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Remembering Saadat Hassan Manto

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Saadat Hassan Manto, who is considered to be one of the greatest legends of the subcontinent, passed away 66 years ago. The powerful name of the literary world, Manto, is still alive in the hearts of the people. Manto’s pen has the power to make one’s hair stand on end even today, as one reads about the political, religious and sexual oppression of humanity of that era in his characteristic style. Manto dressed up the realities of the society of his time in the guise of fictional characters and described the realities of that time in such a way that it is impossible to deny or turn a blind eye on them.

Manto never hid his face from a single word he wrote even though Manto was prosecuted, sentenced and fined for the contents of his stories. An article by Manto on Murli Ki Dhan (which he wrote about his film industry friend Shyam) was severely criticised by a woman from Sialkot, Nair Bano Sahiba. Similar arrows of criticism came from many quarters so Manto wrote in his article “Ganjay Frishtay”: “In my correctional facility, there is no shampoo, no washing machine and I don’t know how to make it.”

There is no doubt that Manto was a revolutionary and a visionary, and he believed in emotions, relationships, humanity and relationships. Where Manto wrote about celebrities of his time, he also wrote on revolutionists, farmers, labourers, capitalists and landlords. Manto wrote what the feudal lords, capitalists and rulers of that time were doing to the oppressed people of humanity and society. Nowhere in Manto’s writings does he mention his personal ambitions or cosmopolitanism. Manto did not write his own story but used his pen to relate with and to describe the pains of others. One finds, however, that Manto himself had to suffer some extremely dire situations in his life, but he never complained about it as he tried to hide his pain in every situation.

While Manto wrote fictional works like “Kali Shalwar” and “Khol Do”, he also wrote a spectacular account of the Jallianullah Bagh incident. Manto portrayed the enslavement of India in the “new Law” fiction. Manto also called on writers of his time to demand to be fairly compensated, and Manto told his pen pals to gather under one flag, form a front and fight for their rights.

If one looks at Manto’s life before Partition, one sees that Manto was a successful man who wrote film stories for a hefty fee and gave the rest of his time to his family. But when he came to Pakistan after Partition, he did not recover from the trauma of this displacement and his condition and health deteriorated day by day, so much so that he had to be admitted to an insane asylum. When Pakistan was created, Manto first sent his wife and children here and then migrated himself. Manto’s Indian friends were not happy about Manto’s migration and they kept Manto from going to Pakistan for several days. But despite his friends’ insistence, Minto still came to Pakistan. Unfortunately, once Manto had arrived in the nascent country, no newspaper was ready to cover his articles. When Manto came to Pakistan, he addressed the spirit of his friend Shyam and said, “Dear Shyam, if I left Bombay Talkies then why can’t Pandit Nehru (Indian Prime Minister) leave Kashmir”.

Manto died on January 18, 1955, leaving his idiosyncratic writings for us.

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Naya Daur