New Delhi: Literary
icon Saadat Hasan Manto finds few takers among young readers
because the stories are dark, disturbing and reflect a time they
cannot relate to. But for the older generation of Indians, he
still remains one of the most powerful writers of the 20th
The writer, who died at the age of 43 in Lahore while struggling
to keep the literature of truth alive, was born May 11, 1912.
"I tried to read a translation of Manto's short stories in English
by writer Aatish Taseer a couple of years ago, but they were so
removed from our time. My grandparents love his work because they
came to India from Lahore during partition. They understand the
trauma portrayed in his stories," Sarita Kapoor, a Delhi-based
Class 12 student, told IANS.
Playwright Shahid Anwar attributes this lack of interest in
classics like Manto to a decline in the reading habit.
"They don't want to know the relationship between the individual
and society. The thirst for insight and understanding of
sensiblities that Manto portrayed so well is dying in the age of
instant coffee, pulp and exhibitionism," Anwar told IANS.
Anwar's play, "Gair Zaroori Log (Persona Non-Grata)", based on six
of Manto's anachronistic renegades on the social margin and with a
rare foreword by Habib Tanvir, has been on stage for the last 10
Anwar said, "The biggest problem with Manto's work was that he was
confined to the framework of partition.
"Partition in his works was symptomatic of a greater
socio-economic-political disease. They could not make a society
where Hindus and Muslims could live together."
Born in 1912 in Punjab in undivided India, Manto was drawn to
stories about psychological aberrations, the angst of partition,
rituals, dual moral standards, unusual social crime and the idea
of redemption in stories like "Toba Tek Singh", "Thanda Gosht", "Khol
Do" and "Babu Gopinath".
After an early education at the Muslim High School of Amritsar,
where he felt like an outcast, he lost motivation in studies.
However, he was obsessed with reading English novels.
Despite his "exposure to international literature, Manto was
shaped as a writer by political and literary developments in the
subcontinent", says Manto's niece and historian Ayesha Jalal, the
author of "The Pity of Partition: Manto as Witness to History".
Writer Satya Narayanan R. (Muasir), an Urdu 'shayar' of south
Indian origin, says Manto's works "have been a mirror that
reflected the social and cultural aspects of his era in a very
detached and objective way".
"The portrayal of the emotional state of the characters is
awe-inspiring. His best works, in my view, have been around the
theme of a common man's perspective towards life. They cannot be
reviewed by detaching them from partition," Satya told IANS.
Satya Muasir, as he likes to be known, argues that "Manto faces a
challenge from the time machine".
"The mainstream itself keeps shifting with each era. So writers
who appear mainstream in one era do not appear so 50 years or 100
years later. The shift away from Urdu in the post-independence
Indian education scenario has made matters worse for all Urdu
writers. Reigniting the Urdu script in the popular psyche is
essential for the younger generation," he said.
However, for several "aging generations of students in India,
during the 1980s and 1990s", Manto's "Toba Tek Singh" remains a
poignant memory, thanks to the Hindi school text, 47-year-old M.
Shreedharan, a director at a leading MNC in the capital, said.
Indian "bhasa" activist Sanjay Nirupam said: "Manto was the only
one who could capture the absurdity and irony of maginalised
people in society with courage."
One of his lesser-known stories "Shahadole ka Chooha" about
superstition and child abuse in a Gujarat shrine brings out
Manto's philosophy in life: "Asking humans to behave as humans."
"Many of his powerful human interest stories have been relegated
and the wrong ones - catering to popular sentiments - are in the
limelight," Nirupam said.
Veteran theatre critic and writer Dewan Singh Bajeli laments that
though Manto's stories inspired a generation of writers in both
India and Pakistan, he was not given the respect he deserved in
Indian and Pakistani society because of taboos. Manto was tried
for obscenity at least six times - and acquitted.
Writer and editor Nilanjana Roy demands lasting recognition for
Manto. "Why don't we have enough roads named after Saadat Hasan
Manto in this country," she writes on twitter.
Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)