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Manto remembered


A young Manto. -- File photo

Contemporaries recall meeting and seeing Manto.

Agha Ameer Hussain, editor of Urdu monthly Sputnik

“Manto Sahib came barefoot to my shop at Anarkali’s Lohari Gate intersection from Lakshmi Mansion the day Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in Rawalpindi.

Wearing his usual spotless white kurta shalwar, he seemed to be under great stress. “Agha Ji, yeh kiya howa?” Everyone at the shop tried to console him but he remained very upset.

Manto Sahib gave me a copy of his book Thanda Gosht with the comments “Agha Ameer Hussain kay garam gosht key naam.” The masterpiece appeared in the first issue of the Urdu magazine Javed launched by his friend Naseer Anwar. Within hours of its circulation, the police raided the office of the magazine and confiscated all the copies.

Manto Sahib used to write on the Urdu typewriter at the office of Sawera at Urdu Bazaar Chowk. Without reading, he would hand over his stories to me, saying, “Lae Yar! Koi ka kay ke di ghalti howay tae theek kar laveen.” I have never found any “ka kay ke di ghalti” in any of his works.

In the 1950s, a fan of Manto’s from a remote village came to my shop. I took him to Lakshmi Mansion. Manto Sahib said, “Tumharay saath aaya hai tao usay lay aao.” The fan first touched his feet and then presented Manto Sahib a tin of desi ghee, another of gur while the third one was fully covered. “It was my greatest desire,” said the fan and sought permission to go. Manto Sahib convinced him to stay and have a cup of tea.”

— As narrated to Zaheer Mahmood Siddiqui

I. A. Rehman, secretary-general Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

After I had taken up residence in Saadat Hasan Manto’s neighbourhood sometime in 1953 I saw him many times coming out of his Lakshmi Mansion apartment, board the tonga and be driven along the Mall. He was always dressed in white kurta shalwar and had an intense look on his face. It appeared that he was preoccupied with the mission on his hands — a trip to the publisher.

Having read most of his stories published till then and as one of the early admirers of the short-lived magazine, Subrang, that he edited with Muneer Niazi, I recognised him as an icon. But I did not deem it proper to intrude in his private world. However, I used to drop in at the weekly meetings of the Progressive Writers’ Association and Halqa Arbab-i-Zauq at the YMCA and when I learnt that Manto was going to read a short story at the Halqa I made it a point to be there. It turned out to be quite an experience and the memory of that meeting is clearly etched on my mind. Manto had a few sheets of paper in his hand and when the time to read out his story came he began without any flourish, his voice low. The story was set in Amristar of 1919 — the year of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre — and described the sacrifice a couple of women of ill-repute made to help the sharif folk of the city escape the wrath of the English soldiers.

The story is representative of Manto’s respect for women cast away by society, who retain their dignity and almost always expose the pompous puritans arrayed against them for who they are.

Manto read the story in a measured tone and hardly looked up at the audience. As far as I can recall, there was little discussion on it. The legend held everyone in awe. And then as quietly as he had come, Manto left the room. He certainly had great presence but instead of relying on his personality he stirred the minds and hearts of his audience and fought his battles with his words — sharp, precise and inimitable.