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Manto The Master Story-teller


Mushirul Hasan

BITTER FRUIT: THE VERY BEST OF SAADAT HASAN MANTO
Edited by Khalid Hasan
Penguin Books, Delhi, pp. 708, pp. 708

SAADAT HASAN MANTO-NAKED VOICES: STORIES AND SKETCHES
By Rakhshanda Jalil
Roli Books, Delhi, 2008, pp. 142, price not started

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 2 February 2010

Dedicated to the man who, in the course of narrating his bloody exploits, conceded: ‘when I killed an old woman only then did I feel that I had committed murder.’ This is Saadat Hasan Manto (1913–55), who had a natural and powerful talent for story-telling. Born in a Kashmiri family of Amritsar, this enfant terrible of Urdu literature wandered from place to place, as many creative writers did during those days, before returning to Bombay in 1943 to work with a group of friends at the famous Bombay Talkies. These were exciting times—the closing year of World War I and the gathering momentum leading towards self-government. But Manto’s restless soul found no peace. In January 1948, he moved to Karachi, the capital of Pakistan. When party workers and their blind followers in the National Guards and the RSS, with their savage and barbaric instincts, did their worst, Manto referred to ‘the single minded dedication with which men had killed men, about the remorse felt by some of them, about the tears shed by murderers who could not understand why they still had some human feelings.’ Asararul Haq Majaz, the vibrant Urdu poet, drank heavily and died on a cold night in Lucknow. Manto, too, virtually drank himself to death at the age of forty-three. He wrote his own epitaph on 18 August 1954, a year before his death:Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto. With him lie buried all the arts and mysteries of story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, wondering if he is a greater short story writer than God. Nobody can deny that Manto’s works have won a permanent place, and a significant one, in Urdu literature. He wrote over 250 stories and scores of plays and essays, the first story collection coming in 1940. Some were received well, but most were ignored or condemned for their alleged obsession with sex and the seamy side of life. He was prosecuted in the early 1940s and for a second time in 1948. His detractors, of whom he has always had many, attacked him for sensationalizing a tragedy, desecrating the dead and robbing them of their possession to build a collection. Acquitting him, the judge stated: ‘If I had rejected your appeal, you would have gone around saying that you had been done in by a bearded Maulvi.’ The truth is that Manto’s stories generate a measure of antagonism between him and his ...


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