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Manto in India: Still Brewing at College Cafes

Aasim Khan

Most people in India, even those living in the capital city, would be unaware that in Delhi there is a road named after Saadat Hasan Manto. The credit of cementing Manto's name firmly on India's map, quite literally, goes to a former Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia where this road is located. Soon after being appointed the VC of this prestigious central university, the Left-leaning historian Murshirul Hasan decided to cast the names of famous intellectuals of the 20th century over the various gates, entrances, department buildings and the connecting roads within the university campus. So today somewhere between the Noam Chomsky Complex and the Fidel Castro Cafe, there runs a minor strip of tarmac, now officially known as the Saadat Hasan Manto Lane. A prolific translator of Urdu texts to English, including some of Manto's short stories, the academic Vice Chancellor probably saw it a fitting tribute to name what must be the shortest road in Delhi after the man considered as the subcontinent's greatest short story writer of the 20th century. Would Manto have approved of this logic? I will not risk a guess on behalf of Manto. Who would? However what is indubitable about this rechristening is that of all the cities in India, perhaps in the entire subcontinent, it is Delhi that has immortalized Manto in not merely its physical but also in its intellectual cartography. Surprisingly Manto only lived briefly in Delhi, when he worked at the All India Radio (1942-43). But if he were to return from his grave, it would be in this city of ruins of lost empires, and not in Ludhiana or Amritsar or even in Bombay, that he would find his most steadfast readership. Over the last six decades since Indian's Independence Delhi has emerged as the cultural repository of a multiplicity of narratives of India's Partition. This city is now an archive of numerous tales, stories and confessions and a home to Partition's chroniclers, and its storytellers. It is a museum of Partition's collective guilt and its temple of redemption. They say Dilli Dilwalon ki, but the hearts of Dilliwallahs are also vessels that hold the memories of those days that Manto chronicles with unsparing detail in his writings. 'Toba Tek Singh', one such haunting tale set in a mental asylum, is perhaps the most recurrently performed play on Delhi's theatre stage. There are scores of drama repertoires, ...

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