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Manto - Some Aspects Of His Art & Philosophy

By Dr. Brij Premi

It was 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.

These 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 undiscovered frontiers.

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 Amritsar 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".

Manto's 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.

In his 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 life.

In his 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 :

1) Americans have purchased the Taj Mahal which they are now exporting from  this country with the help of huge machines.

2) The traffic police in Lahore have been provided jackets of ice.

3) My fountain pen is made from the horns of a donkey etc.

Manto had 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.

Manto began 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 asylum".

One of 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".

Humanism was 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 "Sahaye":

"You should 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".

The 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 Pakistan, 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 felt flabbergasted.

In a strong fit of disgust he wrote: "India has become free. Pakistan 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".

Manto was 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.

Manto was 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.

The great 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.

The language 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.

1) The abusive language stuck like some cloth in Mary (Nara)

2) Small 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)

4). She shrank in a manner a bundle of silk cast aside after being opened (Misri Ki Dali)

5) This 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.

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

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

  

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