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An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

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Some Aspects of Manto's Personality

By Dr. Brij Premi

When Mantoo came to consciousness, he found himself in an environment which had all the rigours of suffocating discipline. Being a strict disciplinarian his father was miserly in showering his love on him. Absence of love and indulgence transformed Sadat Hasan into Mantoo. His marked features of fret and fume and extra ordinary egoism made up the deficiencies brought about by loveless environment pervading his family. In his later years Sadat Hasan had to face difficulties galore. Nobody balmed his festering wounds. His friends too misunderstood him. Such ordeals in life had turned him into gold. Though obdurate in his demeanor, yet he had live sensitive chords for empathy with others. Such lusture of his integrity was visible all through his life—When he was an ordinary editor, when he was a petrel in literary and film world and when in utter penury in Pakistan he put his creative works on sale for paltry sums. He never lost his stature as a model of large-heartedness and integrity. A sketch of his integrity is drawn by Hamid Jalal in his essay 'Mantoo Mamoo':

'In Bombay he had a medium type of flat, but the flat would always be crowded with guests. He hosted them well. In case guests would be more in numbers than the net-bearing beds, he had no hesitation to sleep on floor. Sometimes the available floor-space would not suffice the guests present. He would spend the night on wooden planks lying on way to toilet underneath the roof. Mantoo would not even make a mention of it to anybody'.

Mantoo purchased high-quality goods and was so large-hearted as to distribute them among his friends and admirers. He was ailing and hence would consult well-known specialists. He would advise others also to consult good specialists and help them with money to be paid to doctors. He carried his servant to his doctor and paid his hefty fees out of his pocket. The doctor was so much impressed that he accepted only half the fees.

He was a sensationalist by temperament. Some of his ways astonished people beyond measure. Such sensational ways dotting his life created a puzzling environment. When a student he had riveted attention for his romantic ways from his contemporaries and friends and had earned sobriquet 'Tommy'. Dissemination of rumours was his hobby. Each rumour would be unique and one has to accept his sense of innovativeness. Some rumours are like:

Americans, have purchased the Taj and are shifting it to America through machines.

In Lahore traffic soldiers have been provided with Jackets of Ice.

My fountain-pen is made of the horns of a donkey. Alongwith some of his friends Mantoo had formed an organisation. The organisation was named as 'organisation of idiots'. It would lobby for astounding causes. Its members would talk out strange dialogues.

What is your nib about this pen?

What is your button about this shirt?

As per Krishen Chander Mantoo was in the habit of pulling out a rabbit from his hat and he would do it efficiently. When his film 'Eight Days' was being filmed, his famous story 'Boo' (smell) was accused of obscenity and warrants were issued to him. A famous comedian of the day, V.H. Desai, was acting in his film. Mantoo was tricked by the idea of appointing him his pleader. He wanted to create a sensation, but his dream could not fructify because of film-shooting inconveniences.

Mantoo heralded his literary career with sensationalism. He directed the publisher of his stories to prepare such a dust cover for the work that its mere look should instigate the viewers to abuse him. His stories created a storm everywhere. The progressives labelled him as reactionary and reactionaries dubbed him as progressive and godless. He was denounced as a dirty mind given to obscenity. To de-addict him he was put in chains in a mental asylum. When out of mental asylum he spat out a meaning full sentence—

'Out of a small mental asylum I am going into a vast mental asylum?

Mantoo was outspoken to a fault. He never played fraud on his conscience and called a spade a spade in his conversations, literary conferences and speeches that he made. His 'sketches' were seriously objected to. His friend and famous litterateur, Ibrahim Jalis, once told him:

'Manto! You turn your gaze on to the literary highway and notice the mile-stones that you have set up Babu Gopi Nath, Toba Tek Singh and Mozael. And now you are earning your bread by auctioning the lives of your friends in open bazzars.’

Such formal statements matted little for him. He never believed that all human characters after death were to be sent to laundry where from they would return clean washed and hung on the peg of God's mercy. Not a painter, but a photographer he drew pictures as they were, same to same. That is why he told his things relentlessly. There were controversies about his writings when he was alive. He cared too hoots for his critics and continued to portray things truthfully as he felt them. His temperamental swings are no less remarkable. His studies clearly highlight his world-view. He writes in 'Ganjay Farishtey'.

'In his reformatory there are no shampoos and creams, no machine for hair. I am unaware of pressing hair into curls, art of adding layers of gloss and lustre. The squint of Agha Hashar is beyond me to straighten. I could not iron out the creases of my psyche and I could never compel my friend, Shyam, not to derogate bad women. In his work 'Ganjay Firishtey' even the angels have been scathed and I have done it neatly and dexterously'.

All his life Mantoo was not habituated to a linear path and always deviated from it. From his childhood to death, from his translations to his satires, stories and essays one can observe, deviational curves. He never accepted and trod beaten tracks. He always took to untrodden tracks. Contrary to his contemporaries and predecessors he flouted all that was traditional. Iconoclasm was his instinct. He wrote psychological and pornographic stories with the design of revolting against tradition and beaten tracks and people dubbed them as obscene. He considered it heresy to tread those tracks that were dotted with flag set up by others. His themes were inconceivable and highly original. In this behalf a reference can be made to a letter he had posted to Ahmad Nadim Qasimi:

'Enough has been written about women strictly observing the pledge of fidelity to one husband and noble-hearted widows. Such themes are fruitless. Why not fearlessly describe a woman who is locked in the arms of another man and her husband unreactive sees himself being cuckolded while sitting in his room. Life should be depicted as it is not as it should be.

His style was unique. As per him he never wrote stories and in fact stories happened to him. Whenever he had to write a feature about any topic he would start typing it without preparing any script. He needed no special environment as an incentive to write a script. In fact, as a matter of routine he would weave a story. Sometimes, he would get caught up in a serious creative pang. He writes 'story is in my pocket, not in my head. I am unaware of it. I wrack my head for a story and go on smoking non-stop. Still the story does not develop and emerge out. Then tired and disgusted I lay like an infertile woman'.

Mantoo was not happy with his creations and was never in a position to determine his goal-post. Such dis-satisfaction troubled him all his life. He wanted to do something tangible in life. But when unable to do something original giving him a sense of success he would take to 'hangamers'. He would be a loser and that was increasingly frustrating for him. He called his life a wall which he plastered off with his sharp nails and sometimes it came to him that he built an edifice upon the broken and clipped away materials. His feeling was that his personality was different from his flesh and bone frame. But people never appreciated his reality. He wanted to do a lot but when found the avenues blocked and cluttered, he would feel disgusted and low in spirits. He would be a victim to repressive suffocation and that would throw him into utter mental confusion. His state is explicit in a letter he wrote to Ahmad Nadim Qasimi.

'A heaviness hangs on me. A strang fatigue overwhelms me. I know why it happens. But it has multiple factors that never allow me peace and satisfaction I am totally alienated. There is lack in everything, discontent looms large...I want something other than what I have'.

Mantoo was truthful to a fault. This aspect of his character is glimpsed in every aspect of his art. His views were at variance with the views of his friends. Yet he knew how to make friends and live out the friendship faithfully. His short span of life is exampled by numerous happenings which are a testimony to his absolute truthfulness, contradictions galore failed to eclipse it.

Mantoo started his every writing with a number 786. If by chance he forgot to put the number he would destroy his writings even though fully written out. He would again try it, but that would be next to fake. His acquaintances thought him weak kneed in conviction. The reality is that Mantoo was not a superman.

He was a man with all shortcoming and failings and there in lies his grain of greatness. Like all ordinary lays Mantoo acquired riluets and beliefs from his environs, which in no case were narrow and myopic. He was given to drinking. Yet in his drunkenness he was not indifferent, oblivious to his religious beliefs. Once glitting function of music and dance was held at Paro Devi's residence which was attended by all gliterrating including Ashok Kumar. All were drinking to the last dregs of it. Paro sang out thumris, gazals and lyrics. In the end a naat was sung to mark the finale of the function. Mantoo was dead drunk, yet he said—

'Paro Devi, it is a mehafil of Joy and drunkenness. Better no mention be made of Prophet'.

Mantoo never mulled over religious issues seriously but he was in spiritual love with Islam. When I drew the attention of the famous novelist and story-writer, Krishen Chander, to this aspect of Mantoo's life, he commented—

'Mantoo never said namaz regularly, but fact about him is that he refused to listen anything (derogatory) about Islam'.

His writings are away from any religious imprint. He always revolted against all barbarities committed in the name of religion. His literature about communal clashes surpasses all literature about it produced by other litterateurs of India or Pakistan. Every writing of Mantoo denounces hatred, myopia, murder and blood-shed. The scene of history 'Sahae' is put as under—

'Don't say one lakh Muslims and one lakh Hindus were killed, but say two lakh human beings were killed. Muslims must have thought that Hindu religion has been exterminated through the killing of one lakh Hindus. But Hinduism is still a living creed and will be so even in future. Similarly, Hindus must have lustly cheered that Islam is dead through the killing of one lakh Muslims. But Islam did not suffer even a  scratch. Fools are those who hold that religion can be extirpated through bombs and bullets. Religion, faith, dharam, belief and conviction have a place in the recesses of one's soul, not in the physical frame. All these put together cannot be slaughtered through knives and bullets.

Mantoo was never affiliated to any political party. It was so because he refused to be tied down to a disciplinary order. His life-story testifies to his superiority complex that was perpetuated in him by the life happenings and circumstances he lived. His weaknesses and failings had created a void in him which he filled in through superiority complex. This is why he was a victim to egoism. All stories that he wove have the impetus of his terrible sense of ego. This very ego kept him away from politics. In his formative years he was influenced by revolutionary ideas. More than this he lost interest in politics because the politicians were given to trickery and deceit.

Mantoo believed that a politician was a professional who preserves his own interests at the cost of public service.

He writes in an essay—

'I have no interest in politics. Leaders and medicine sellers are on the same wave-length. The two pursue the same profession. Medicine-sellers and leaders, both use the prescription of others?’

Survey of his early life establishe him as a staunch socialist. The room in his house was labelled as 'dar-ul-ahmar' where many a dream of revolution were woven. His room had a photograph of Bhagat Singh dangling from a wall. He wanted to be a terrorist. The translations of Oscar Wilde and Doctor Victor Hugo and Gorky, stories of Atish Paray, his essays on Russia and Red Revolution, Banjara and Keechad type film stories go a long way to establish his socialistic ideological bent. He even called himself Comrade Sadat Hasan Mantoo. But his self centredness and ego created enemies for him and his admirers were forced to scathe him severely. But the fact remains that they could not formulate a generalised view about him. A time came when he (Mantoo) as a lover of Gorky and socialist poetry wrote against them out of spite and anger.

Despite his extreme egoism Mantoo was a great humanist. He was an exponent of realism. Like his contemporaries he never presented the bitter realities wrapped in coloured and glossy layers. He believed that black and white were to be presented as the same—no gloss, no wrappings to be wrought. See his statement—

'Go through my stories if you are unaware of the times we live in. If you can’t bear with my stories, it points to the unbearableness of the times?

At the time of partition tragedy Mantoo was in Bombay. Partition had petrified him. He was never convinced about the partition of the country into India and Pakistan and considered himself as an inheritor of the sublime Indian heritage which was jointly shared and lived by both Hindus and Muslims. Mantoo represented those numberless people who upheld India as a whole as their country and land. Mantoo in his writings has ripped open this artificiality of partition. The division that had created a new dominion though a reality could earn his emotional allegiance. In his essay 'Murli Ki Dhun' he puts—

'New name had metamorphosed this entire tract of land. I knew entirely nothing about it, self-rule what it can be never came to me as concrete idea?

It was all chaos and confusion. People were mad and euphoric. The concept of one civilization and one culture stood totally shattered. Corpses piled up in the name of sacredness of Hinduism and Islam. Rape became rampant. Children lost their laughter. Mantoo describes the insanity and animality of men in the sub-continent like this:

'India became free. Pakistan was just born free. But man per se in both the dominions was inchains, a slave, slave to religious bigotry, slave to insanity, slave to animality and barbarism'.

To live such frightening and perilous times was a matter of strength, courage and wisdom. What more can declare his greatness and sublimity than the fact that he kept the flame of humanism burning through the ocean of fire and brimstone and murder and bloodshed. He was determined and unshakable like a granite.

*(Translated from original Urdu by Prof. M.L. Koul)

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

  

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