It is quite ironic that Pakistan could confer its top civilian honour – Nishan-i-Imtiaz – upon writer Saadat Hasan Manto now after so many years of his death. Though there's a feeling of better late than never, I feel 57 years is a tad too late for a writer of his caliber.
But then, it is not surprising considering the kind of treatment that was meted out to him in Pakistan for the kind of bluntness he showed in his critique of society and issues that mattered. His discomfort with Islam when he reached there and his expression of it through his writings made them almost hound him, with several court cases and public abuses.
Though he always believed he was cleaning the dirt of society by bringing to light all the issues that were considered social taboos.
He was courageous enough to write about such sensitive issues in 1920s and 30s, which people are not comfortable talking about in open even at present. When most people chose to ignore issues, he confronted them. He didn't look the other way.
The issues that he dealt with are still very relevant in our society. Two things were especially dear to his heart— exploitation of women, particularly sexual exploitation, and partition of India, and he wrote on them very bluntly like no other writer did. The glimpse of human psyche that you get in his writings such as Toba Tek Singh, Thanda Gosht etc. is unmatched.
As a historian, I see him as an integral part of history. Not many people know, he was sidelined by even the Progressive Writers' Association of his time as they thought he was not too civil or not too cultured to be a part of them. They thought he was too sex-obsessed.
This recognition has sort of reinstated him as a great writer; though it is not as if the Pakistani society's mindset has undergone a sudden change.
This award is actually a result of strong group of progressives among PPP, who had been aggressively campaigning in favour of Manto.
There was a pressure group that was working at it silently for years and has finally succeeded in reinstating his position as a great writer.
However, this award will not change political thinking in Pakistan; people who hate him will not stop hating him. Only a small section will take notice and out of sheer curiosity to know why he got the award, might go to bookstores to check out his works.
As a matter of fact, we in India have also not done much for him. We need to do more for him as he was an Indian for a longer period; he was a Pakistani for merely seven years of his life—1948- 55.
Why should we make him Pakistani, when he spent more time in India? We need to celebrate Manto more.
As told to Rhythma Kaul