America in the eyes of Manto

Published Sep 08, 2012 02:02am

ISLAMABAD, Sept 7: Theatre goers Thursday night came out singing Manto when performers brought the short story writer in the Urdu language back to life.

Five performers took turns and entertained the audience sitting in chairs and resting on cushions on the floor around them as they read letters to Uncle Sam in dramatised form.

Tajdar Zaidi, Tughral Turab Ali, Salman Zaheer and Safeerullah Khan imitated, walked and talked like the writer, and sat around the small space to face the audience at different angles to ‘expose the truth in the dirty society’. Eik Shaam Uncle Sam Kay Naam at the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) auditorium consisted of a reading from the eight rhetorical letters that the writer addressed to Uncle Sam (the United States of America) between 1951 and 1954.

The dramatised readings were delivered by the Theatre Wallay and were hosted by the Alliance Francaise Islamabad.

The tone of the letters varied from matter of fact to humorous to seriousness to pathos, as Saadat Hasan Manto described his poverty and compared it to the wealth of America.

The stage actors read the letters out loud as they presented his views on the geo-political situation of his day, on the quirks of his new country and on the glamour of American life as seen in films and magazines.

In most of these letters, witty and sharp, Saadat Hasan Manto explained that he was unable to send them because he was short of money for postage stamps or would rather spend the money on drinking. But the letters were opportunities for Manto to comment on the strangeness of his new country, as well as on the surreal aspects of American life.

In the letters, Manto happily described his poverty, and contrasted it to the image of fabulous American wealth. But in some ways, Manto argued, the two countries may not be that far apart after all.

The letters were as irreverent in their treatment of “Uncle” as they were of life in Pakistan.

Members in the audience felt that the letters were astonishingly and surprisingly relevant today. The letters showed almost prophetic vision and insight into the future of America’s global role and its relationship with Pakistan.


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