"Who is the greater writer, God or he?" - Manto on himself

Published May 8, 2012
In his original epitaph Manto had these words engraved: ?In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, here lies Saadat Hassan Manto and with him lie buried all the secrets of the art of storytelling in his breast. Weighed down by the earth he wonders still: Who is the greater writer, God or he?? ? Photo by Tairq Mahmood
In his original epitaph Manto had these words engraved: ?In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, here lies Saadat Hassan Manto and with him lie buried all the secrets of the art of storytelling in his breast. Weighed down by the earth he wonders still: Who is the greater writer, God or he?? ? Photo by Tairq Mahmood
Born in 1912, in Ludhiana district of East Punjab, India, Manto was the youngest son of his fathers? second wife. He perpetually lived in dread of his father who was a very strict man and had a large family.
Born in 1912, in Ludhiana district of East Punjab, India, Manto was the youngest son of his fathers? second wife. He perpetually lived in dread of his father who was a very strict man and had a large family.
Manto considered Amritsar in Punjab his first home where he went to school and college. Less interested in formal education, he engrossed himself in reading fiction. It was in Amritsar that he started translating fiction in Urdu. ? Photo by Whitestar
Manto considered Amritsar in Punjab his first home where he went to school and college. Less interested in formal education, he engrossed himself in reading fiction. It was in Amritsar that he started translating fiction in Urdu. ? Photo by Whitestar
Manto's adopted home turned out to be Bombay (now Mumbai), where he moved to in 1936. He stayed there for many years editing a monthly magazine ?Musawwir? and writing scripts and dialogues for Hindi films. He once left for Delhi, but eventually returned to Bombay, he continued to write about the city even after he had moved to Pakistan.
Manto's adopted home turned out to be Bombay (now Mumbai), where he moved to in 1936. He stayed there for many years editing a monthly magazine ?Musawwir? and writing scripts and dialogues for Hindi films. He once left for Delhi, but eventually returned to Bombay, he continued to write about the city even after he had moved to Pakistan.
In 1939, when Manto married Safia, he was in dire financial straights. He later wrote an essay about his marriage, including one about how he tried to dissuade his father-in-law to be, from accepting his proposal for Safia. ?I told him my employment in a film company offers no salary. It only occasionally advances some cash to employees so they can stay alive. What I was surprised about was that when I told him that, despite all this I still drink a bottle of beer every evening, he did not mind it at all.?
In 1939, when Manto married Safia, he was in dire financial straights. He later wrote an essay about his marriage, including one about how he tried to dissuade his father-in-law to be, from accepting his proposal for Safia. ?I told him my employment in a film company offers no salary. It only occasionally advances some cash to employees so they can stay alive. What I was surprised about was that when I told him that, despite all this I still drink a bottle of beer every evening, he did not mind it at all.?
When Manto moved to Lahore he wrote every day so that he could support his family. Life became extremely hard for him. He lamented ?I write day and night to make a living. I have a wife and three young daughters. If any of them fall sick and I have to beg for their treatment I will be too distressed.?
When Manto moved to Lahore he wrote every day so that he could support his family. Life became extremely hard for him. He lamented ?I write day and night to make a living. I have a wife and three young daughters. If any of them fall sick and I have to beg for their treatment I will be too distressed.?
In an interview, Manto's eldest daughter Nighat Manto, who was nine when he died, remembers her father: ?Ba used to make her (Safia) pose; he ironed her saris and then stylishly photographed her. Our father was very strong, in every way, but our mother was very innocent. She was so simple that she often did not understand what Manto wrote. Aba separately wrote down short stories and explained them to her.?
In an interview, Manto's eldest daughter Nighat Manto, who was nine when he died, remembers her father: ?Ba used to make her (Safia) pose; he ironed her saris and then stylishly photographed her. Our father was very strong, in every way, but our mother was very innocent. She was so simple that she often did not understand what Manto wrote. Aba separately wrote down short stories and explained them to her.?
Despite bad health and having fallen on hard times, Manto continued to speak his mind. Near the end of 1951, he wrote: ?When I think of all the doors of radios and libraries that will be open to my writings and given the same lofty status as that of Iqbal after I am dead, my soul will be restless. Keeping in view this restlessness, I am quite content with the regimen I have been offered. May God save my bones from this termite in my grave.? - Photo by Abro
Despite bad health and having fallen on hard times, Manto continued to speak his mind. Near the end of 1951, he wrote: ?When I think of all the doors of radios and libraries that will be open to my writings and given the same lofty status as that of Iqbal after I am dead, my soul will be restless. Keeping in view this restlessness, I am quite content with the regimen I have been offered. May God save my bones from this termite in my grave.? - Photo by Abro
Even though Manto had written his own epitaph, his sister had the tombstone replaced with another that carries an inscription with an ironic repetition of the word grave: ?.... Saadat Hasan Manto ki qabr ki qabr he Yahan Manto jo aaj bhi ye samajhta hay kay wo loh-e-Jahan per harf-e-muqarar nahi tha.? ?(This is) the grave of Saadat Hasan Manto's grave who still believes his name was not to be written twice on the cosmic stone).? Manto had to be disagreed with even in death. ? Photo by Tariq Mahmood
Even though Manto had written his own epitaph, his sister had the tombstone replaced with another that carries an inscription with an ironic repetition of the word grave: ?.... Saadat Hasan Manto ki qabr ki qabr he Yahan Manto jo aaj bhi ye samajhta hay kay wo loh-e-Jahan per harf-e-muqarar nahi tha.? ?(This is) the grave of Saadat Hasan Manto's grave who still believes his name was not to be written twice on the cosmic stone).? Manto had to be disagreed with even in death. ? Photo by Tariq Mahmood

Saadat Hasan Manto is celebrated as the greatest Urdu short story writers of all times, although he led an extremely difficult and anguished life after moving to Pakistan soon after Partition.

Yet he was at the forefront of a literary movement that gave Urdu fiction its contemporary voice and has carried on since his death in 1955 at the young age of 43. Following are a few photos from his life that give glimpses into the life of Manto as an author, a father and a restless soul.

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