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Manto's Alcoholism

By Dr. Brij Premi

Manto became addicted to drinking in his early boyhood at Amritsar. At that time he had become friends with the scion of a rich family, Hari Singh Amritsari by name. Later he got in touch with some such companions who loved to drink and gamble. During this period Manto was trying hard to pass his F.A. examination and had  failed to get through for 2 years. In college he would remain busy with things that were clearly naughty and mischievous. The difficult atmosphere at home would also disturb him considerably. Because of his continuous unsuccess in the examination all his plans had become awry. He was now disgusted with studies. Therefore, there was a need for him to find some new avenues when he got in contact with spoilt rich brats like Hari Singh, it was natural for Manto to indulge in drinking. In the neighbourhood there was also a thriving gambling den. Mentally and emotionally frustrated young Manto found some relief in gambling activity. But the sport of gambling could not satisfy him. Saadat was an exceptionally ambitious lad. He had aspiration and dreams galore though he experienced numerous disappointments and obstructions. Under such circumstances he would go astray and sometimes even get caught up in a mess. At times thoughts of rebellion caught his imagination. On other occasion he occupied himself in some kind  of versification. Imaginary beloveds haunted him in his thought. Referring to those days Manto himself wrote.

"That was the time when I lived in a state of aimlessness. My mind would always be restless. A sort of confusion gripped me so intensely that I was ready to taste anything, however, hard and bitter it might be".

The company of spoilt rich brats did not however appeal to Manto for long. He would visit graveyards and several dens of vice and indulged himself in alcohol and drugs like charas and cocaine. In this state of mental and spiritual anguish he had a close brush with the seamy side of life which provided him with a vast and rich treasure of experience about life and its realities.

During his student days Manto had to face great financial difficulties. His father had married twice and as such he had several children to look after. He had paid proper (special) attention to his children from first wife. As a result, after his father's death, Manto's mother was left with only meagre resources to bring up her two children. Thus right from young age Manto had witnessed shadows of poverty and penury in his home. This feeling  thus became a part of his consciousness and the circumstances of his life further intensified the feeling of his misery and helplessness. It was then that habit of drinking came to him as an escape route from the difficulties of life he was faced with. Manto himself writes on this:

"Our financial condition was already quite grave, circumstances around us were very depressing. Our sources of income had shrunk further. In order to forget my worries I drowned myself in drinking. I would often remain away from home in the company of my drunkard friends. These people had not even the slightest inkling of any art or literature".

During this time Saadat Hassan Manto's restless soul had found a new escape route. The late Mr Bari? had found some sense in Manto's restless madness of those days and even co-operated with him. Manto returned his courtesy by naming his own room as "Darula Hamar" (The Abode...) wherein for hours and days together they would indulge in fantasies about revolution. In this room Mr Bari and his three obedient disciples, namely Hassan Abbas, Abu Syed Qureshi and Manto would draw up a world of schemes for making a better world. Mr Bari would call this the group of "free thinkers". The various schemes that came out from his brain would represent a philosophy of life which he incidentally labelled as 'DaraLahamar' school of thought. That was the time when the concept of the progressive group of writers had not yet seen light of the day. Manto's room in those days was littered with the books of Russian authors. Manto had begun writing under the preudonym of "Comrade", "Mufakir" and "Witnam". During this very time he also suffered from severe chest pains. As he did not have money for medical treatment, he started taking cheap country liquor. Under the circumstances he considered this as the best possible treatment for his chest trouble. A full bottle of liquour would always be there in 'Darula Hamar" placed on the uppermost niche in the wall, judiciously concealed from direct view by a hanging calender. While drinking, the bottle would be hidden under the low writing desk in the room. In his last days when Manto had become a recognised alcoholic, he would hide the bottle under the commode of his toilet and sip from it from time to time by making the pretence of visiting the lavatory.

The friendship of Mr Bari (Alig) however proved quite useful for Manto. Manto himself admitted this in so many words saying that it was Mr. Bari who put him on the road to becoming an author. It was under his advice that Manto with the help of a dictitionary took up the translation work of Victor Hugo's famous work "Last Days of a condemned Prisoner".

In the beginning whenever he faced difficulties in translation work, he would resort to drinking, thinking that this would unlock his mental faculties.

Manto's addiction to drinking grew as he moved to Bombay and Delhi. After his migration to Pakistan drinking however, became his biggest weakness and ultimately proved fatal to his life. In 1940 when Manto came to Delhi as an employee of All India Radio, on his first meeting with Krishan Chander he offered the latter a drink. Krishan Chander who had professed himself to be a great lover of drinking was floored only after taking the first cup. At this he delivered a long lecture to Krishan Chander impressing upon him that it was very important in an author's life to drink wine. Krishan Chander has himself described this event in detail. Here is an extract:

"I was floored soon after I had taken the first peg. I did not go for the second round. Manto also did not insist upon it because he had noticed my condition. I confessed that I was drinking alcohol for the first time. At this Manto began to count many blessings of wine. The taste of sin, he said, lies in wine. One can discover feminine mystique here. There is essence of art and literature to be found in each cup of wine. Above all, wine is a source of liberation too. My dear, how long will you keep behaving like a Pandit? After all, you are going to produce literary works and not teach school children. You have to go close to life. You have to experience sin, you need to have close encounter with death. You have to taste sorrow. And this you cannot do without drinking. So long as you do not take Solan Whisky No: 1, you shall not be able to write any worthwhile stuff".

From the above it becomes clear that the habit of drinking which he acquired in his early youth from his wayward friends and which at a later stage he had used as anodyne for his chest pain had now become an inseparable part of his life at Delhi. Now he would drink not just for the heck of it but to discover the taste of literature, beauty of women and the beauty that is in life. And this is a fact too that under the influence of wine he wrote some stories which are master pieces of Urdu literature. According to Safia Begum, Manto's wife, at this time Manto, in fact, wrote for wine not as in early days when he drank only to write. In a letter Manto's friend Dewan Singh described his Delhi days thus: "When he was in Delhi he would drop in at my residence almost every day. If he came at noon, he would drink beer. But when he come in the evening he liked to drink Brandy with me. I often wanted that like me he should not drink more than one peg. But Manto always crossed the limit".

At Bombay and Delhi Manto's earning was substantial so that it was never a problem for him to buy his drink. But  after migrating to Pakistan his economic condition became very bad. All the promises made to him were broken. He was reduced to penury. In Bombay friends had hurt him. In Pakistan he felt completely disillusioned. The blood bath witnessed during the partition of the country had shattered his psyche. Despite accepting Pakistani citizenship he held the common heritage of Indo-Pak culture dear to his heart. When he expressed these sentiments in his fresh writings in Pakistan he was viciously attacked. This compelled him to drink heavily and eventually  it killed him. This great artist and fighter had lost the final battle of his life before wine. He was devoid of any will to live.

Manto usually drank in the evenings and would sometimes get tipsy though he himself regretted that he never got sufficiently intoxicated. In the last days of his life, he would however, remain drunk for all the 24 hours of the day. First thing he would do after getting up from bed was to look for his drink. He had lost interest in all other activities. Fear of family members made him hide his bottle behind the leaking commode in the lavatory. It was here that he from time to time took his drink secretly, free from the gaze of others. Hamid Jalal has described this situation thus "Uncle Manto would drink from the bottle itself that had been concealed somewhere behind a dripping commode in the toilet. It was impossible for him to curb his constant craving for alcohol".

While excess alcohol was running like poison in his veins, the power of his pen was getting depleted. But he could not really stop his urge to write. He began writing stories on an almost daily basis. Wine which once upon a time had expanded the frontiers of his mind was gradually killing him by inches. Thus the stories he wrote in the last phase of his life are worthless. They were written just for wine. These stories lack both in art and craft. In his book Mohammad Assad Ullah writes "Safia (Manto's wife) says that earlier, she would read the works of Manto only. But the stuff that he writes now is just trash. It tarnishes his image as an author. He now writes only to buy his drink. I do not get even a single penny from his current earning".

Another excerpt from Mohammad Assad Ullah's book "A tonga would be brought. Its destination was Maktaba carvan, the house of Chowdary Hamid, MA philosophy. At the approach of the tonga Chowdry would take out twenty rupees. He would give these to Manto after taking a story from him. After saying salams to him Manto would direct the tonga to English wine House. He would buy a bottle of liquor for 13 and a half rupees. He would pay a rupee to the tongawalla, buy Capstan cigarettes for a rupee and also some raddish for 8 annas".

Manto's short stories of that time were hardly any stories. The real Saadat Hassan Manto was already dead. The Manto that had once upon a time blazed the literary circles with his genius as a writer had become a helpless creature due to his excessive addiction to drinking. His creativity and its sources had dried up. In the last days of his life when Naresh Kumar Shad came to see him, Manto instead of offering hospitality to the visitor demanded some money for him to buy wine. Later in a broken voice he confessed", I am sorry that instead of extending my hospitality to you, I made you to spend some money on me. By God, this Saadat Hassan Manto is a wicked man".

After Pakistan was established, Manto's migration to that country really proved fatal to his life. The increasing communal tension in Bombay, the impact of Hindu communal politics on film industry and the threatening letters challenging the very basis of his integrity as a human being, the hope of a brighter future in Pakistan compelled the humanist Manto to leave India. But the idea of Pakistan after he reached there completely disillusioned him. On this subject he then wrote:

"I do not know whether my homeland is India or Pakistan. I also do not know whose blood it is that is being shed mercilessly everyday. Where were those bones cremated or buried, whose flesh it was that was torn by kites and vulture. Hindus and Muslim were getting killed at an alarming rate. How were they dying and why were they dying? All these questions had different answers.

There was a separate Indian answer and a separate Pakistani answer as well. There was a British answer too. But if somebody questioned the truth of these answers, there was no answer at all. Some said the answer lay in the mutiny of 1857. Others said that East India Company was to blame for the present carnage. Some people would go further in the past and blame the Mughal dynasty. Every body was going back while the murderers and arsonists were advancing everywhere."

Humanism was Manto's only religion. For him Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jews etc. were all one. This was the reason why in his fiction all his characters belonging to various religions looked so real and life-like. But having said this, Islam had a place of deep respect and reverence in his heart. He never began a writing without 786, a numeral sacred in Islamic thought. Although he was fond of drinking yet even under the influence of wine he never remained indifferent to the Islamic faith. Once he attended a singing and drinking spree at the house of a film actress Paro Devi's home. Many film personalities of the day were drinking with gay abandon. Paro sang many thumries, gazals and other songs and at the end began singing a naat, a devotional Islamic hymn. Manto, even in his state of drunkenness objected to this item saying: "Paro Devi, this is a meeting of pleasure seekers. A drinking party is on here. It would be better if you do not touch the subject of holy prophet in your songs here".

After settling in Pakistan, Manto was not able to write anything for a pretty long time. Then he began writing articles on some light subjects. Later, his mental block got lifted for some time and masterpieces like "Thanda Gosht". "Toba Tek Singh", "Khol Do" poured out from his pen in quick succession. But this did not satisfy Manto. His economic position became worse. Despite hard work, he could not improve his living standards. The members of his family became resentful. He pulled on for some time with the support of his in laws which hurt his ego considerably. Realisation dawned upon him that he was living an abject life. All this goaded him to drink very heavily with terrible consequences for his creativity. Now his stories originated directly from his pocket rather than from his heart and soul. His wife insisted that he should give up writing and take up some other job to earn a living. At this Manto's drunkenness grew at an alarming speed. To cure him of his addiction he was even sent to an asylum for a short period of time. But on being released from this place he exclaimed, "From a small mad-house I have now come to much bigger mad house."

Now Manto could not live without liquor. The massive addiction to drinking had ruined his health. He had become extremely weak. He was hospitalised a number of times where under medical treatment he was brought back from the brink. But after every recovery he would again resort to drinking. During this time his most favourite daughter fell ill with typhoid. Money was urgently needed for her treatment and there was not a single penny with him. Manto raised a personal loan. But he purchased whisky with it instead of medicines for his daughter. His addiction to drinking had literally paralyzed his sensibilities. Even when he decided to quit drinking, some of his friends would make him break his pledge by making him drink again. These people, according to Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad would then make this boast, that they had been drinking with Saadat Hassan Manto.

Manto's nephew and brother-in-law, Hamid Jalal has written in an article that one day some people had discovered corpses of a woman and her young daughter in Gujrat (Pakistan). Earlier they had been abducted from a bus station. About half a dozen men had ravished them. Their clothes were badly torn. Their bodies were frozen with cold. This incident shocked Manto a great deal. He wanted to write a story on this tragic happening. But before doing so he drank quite excessively and this proved quite fatal to his health.

A day before his death, Manto went round the entire city of Lahore. He joined his friends over some banter in a restaurant. When he returned home in the night, he vomitted blood. Probably his liver had burst. The doctor was called in. He give him some injections and advised his immediate hospitalisation. But Manto interjected "It is too late now. Don't take me to the hospital. Let me remain here in peace". Manto was certain that his time in this world was up. He was now waiting for death to come with great patience and calm.

In this state, he said "I have three and a half rupees in my pocket. Add a little money to this sum and buy me a bit of whisky". Subsequently, he was given a drink. As he lay dying in the ambulance he asked for a pint of whisky for the last time. A spoon of whisky was then put in his mouth. It had not yet gone down his gullet when he lost consciousness and then his eyes closed for ever. Hamid Jalal writes : "On his death bed Manto asked for nothing except liquor. He knew it for long that alcohol was his enemy number one. It was the angel of death whose force or power he could not avert now. Uncle Manto was completely helpless. But since his temperament was basically that of a rebel, he revolted against death with this last act."

*(Translated from original Urdu text by Prof. R.K. Aima) 

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

  

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