts for his bold and frank description of sexuality in his works. ’Few people know about the severity of court cases he and Ismat Chugtai had to go through although people knew about D.H. Lawrence’s persecution for obscenity’. Manto is very often compared to D.H. Lawrence who consistently wrote about topics considered social taboos in Indo-Pak society that ranged from socio-economic injustice prevailing in pre and post colonial era to the more controversial topics of love, sex, prostitution and typical hypocrisy in the traditionally male dominated world. No writer came to Manto’s style and candid projection of exploitative social order and religious frenzy.
Manto was born in Samrala, Punjab on 11 May 1912 in a Kashmiri family of barristers. His grand-father, a pashmina shawl dealer migrated to plains in Amritsar where the family prospered but remained deeply religious. Manto’s father, Maulvi Ghulam Hasan had twelve children by two wives and Manto was born from the second wife. He remained aloof and distant from his step- brothers. His father, after retirement as sub-judge settled down in the locality of Kucha Vakilian, Amritsar.
Manto lived in constant fear of his father’s sharp tongue who criticised  films, theatre and other forms of plebian entertainment. He wanted Manto to study abroad and be barrister like his brothers. Yet despite his father’s chaffing and harsh attitude, ‘Manto dedicated his first collection of short stories Aatish Parey (Silver of Fire)  to his father and and hung his grim portrait in his room’. After his father’s death in 1932, he fell into vices such as gambling and drinking. Turning point came in his life when Abdul Bari Alig, a scholar and a polemic writer in Amritsar came to his rescue and urged him to find out his individual identity. He guided him to study Russian, French and English literary of popular writer. Within a month’s time, Manto translated Victor Hugo’s the Last Days of a Condemned Man  as  Surguzasht-e-Asser  which was published by Urdu Book Stall, Lahore. Soon afterwards, he joined the editorial staff of Massawat, a daily published from Ludhiana. In 1934, Manto translated Oscar Wilde’s Veera  which brought him recognition among the the literary circles. At the continued encouragement of   Abdul Bari Alig, Manto translated the literary and masterpiece works of Chekhov and Maxim Gorky as Russi Afsaney.  In the same year, he got associated with Indian Progressive Writers’ Association and he developed good vibes with Sardar Ali Jafri.
His obsession for films which was at the verge of madness distanced him from the journalistic fraternity and brought him to Bombay towards the end of 1936. Here in Bombay, for his livelihood, he got associated with popular weekly  Mussawir. It was through this magazine’s popularity that he got acquainted with Babu Rao Patel, the popular journalist and film critic. He got Manto the job of a translator at the prestigious Prabhat Film Company. Opportunities knocked at his doorsteps to achieve the prime slot of a popular writer in tinsel town.
Imperial Film Company owned by Ardeshir M. Irani hired his services as a ‘Munshi’ to write dialogues and screenplays for his home productions. It was here in this production house Manto impressed his mentor about the potential of a writer. Kissan Kanya written by Manto was attributed to Prof. Zia-ud-Din of Shantiniketan as Irani was not prepared give Manto the credit of a debut writer as the film business involved financial stakes. It was a setback to Manto’s ego and self respect.
He got married to Sofia on 26 April 1939 and once again he became a victim of financial crises and left for Delhi to join the Urdu Service of All India Radio. This was the most creative period of his writing period. With a tiff with the Station Director, N.M. Rashid, he left the job and came back to tinsel world. He remained associated with Bollywood for over eleven years and worked in different capacities with Saroj Movietone, Hindustan Cinetone, Bombay Talkies and Filmistan besides his association with Imperial Film Company. In one of Filmistan’s entitled flick Aath Din written by him and directed by Dattaram N. Pai, he essayed the character of a mad Flying Lt., Kripa Ram.
Here is list films he wrote that included  Kishan Kanahiya, Apni Najariya, Kissan Kanya, Mujhe Papi Kaho, Kichad (Mud), Chal Chal Re Naujawan, Naukar, Begum, Shikar, Aath Din, Pagal, Ghamandi and Sohrab Modi’s Mirza Ghalib  which was released in 1954 after his migration to Pakistan.
Manto staked his future career in film industry and exposed the glamorous world in bold manner in his works Ganje Farishtey, Loud Speaker and  Filmi Shakhsityan. He commented ruthlessly but in a realistic way the follies, foibles, the eccentricities, plus and minus points in a detailed information in his works. His art gallery include Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Naseem Bano, Nargis, V.H. Desai, Babu Rao Patel, Noorjehan, Nawab Kashmiri, Sitara Devi, Kuldeep Kaur, Rafiq Ghaznavi, Shoukat Hussain Rizvi, Shobna Samarth, Suriya, Saigal, Khurshid, Mumtaz Shanti, Geeta Nizami, Mirza Musharaf, Sneh Prabha Pradhan, P.L. Santoshi, Shahid Lateef, S. Mukerji, Pran, Ramola, Nigar Sultana, Jaddan Bai and Seth B.M. Vyas. His critical analysis of glamour worid is of intense interest and of didactic nature.
Law and order situation in post-partition era was very alarming in India and as a result many Muslims felt insecure and preferred migration just as Hindus felt unprotected in the newly created dominion of Pakistan. This was the reason Manto had already sent his family to Lahore and was now eager to join them there. Manto lived in Laxmi Mansion at Mall Raod, Lahore till his death in 1955. This period was full of continuous struggle for his survival but at the same time he gave the best of his creations to the literary world which include Thanda Gosht, Khol Do, Toba Tek Singh and Babu Gopinath,  etc.
Constant sub-standard alcohol consumption turned him into a victim of liver cirrhosis. He had a notion that something would eventually turn up in his favour in Lahore but he met only depression, degradation and persecution.
He was simply 42 at the time of his death only to be survived by wife Sofia along with three daughters. History will remember this maverick literary figure whose partition stories still continue to haunt us. Manto was slapped with court cases for his bold and touching stories who spent months together in a mental asylum due to his compulsive addiction to alcohol.
‘A writer picks up his pen only when his sensibility is hurt’ , he told to a judge in a Pakistan court. Conclusively Manto was modern, bold, candid and self-confident- someone who already knew that he was much ahead of his times and his short stories are the ‘social documents’ of the time he lived in. Manto had scripted his epitaph in advance which reads, “ The name of God, the compassionate, the merciful, here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie buried also the secrets of the art of story- telling in his breast.  Weighed down by the earth, he wonders still; who is the greater writer, God or he”?
Manto was a God’s gift to the literary world similar one like O.Henry, Maupassant and Edgar Allen Poe.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here