In his time, Manto was much loved and loathed, but he was never ignored. Fifty-seven years after his death Manto still causes passionate debate. It was evident in the discussion where poet and writer Fehmida Riaz and columnist Zaheda Hina, novelist and short story writer Hasan Manzar, and critic Mohammad Ali Siddiqui gathered to talk about how Manto wrote about women, Partition, his association and subsequent falling out with the Progressive Writers’ Movement, and his legacy.
The discussion was moderated by Wusatullah Khan and attended by journalists, publishers and artists who also shared their thoughts on arguably the subcontinents greatest short story writer.
A conversation about Manto
Wusatullah Khan (WK) We are here to remember a personality I am finding hard to describe. I don’t know which box or compartment to place him in. Should we talk about a carefree young man who was not interested in formal education? Who failed his matric education but who was such a fan of English, French and Russian literature that he did not hesitate to steal books from railway station bookshops? He liked Victor Hugo so much he ended up translating him. He did the same with Oscar Wilde and Chekhov. Then he thought, why not write himself. So, at the age of 19, he wrote his first story in the context of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and became hooked.
Because he was in a rush to die, in the next 24 years he left behind 22 collections of short stories, five collections of radio dramas, three of essays, two of sketches, one novel, seven or eight film scripts, three pretty decent jobs, many court cases on the charges of obscenity, personal fights with progressives and non-progressives, and at the age of 42, left this world.
Saadat Hasan Manto is a confusion: was he a realist, anarchist, sadist, masochist, psychologist, misfit? Mohammad Ali Siddiqui (MAS) Manto was a literary world unto himself. He was breaking news in Urdu fiction. He was a departure from both Sir Syed’s movement and the Romantic movement and in a hypocritical society he loved the ‘bad guys’ and searched for humanity in them. No other writer has been able to destroy and ridicule what the respectable classes stand for the way Manto has.
That is why I feel that Manto was the first rebel in our literature. He used to call himself a rebel, a thinker, a comrade. The distance that he traveled in 11 or 12 years — from the age of 16 or 17, till he was 28 — perhaps no other writer of Urdu fiction did. He is the only short story writer in Urdu who placed Urdu fiction at an international level.
Continue reading the discussion:
Manto saw women the way he saw men: Panelists discuss the portrayal of women in Manto.
How does Manto stand apart from his contemporaries?: Panelists try and understand what makes Manto different from fellow writers who were addressing similar themes.
Manto didn’t have the heart to stay behind in India: Why, if Manto was doing well in India, did he move to Pakistan?
Society’s biggest critic would have to be progressive: Was Manto a part of the Progressive Writers’ Movement or was he boycotted by the organisation? The panelists and the audience discuss the issue.
How relevant is Manto today?: Panelists share their thoughts on Manto’s legacy.
I accept [my characters] with all their vices, their disease, their abusiveness, their peevishness: Intizar Husain discusses realism in Manto
Manto remembered: Contemporaries recall meeting and seeing Manto