A young Manto. -- File photo

May 11, 2012 marks Sadat Hasan Manto's birth centenary. To Celebrate the occasion Books&Authors invited some of the most well-known names of Urdu literature to share their thoughts on a writer Zaheda Hina terms the “creative conscience of the subcontinent”.

In this part of the discussion panelists tussle with why, if Manto was doing well in India, did he move to Pakistan?

Wusatullah Khan (WK) So far we are talking about him as a story writer. But he also wrote sketches, films…

Mohammad Ali Siddiqui (MAS) He wrote about Baburao Patel, whom everyone hated, especially Muslims. Manto searched for humanity in him and told us that there were good qualities in Patel as well. He was inflicted with searching for goodness. He didn’t consider anyone bad the way the asharfiya wanted to. He was making fun of everyone. He was a great satirist.

Hasan Manzar(HM) By the time Manto got to Mumbai, he was going through a very bad stage in life. He was a compulsive drinker. People were avoiding him; people from the film industry were not giving him work. His most popular writing during his Lahore days was Ganjay Farishtay. Everyone used to read the sketches.

But those sketches were actually caricatures.

Zaheda Hina (ZH) If we read about Manto’s life we will see that his time in Mumbai was the best period of his life. As far as money is concerned, he was comfortable, he was earning a lot, he was writing films and getting paid for them. As for drinking, he drank the way alcohol is drunk.

MAS During the last two years of his life he had become a compulsive drinker.

Fahmida Riaz (FR) Do you have issues with that?

MAS I don’t have issues; I am just stating it.

WK The question that arises is that there must have been reasons. For instance, some people were putting pressure on him and trying to stop his writings, some publishers were refusing to publish his work.

FR No one was refusing to.

ZH This happened to him a lot.

WK There must have been reasons that he went into isolation.

MAS There were so many changes in every film story he wrote that Manto had to leave the film industry saying that Manto is invisible in his stories.

ZH If we look at his life from 1948 to 1955 we will realise that his mental state was not the result of his drinking. The agony that he was going through…

WK The way he was treated by those around him raises the question, did we kill him?

ZH What will be the mental condition of a man who comes to Pakistan because Safia [his wife] has already moved there and is constantly writing to him that she has arranged for a house and he should join the family. He comes here but after observing the situation he is so upset that there are three letters to Ismat Chughtai in which he is asking her to help him move back to India, saying he feels suffocated here. That is how distressed he was.

MAS Fateh Mohammed Malik used Manto’s sketch of Shyam to prove that he was Muslim and Pakistani and therefore he came to Pakistan.

FR If I am living in India and Hindus and Sikhs, brutalised at the hands of Muslims, are constantly coming from Pakistan, I will feel very insecure. Regardless of how practicing I am, I will identify with my community and I will feel guilty that my community is responsible for this massacre. This is why Manto came to Pakistan, because he didn’t have the heart to stay behind.

ZH Manto was a rebel who came to Pakistan because of personal compulsions but what he saw around him when he arrived here made him write stories like “Anjam Bakhair”, “License”, “Sarhey Teen Aaney” and and “Shaheed Saaz”. What was happening with Muslims in the very country founded in the name of Islam, only a rebel like Manto could write about.

The way freedom of expression was suppressed immediately after the creation of Pakistan can be imagined by the six months’ ban on the publication of Sawera when Faiz’s poem “Subhe Azadi” appeared in it. In that atmosphere of suffocation and coercion Manto wrote an article “Mehboos Aurtein”. Raising the question of kidnapped and raped women, he writes, “The responsibility of the condition they find themselves in now lies squarely upon the wrangling within the political arena and the religious frenzy of which we find no parallel in the past history of mankind. If nothing else, at least we should protect these women and cover them as our own sins. If nothing is done immediately then these women’s plight is going to turn into a huge calamity. Hundreds, nay, thousands of brothels are ready to welcome them in their cavernous mouths. Even the thought should make us tremble.”



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