Pinching Societal Conscience: Saadat Hasan Manto
Writers take birth every day, but it is takes a century for a Manto to be born. Coming from a Kashmiri Muslim family, Saadat Hasan Manto’s life as a whole is a story in itself. Being a son of a strict father’s second wife, his childhood somewhat shaped his deeply individualistic personality. It can also be seen in his characters who used to have an aura of their own.
Some would term Manto’s life as a tragedy considering the image that was created out of him by those who benefited from such a gesture whereas others only know of him as a non-conforming writer. Of whatever our society has become today, Manto as a writer is known as the rebel Muslim rather than being known as just a writer, a title he yearned for all his life.
Manto’s closeness to the ‘Indian Progressive Writers Association’ in his early days could have impacted his work but he is said to have later distanced himself from them. His writings also had an influence of socialism. This can be attributed to his earlier connection with the PWA and other political movements of his time. The circumstances that he witnessed were said to have had a deep impact on him. During his days, it was quite a big deal to move away from set norms and break the conventional way of doing things but he did.
Manto, through his writings questioned the society’s morality. He pinched their conscience and played with their sanity. His writings brought out the hidden hypocrisy that existed in the bustling lot of people. His stories presented reality in the most explicit terms. Kali Salwar, Boo, Hatak, Baarish, Thanda Gosht and other such short stories, upon first reading, are sure to enrage and bewilder. Instead, their hidden deeper meaning should be focused upon in order to understand the true essence of Manto’s writings.
The Indo-Pak Partition is one of the episodes that Manto captured in his writings with gruesome details and unflinching honesty. He described it in such a vivid manner that there was little left for other writers to do. Khol Do, Toba Tek Singh, Sarkando Ke Peeche, Tetwal Ka Kutta and other such works highlighted upon the troubles and hardships of the gruesome division. He emphasized on the fact that people who died during this harsh time were humans and not just Sikhs, Muslims or Hindus. There was a human angle which he wanted the people to look at but times were such that it was hard to look after oneself, let alone others.
Women in Manto’s stories had a unique identity than in the case of other male writers. In his works, he tried to project the world through female gaze. Women characters were described as individuals and given a story of their own within the larger scheme rather than the imaginary supporting roles they played.
The manner of his writings was such that he could breathe life into a stone. Minor details which highlighted intricacies would mesmerize readers and continue to do so till today. Manto’s usage of language had a key role in this aspect. He only used extravagant Urdu where required but stuck to the commonly used language of that time. As a writer, Manto was way ahead of his generation and that slant continued to persecute him all his life. Considering the reality today, it becomes a necessity that Manto’s writings be read by the youth.
The epitaph he wrote for himself some time before his death but couldn’t get on his tombstone reads “Yahan Saadat Hasan Manto daf’n hai. Uske seeney mein Fann e Afsaana Nigari ke saare Israar o Ramooz daf’n hain. Woh ab bhi manon mitti ke neechey soch raha hai ki woh bada afsaana nigaar hai ya khuda”. It might seem outrageous but something of this stature could have been penned only by him.
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