By Dr. Brij Premi
Munshi Premchand who first lit the lamp of short story in Urdu literature. The
light of this lamp was further extenuated by authors like Sajad Haider, Niaz
Fatehpuri and several others. By replacing abstract notions and concepts with
issues of real palpating life these people brought some kind of freshness to
this genre. Prem Chand took the concept of short story from Western literature
and acclimatised to the Indian conditions. He not only brought national or
subcontinental issues into the craft of Urdu short story but also gave it a
substantial degree of realism. He also gave it a special focus and emphasis in
contemporary Indian literature. He gave a new direction to Urdu literature by
composing 'Kafan' a masterpiece of short story, towards the final phase
of his literary career.
In the third
decade of the 20th Century when Prem Chand's fiction was touching new heights,
the short stories of "Aangare" appeared on the scene and
progressive movement in Urdu literature also got started Consequently Urdu short
story took a new turn and several new faces appeared on horizon. Among these the
names of three writers, namely, Krishan Chander, Rajender Singh Bedi and Saadat
Hassan Manto are quite noteworthy.
writers opened a new chapter in the history of Urdu fiction. It was the good
fortune of Urdu literature that it got services of a very gifted writer like
Manto soon after Prem Chand, who took the art of short stories to new and yet
Manto was a
rebel right from the start. In his childhood he had experienced deprivation and
want at home, things that became part of his early consciousness. He had a stern
father who did not love him. He was thus bereft of love, affection and sympathy
at an early age, and this was later reflected in many traits of his personal
life. When he was admitted to Muslim High School at Sharifpora in
he showed several streaks of rebellion and stubbornness in his character. These
reached a climax during his stay at Hindu Mahasabha College. Here he caught the
attention of his contemporaries and classmates through various acts of omission
and commission and nonconformity and was nicknamed as "Tommy" by one and all.
During his school days the Head Master at Muslim High School had grown sick of
his way wardness and pranks. He, however, appreciated Manto's extra-ordinary
intelligence. Manto was, however, at the same time quite fond of study too.
Posing as headmaster's son he would sometimes borrow books from the local
book-shop and after reading sell these books at lower prices. The headmaster
would pay for the borrowed books from his own pocket while Manto would spend the
money acquired on cigarettes, boasting "I do not smoke any cheap cigarettes".
actions were strong and unique. From childhood till the end of his life he
adopted an unconventional response to things which was distinctly his own. His
unique individuality was reflected in every thing he did including all his
literary works. The experience of deprivation in childhood, father's early
death, the indifference of his near relatives, cold response from his friends
etc. all had a deep impact on his psyche and very early in life he became aware
of the hollowness of human relationship. A hole had infact crept into his very
being which he tried to fill in different ways. It was because of this that he
abandoned the beaten track in the field of literature and took pains to depict
his own individuality in a truly extra-ordinary body of work.
childhood Manto would sometimes be seen in the company of certain juggler Alla
Rakha by name and walk barefooted on live burning red hot coals on the jugglers
show. He never even once moaned or winced in pain while doing this. Behind this
remarkable feat his highly individualized psyche played a great part. It was an
indication of the future course of his life. As a writer, later in his life, he
deliberately deviated from the accepted ways, always exploring and breaking
fresh grounds in whatever he did. All his life he had to traverse fiery deserts.
As an artist he kept walking on fire. The great heights of his fame as a writer
were equally matched by accounts of great notoriety he attained in his personal
childhood Manto expressed his inborn imaginative skill by spreading rumours in
the town. These rumours would grip and excite the imagination of his listeners.
Some of them would run like this :
have purchased the Taj Mahal which they are now exporting from this country
with the help of huge machines.
traffic police in
have been provided jackets of ice.
fountain pen is made from the horns of a donkey etc.
also made an association of like-minded boys which he named "Association of
Fools". The objective of this union of minds was to bother people with
strange and incredible events. To quote an instance, Manto would accost people
with questions like what is your nib in comparison to this pen? Or what are your
buttons in comparison to this shirt" etc.
his literary career with a controversy. When he published the first collection
of his stories entitled "The short stories of Manto" his explicit
instructions to the publishers were that he should design such a cover for his
book as would annoy and shock the public. The publication of Manto's stories
did, infact, raised great hue and cry. Progressive writers were quick to label
him revisionist while the conservatives condemned him as a progressive. Many
cases were filed against him in the courts for the contents of his stories. He
was accused of writing pornographic trash. To rid him of his addiction to
drinking, he was sent to an asylum but on his release from there he could not
help exclaiming "From a small mad-house I have now came to a bigger lunatic
Manto's greatest weakness was his plainspeaking. He always called a spade a
spade. He was ever ready to sacrifice all before the voice of his conscience. He
did not believe in whitewashing the characters of the deceased. He explained
this idea of his in these words: "In my court there are no make-up kits, no
shampoos, and no ghangroos. Use of cosmetics is unknown to me. It was not
possible for me to correct the squint in Aga Hashar's eyes. I could not iron out
Miraji's dirty linen. Nor could I prevent my friend Shyam Kumar from calling
immoral woman as Saahlian".
Manto was a
great artist. From his childhood till death or from his early translation work
to the composition of his most accomplished stories, from writing of critical
articles and reviews to the crafting of his dramas, Manto never walked upon an
easy path. He opened new vistas in every field. The reason behind the writing of
his psycho-sensual tales was raising banner of revolt against the
traditionalists who had labelled his work as pornographic. Ali Sardar Jaffri
while noticing this trait in his work remarked : "Manto's short stories take the
form of a prayer from the guilty conscience of the Indian Middle Class. This is
the reason why Manto is a much maligned author. Great fame and popularity are
not earned by mere effort, for this one most possess real talent and Manto has a
surplus of genius".
Manto's greatest faith and belief. It was never a matter of expediency for him.
He knew that all religious slogans had a strong undercurrent of bigotism in them
which was exploited by vested interests for their own selfish ends. Manto
attacked the cunning and hypocrisy of these groups by stating in his story
not say that a hundred thousand Muslims have died or a hundred thousand Hindus.
Rather say that a hundred thousand human beings have died. After killing a
hundred thousand Hindus, Muslims must be thinking that Hinduism is dead. But
Hindu religion is still kicking and shall always remain so. Similarly, after
killing a hundred thousand Muslims Hindus must have blown their trumpets that
Islam is finished.
But the fact
is that Islam has not received the slightest hurt, not even a scratch. The
people who consider that religions can be eliminated with the power of guns are
damn fools. Religion, faith, beliefs etc. don't reside in the bodies of men but
in their souls and these things can never be destroyed by bullets and knives".
partition of the country was the greatest tragedy of Manto's times. It really
shattered Manto in the deep recesses of his heart.
He could not
reconcile himself to the division of the country. Although he migrated to
he still considered himself a part of grand Pan-Indian cultural tradition to
which he had been born. During the partition as the dead bodies piled on all
sides, and brutality and crimes against women and children became rampant, Manto
In a strong
fit of disgust he wrote: "India has become free.
has also acquired freedom right from its inception. But men continue to be
slaves in these two so-called free countries. They are slaves to prejudice, to
fanaticism, to bestiality and to savagery and barbarism".
undoubtedly a great artist. The greatness of his art was shown in the manner in
which his works opened new doors of perception. It was a different matter that
some traditionalists labelled his fiction as voyeristic and mere trash.
Sensitive critics, however, discovered some finest specimens of literary art and
craft in the body of his work. But the fact remains in his fiction Manto was
exploring many social and intellectual issues that had afflicted the
subcontinental society of those times. He was applying the knife of his sharp
pen as an author to the sores that had infested and engulfed our collective
consciousness. It is true that the choice of his subjects in fiction was
somewhat limited. But one must admit the manner and skill with which he handled
these unique subjects. Manto's art was neither journalistic nor propagandist. In
an age when progressive movement in literature with its issues relating to
farmers, labourers, class struggle, social inequalities and revolution etc. were
reaching a climax, Manto really chose a separate path for himself after having
travelled with the progressives just for a short while. Manto's art and craft of
fiction was also different from others. It was highly individualistic. He never
favoured poetic prose of flowery language in his work The diction he used was
calculated to shake the very foundation of his reader's conscience.
opposed to didacticism in art. In the potrayal of his characters, he never
favoured a particular school of philosophy or thought. That's why one cannot
really pigeonhole him in any way. He was first and foremost an artist. It is
true that he sometimes expressed his views on a number of issues in his articles
from time to time. But his stories are unique in that they are different from
the rest of his contemporaries. Manto's craft of fiction is a virtual class in
itself wherein he doesn't seem to take sides, come what may. It is indeed the
greatness of his art that he exposes and explores the human psyche in all its
vanrity with such great clarity. Most of Manto's characters are pimps,
prostitutes and lewed men and women. But when these so-called wayward creatures
enter the world of Manto's fiction, they come alive before us in their
nakedness, revealing both good and bad elements in their make up. These
characters shatter the veneer of so-called respectability of middle classes.
Referring to this trait in his writing Krishan Chander has commented: "In his
observation of life Manto melted himself like a wax candle. He is the only Urdu
writer who drank the poison of life with such avidity and then described its
taste and colour to us in great detail." Manto, the first Urdu writer who looked
at pimps, prostitutes and other such immoral men and women with human sympathy
and made them the subject of great literature. Manto was a free thinker who
never ever supported the manifesto of a political party. And for this trait in
his character he had to pay a very heavy price.
speciality of Manto's fiction lies in the freedom he allows his character to
fully grow and develop themselves. Take any of his characters, be it Mango of
"Naya Kanoon" or Sughandi of "Hatak" or Ishwar Singh in
"Thanda Gosht" or the pimp in "Khushia", or Sakina in "Khol Do",
or Bishan Singh in "Toba Tek Singh" or the Jewess in "Mozail",
all these people are unique individuals. All these characters also grip our
attention with a tremendous power and it is through their unique personalities
that the magic of Manto's fiction is woven around our heads. To sustain this
effect Manto not only crafts appropriate plots but also works hard on the
beginning and ending of his stories. Manto is very much conscious of words and
their meaning. With his unique narrative style, he infuses a new life into his
fiction. Every word in his narrative is at its proper place. If you remove a
sentence here or there from it the entire edifice seems to crumble and become
lack lustre and even lifeless. This is also true of the beginnings, middles and
endings of his stories. Whatever be the theme of his story the pattern of events
at the start, the climax and the conclusion are always perfect from the artistic
point of view.
used by Manto never consisted of mere empty works. It takes something of the
colour and force of real palpitating and throbbing life. The reader is not
merely delighted by his words usage. On the other hand he feels a strange heat
and warmth rising in his bones, which helps in building the necessary
atmosphere. This is true of all his stories. Here are a few examples of this
unique style of writing.
abusive language stuck like some cloth in Mary (Nara)
drops of perspiration appeared on his narrow forehead like slow squeezing of
cottage cheese in Muslin cloth (Khushia)
3) She was
now barely fourteen. But from her face it seemed she had moved ahead leaving her
body far behind (Pehchan)
shrank in a manner a bundle of silk cast aside after being opened (Misri Ki
Ashok Kumar is a strange figure. He makes love on the screen as if he were
taking cast or oil (Sajdah)
The prose of
Manto is worthy of envy. Sometimes his irony and sarcasm are razor sharp. At
other times his descriptions pierce the deep recesses of the reader's heart. His
style can also look innocent and pure like a virgin.
The art of
Manto's characterization is also matchless. He weaves the incidents and events
in his story in such a manner that the personalities of his characters emerge in
their full bloom. If Manto's fiction is great for his great mastery over the
craft of fiction, it is also noteworthy because of his art of characterisation.
It was Manto who after Prem Chand kept the flag of Urdu fiction flying with his
excellent art of characterisation.
The fact of
matter is it was he who made Urdu writers realise the great importance of
characterization in the art of writing fiction. Manto's characters all belong to
the same kind of world which we ourselves inhabit. He has taken his people from
everyday life and put them in a particular environment to highlight their
uniqueness and enrich their individuality. This indeed is the greatness of a
true and genuine artist.
In the great
gallery of Manto's art we have a galaxy of prostitutes, pimps, sexually starved
men and women, sexually mature and immature people, depressed and dejected
lovers, lunatics and criminals, free thinkers and fundamentalists of all faiths
and hues. These people come alive before us in all their fullness and reality.
Manto never forces his own personality or personal views upon his character. On
the other hand he depicts them on their terms with all their strengths and
weaknesses. It is this that places him on a higher pedestal of art than the rest
of his numerous contemporaries.
from original Urdu text by Prof R.K. Aima)