LAHORE: The speakers at a session of the Lahore Literary Festival on “Manto and the Recovery of Imagination” were of the view that imagination ended in Pakistan after Manto and it was needed to be revived.

They were discussing the relevance of Manto’s work in the contemporary setting on the third and concluding day of the LLF 2019 on Sunday.

The session was moderated by Osama Siddique. The panelists included historian Ayesha Jalal, journalist and author Khaled Ahmad and former principal of the National College of Arts Salima Hashmi.

Khaled Ahmed said Manto’s Pakistani (post-partition) version was focused on sufferings -- of the individual as well society. He said that Manto was punished significantly by the judges in Pakistan, not by the Raj.

He quoted an incident in which a judge in Karachi admired Manto terming him the greatest writer in the evening and handed him down punishment and fine the next morning.

Ahmed said Manto, after the Partition, constantly kept on “telling us through his writing what to do and what not to do”.

Ayesha Jalal said Manto was not an alienated figure. She said he learnt story writing from Maupassant and Russian writers. She asserted that Manto’s specialty for her was that he began with doubt which made him “the person of the time”.

Jalal said Manto was right in his portrayal of human dimensions of that time. She said Manto would say none of his character was fictionalised. He would take his characters from real life, she added.

She also talked about the rise of Manto as rebel and quoted his relationship with his father. She said Manto would bunk school and did not act upon his father’s advice. She said that he was frightened of his father but was also rebellious at the same time. “Rebel was inside him”, she said.

Osama Siddique said Manto was often associated with the Partition as he captured the phenomenon so beautifully, asking the historian did he transcend it. Jalal replied that though the Partition gave him fame, Manto was much more than the Partition. Quoting Manto’s “Letters to Uncle Sam”, she said that these writings were “history photos for me”.

Jalal said Manto had questioned the Partition but accepted it as a fact, citing his migration to Pakistan to substantiate her assertion.

When Siddique asked Salima Hashmi about Fiaz’s relationship with Manto, she read out a letter that her father had written to her mother Alys Faiz from prison in 1955.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2019