In the perspective of world literature, Saadat Hassan Manto is reckoned with Chekhov and Maupassant. Though surrounded by controversies always, he is storyteller par excellence of the 20th century India. He portrayed the degraded human values that emerged around and after partition. His masterpiece Toba Tek Singh is in fact reflective of the agonies of the same dark era of our history. No other writer of the Indian sub-continent stands parallel to Manto in representing the true and unbiased picture of the collective barbarism that came into being in the pre and post partition days.
Manto began his literary journey with the translations of the creative stalwarts Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde and some other Russian authors etc. He was influenced with the then proactive Progressive Writers’ Association and had leaning towards the ideology of socialism in his early writings. He had deeply studied the creative works of Dostoviski, Chekhov, Pushkin, Victor Hugo and Gorki. Manto’s first book was the Urdu translation of Victor Hugo’s work The Last Days of a Condemned Man. It was published by the Urdu Book Stall, Lahore under the title Sar Guzashte Aseer. Another translated work by Manto was the selected stories of Russian language entitled Roosi Afsane (Russian Fiction).These literary activities boosted confidence and an instinct in him to do something.
Born in a family of Kashmiri origin in Samrala region of Ludhiana (Punjab) on 11th May 1912, his basic education took place in Amritsar. Manto had least inclination in formal education and text books but had great interest in reading English novels. He joined Hindu Sabha College in Armitsar in 1931, which was the centre of revolutionary activities and freedom struggle. These activities were boldly-reflected in Manto’s very first fiction work Tamasha which was written in the back drop of Jallianwala Bagh mass massacre. In 1933 Manto came in touch with the eminent scholar and reformer Mr Abdul Bari Aligarhi. It was his association with Mr Bari that totally changed Manto’s life pattern. He inspired Manto to search out his creative abilities. Mr Bari’s selfless inspiration brought out Manto’s hidden talent. He created in him the desire for the in depth study of the contemporary literary giants. After getting admitted in Aligarh Muslim University for pursuing graduation course, he became active member of the Progressive Writers’ Forum. It was in Aligarh that Manto got closely associated with Ali Sardar Jafri, the founder of the progressive movement in the Urdu literature. In March 1935 Manto’s second story Inquilab Pasand was published in Aligarh magazine. Then onwards Manto’s journey of letters never diminished. The collection of his original short stories Atish Pare (Nuggets of Fire) was published in 1936. Manto was then only 24 years of age.
After completion of his graduation from AMU, he first shifted to Lahore and then to Mumbai. In Mumbai he proved his editorial excellence while doing the editorship for the monthly filmy magazine Musavvir. He also began to write the scripts and dialogues for Hindi films. He worked in the films Krishn Kanhaiya and Apni Nagariya as a dialogue writer in 1936 and in 1939 respectively. Those were the only days which witnessed his financial well being. After getting married to Safia he continued to write for films despite financial ups and downs. In January 1941 Manto shifted to Delhi, wherein he started working in the Urdu service of All India Radio.
This was regarded the best period of his creative journey. Four collections of his Radio plays namely Aao (Come), Manto ke Drame (Plays by Manto), Janaze (Funerals) and Teen Auratein (Three Women) were brought out during this phase of eighteen months.
During the period of his service in All India Radio he developed contacts with the eminent Urdu scholars and authors such as Charagh Hassan Hasrat, Dr Akhtar Hussain Raipuri, Ansar Nasiri, Mahmood Nizami, Krishn Chand, Mira Ji and Upender Nath Ashk. He continued to write short stories. Dhuwan (Smoke) and Manto ke Afsane (Stories of Manto) are the titles of the collections of his fiction. During the same period a collection of his articles entitled Manto ke Mazameen (Essays of Manto) was also brought out. Another collection of his creation Afsane aur Drame (Fiction and Drama) got published in 1943. But, due to some differences and quarrel with the renowned Urdu poet and the then Director of All India Radio Noon Meem Rashid, Manto had to leave that job. He once again shifted to Mumbai and started working with the film industry. That was regarded as the best period of Manto’s life as a script and dialogue writer. He wrote scripts for such popular films as Aath Din, Chal Chal Re Naujawan and Mirza Ghalib. His significant short stories Kali Shalwar, Dhuwan (Smoke) and Bu (Odour) came into existence then only. In the second phase of his stay in Mumbai a collection of his short stories Chughad (Idiot) was brought out in 1948. This collection included his masterpiece Babu Gopi Nath. He remained in Mumbai till January 1948. Manto then migrated to Lahore where there was little scope for writing for film industry. Therefore Manto had to confine himself to story and essay writing only. His creative calibre was best reflected in his famous short stories Khol Do (Open it), Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat) and Bu (Odour) etc. He dissected the human psyche and left that uncovered. He wrote the tales of prostitutes and pimps. He covered love, sex, incest, immoralities and hypocritical tendencies of man’s behaviour towards female. He wrote about social taboos and injustices that were prevalent in our subcontinent. He wrote all that with vivid satire and a sense of humour.
In these aspects Manto is considered similar to D.H. Lawrence. Manto himself writes in his article Mujhe bhi kuch kehne do about one of his controversial masterpieces, Kali Shalwar, “If the description of the prostitute is obscene, her very existence is obscene. If her description is banned, her profession also should have been banned.” Series of literary sketches written by him for the Urdu monthly Aafaq were later published in book form with the title Ganje Farishte (Bald Angels) in his sketches Manto portrayed the art and also the personal features of the then very famous actors, actresses, luminaries of the Hindi film industries, literary and political personalities of his times. He wrote sketches of Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Nargis, Noor Jahan, Nasreen (Saira Bano’s mother), Meera Ji, Agha Hashr Kashmiri, Ismat Chughtai and Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
The eminent Hindi critic Kamleshwar says, “I think such creative writers are rarely born.” According to Nasira Sharma, “Manto saw women from deep humanist viewpoint.” The well known Hindi short story writer and editor of Hans Rajender Yadav regarded Manto as the most authentic fiction writer of his time as he wrote out of his experiences. Considering him to be a revolutionary Yadav says, “Manto is very much relevant and significant even today and will continue to be so in the coming centuries.” Noted Urdu critic Mohammed Hassan Askari comments that in each piece of Manto’s writings you would find a clause or two which would enlighten the reader about either some body, something or some sensibility. The eminent Urdu scholar Professor Sadiq in his research work “Progressive movement and Urdu fiction” mentions that in Manto’s fictions the characters are the ones which are actually the living realities in this world and for whom the biggest aim is to survive. These socially and economically deprived people are so much preoccupied with the hard facts of life that they scarcely get the chance to think of any ideal or live for the sake of ideals.
Due to incessant hard work in order to attain basic financial requirements and also probabily due to the habit of alcoholism Manto’s glowing face turned pale. His hair became grey. He appeared to be much older than his age. The yellowish colour of his eyes was apparently visible from the thick glasses of his spectacles. The substandard drinking habit damaged his lever. Due to lever cirrhosis Manto passed away from this mortal world on 18th January 1955 at the age of 42. How correct Manto was when he wrote his own epitaph, having the following words. “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto. With him lie buried all the arts and mysteries of short-story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who of the two is the greater short-story writer: God or he.”
Mazhar Mahmood , “Saadat Hassan Manto painted unbiased picture of barbarism,” in Asian Age, May 11, 2015. Accessed on May 11, 2015, at: http://www.asianage.com/life-and-style/saadat-hassan-manto-painted-unbiased-picture-barbarism-155
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