Saadat Hasan Manto, the most controversial short-story writer in the Urdu language. He was born in undivided India in Punjab’s Ludhiana district. In the 20 years of his career, he wrote twenty collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio play, three collections of essays, two collections of reminiscence and several film scripts.
A prolific writer, Manto wrote his finest work during the last decade of his life. It was a time of great financial and emotional hardship for him. His work, describing the horrors of partition are difficult to read. He is one of the few Indian authors who gave space to sex workers as the lead character in their writing. Manto was tried for obscenity half a dozen times both in undivided India and later on in Pakistan. His honesty was his crime, that is the only reason why his writing is a celebrated piece of art today.
“Hum ek arse se ye shor sun rahe hain, hindustan ko is cheez se bachao, hindustan ko us cheez se bachao, magar waqia ye hai ki hindustan ko un logo se bachana chahiye jo is qism ka shor paida kar rahe hain”
If Manto was here in contemporary India, I wonder how many sedition charges he would have been carrying. He wrote what people knew, but were afraid of saying it aloud. He was not afraid of targeting politicians who took advantage of common people in the name of nationalism.
“Jung ne qabristan tak mehngayi laa di hai”
Can anyone describe the dreadful effect of war better than this? He talks about a time where nations (politicians) are fighting for their gain but common people die. Citizens are forced to fight in the war, and then they kill other country’s equally innocent citizens. People can’t find a place to bury the dead.
“Adab muaashre ki halat ki alamat hai”
If you want to learn about a certain time, read the literature written during that period. Literature is vast, everything that is written and being curated will become literature later. The news, opinions, editorials, essays, letters, everything talks about the state of society at that given time. So if the times are hard, do not expect the literature to be easy.
“She carried herself with the thought that she was a decent person and she often wondered why the men in her life were not decent too”
He has described the confusion of a young girl in a profound yet simple sentence. How many times have you wondered about people and why they are not nice towards you. More than often you come across people who are not good to you despite your every effort.
“Wo sakht hairan thi ki log ameer aur ghareeb kyun hote hain, jabki har insan ek hi tarah maa ke pet se paida hota”
Manto was a man who didn’t glamorize his work. He wrote about real life, hardships, filth and class disparity. Many of his friends didn’t understand his obsession with real stories and often criticized him. During a disaster, whether man-made or natural, the disparity of classes becomes even more obvious. The poor suffer, die, anonymously. The rich can always buy their comfort with money.
“Ek aadmi apne jurm ka zimmedar nahi hai, uske halaat hain”
Circumstances make people do obnoxious things. Many times, a person is forced to commit crimes not because of his habit but because of his circumstances. Manto brings your attention to the humane side of a criminal.
“Mujhe nafasat talash karne me asafalta mili hai, lekin gandagi to mere charo taraf phaili huyi hai”
In the helpless hours of chaotic times, such thoughts often linger in the mind. The mind is full of pessimism, filth. We are desperately gasping for air but all we can see and find is filth, surrounding us.
“Har khayal ek nashtar ban gaya”
Only Manto can put such a difficult state of mind in such simple words. During hard times, when there is no hope left, every thought becomes a knife, killing us.
“Aurat, jo adhi aurat ho, aur adhi kuch bhi na ho”
Manto is known for his scathing social commentary. He often gave space to the marginalized in his work. His portrayal of women is one of the best feminist literature of that time.
“Aisa hona mumkin hai ki Saadat mar jaye aur Manto zinda rahe”
Manto moved to Pakistan after the partition and continued writing stories about strong relatable women. When he says that Manto remains alive, he will. Manto will always be alive through the immortal characters that he has created.
Saadat Hasan Manto was a fine storyteller. His work set him apart from other writers of that age. It was not just his writing skills, but also his keen observation of society that made his work unique. Who is your favorite writer from Hindi and Urdu literature, share with us.