Saadat Hassan Manto is one of the most controversial and sought after writers in the history of Urdu literature. When we think of Manto and our mind immediately goes to Nawaazuddin Siddique, with his vintage eyeglass frames, ragged cotton kurtas and the horrific times of the partition. But we don't look into the atrocities of it all. We don't remember the blood, the defamation, the harsh realities, the brutal livelihoods, the dark truths. Manto was a writer, but his writings were not a figment of his imagination cultivated for the readers to rejoice in, rather they were a fragment of the realities. Realities, which more often than always were dark, threatening and unthinkable. The tragedies during the struggle for independence, the terrible horrors, and calamities of the partition, the times of suffering and the after-effects of it, this is what Manto tackled in his literature.
He was insulted and charged by the society and authorities for the language that he used, the topics that he took up, and his representation of the society, at large, but what the society could not restrain was the effect that his words have on us, even now when Manto has long left the sands of time. He had once said:
“अगर आपको मेरी कहानियाँ अशलील या गंदी लगती हैं, तो जिस समाज में आप रह रहे हैं, वह अश्लील और गंदा है। मेरी कहानियाँ तो केवल सच दर्शाती हैं।”
Manto took up stories and inspirations from the ground itself, his literature revolves around the struggles and effects of freedom and after that. He had very controversially and bravely took up the topic of women, specifically prostitutes. He believed that the brothels and these prostitutes also have stories to tell and experiences to share, they are also humans who have felt emotions and the struggle of the cruel life. He targeted these women and wrote the stories of their life and the brutality they had experienced. His stories like ‘फातो’, ‘काली सलवार’ which are strikingly true and frightening representations of stories of the side untouched by the society, of forbidden women and of a place considered as a taboo.
Manto’s most controversial short story ‘ठंडा गोश्त' revolved around communal violence during that time. It revolves around a dacoit who had attempted to rape a dead girl. The story also tackles the issue of women and their desires, as a minor theme. He was convicted for this story’s vulgarity and obscenity. In stories like ‘टोबा टेक सिंह’, Manto continues to unravel the disillusionment and chaos in the society due to the partition, and how the mere shift can be catastrophic in the lives of rooted citizens. A character which came too close to hitting his own reality and how he was to be taken away from his beloved city of Bombay. If I must remember clearly it was Shakespeare who wrote - "A rose by any other name, would smell as sweet." and thus Manto even remarked that a bosom by all names would still be called a bosom and nothing else, there just cannot be a euphemism for that, and there is nothing wrong in writing it out.
Manto's language was the language of the masses, with words used in general, in accordance with the regular curse words. He did not leave a bit of the reality untouched without any rose colored glasses, it was as if he was narrating incidents that had truly happened and how they had happened. His stories no matter how appreciated they may be in the modern arena, are still considered somewhat a taboo. Let’s face it we may never really go along reading in our classes, a literature that is abundant with curses, sexual euphemisms and of course, stories of opinionated, bold women because God forbid we might become one of them and release Armageddon upon society. His stories are a mirror to the world, and they are still as apt now, as they were then. The society may never accept it because they believe in 'La vie en rose', blindfolding the masses with their pretty lies so that we may be shielded by the horrors. But they do happen, rapes happen, cold-blooded murders happen, prostitution happens, physical intimacy, sex happens, whether we accept it or not. Whether we think about it or not, whether we read it or not, whether we see it or not.
The era itself gave birth to revolutionaries, like a mother desperate to produce defendants and rebels. One such writer was Ismat Chughtai, the style of writing much similar to that of Manto himself. She wrote short stories which came too close to humanity and the depth of it all. Her short story ‘Lihaaf’ earned her a place beside Manto due to the alleged obscenity in their literature’. She was prosecuted as her story depicted human sexuality and femininity in its true and vulnerable form. Another writer, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a renowned poet was chided and insulted for writing the bitter truths of the struggles by saying that he wrote with black ink the dark poetry and the dark literature of those times, he casually replied that he was writing with white ink on the black pages of the society. He was often compared and contrasted with the likes of Manto himself. His first socially woke poetry was 'मुझसे पहली सी मोहब्बत मेरे महबूब ना मांग'. The last verse of the ‘ghazal’ being-
In the start of this poem, he quoted a Persian poet saying “दिल-ए-बुफ़रो-ख्तम जान-ए-खरीदूँ” meaning that I have sold my heart and bought a soul. Selling all the things dear to him and what he considered love and emotions, he had gained a soul, a deep understanding of this society and mankind. Faiz like Manto wrote on the social construct of the society which was essentially tainted with blood, horrors and darkness. Reading these epic battles we get only a fickle gist of the frightening truths of the fights for freedom and independence. However gruesome they had been, they are our heritage, a past, a history we must remember and cherish, so our future may never turn out to be the same. It is with these stories, these allusions of the days past, these brutalities, that we must survive through and learn from.
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