By Dr. Brij Premi
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':
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'.
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
My fountain-pen is made of the horns of a donkey.
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?
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.
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
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:
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.í
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'.
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:
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.
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'.
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.
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'.
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.
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 -
it is a mehafil of Joy and drunkenness. Better no mention be made of
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'.
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 -
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.
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.
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.
medicine sellers are on the same wave-length. The two pursue the same
profession. Medicine-sellers and leaders, both use the prescription of others?í
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
and socialist poetry wrote against them out of spite and anger.
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 -
my stories if you are unaware of the times we live in. If you canít 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
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 -
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:
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)