Saadat Hasan Manto was recently awarded the Nishan-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian award. Manto is celebrated widely both in India and Pakistan. His famous story, ‘Toba Tek Singh’, is one of the best available narratives that portray the pain of Partition.
It might have come as a surprise that Manto was finally being honoured at the state level for his contribution to literature. Renowned poet, columnist and writer, Munnoo Bhai, hailed the government's decision and termed Manto as the best story-writer in the Indian subcontinent.
“There’s nobody like Manto. He always rejected awards but by giving him an award, the government is honouring itself rather than honouring Manto.”
For columnist Raza Rumi, the government has “corrected a historical wrong”. By awarding Manto the highest civilian honour it has attempted to redeem the maltreatment of our artists, writers and intellectuals. Manto was shoddily treated during the early years of Pakistan and in his several writings he said how he had “no niche in the new country.”
Rumi is not the only one who feels this way. According to journalist Najam Sethi, “The highest civil award to Manto is not just a recognition of his towering status as a man of letters but also of his relevance to modern-day Pakistan. Manto wrote about ‘zar (gold), zan (women), zameen (land)’ in society in the aftermath of Partition and exposed the hypocrisy, exploitation and violence related to all three. Much the same is happening in Pakistan now.”
Sethi added, “It is doubly ironic that he should have been awarded the highest civilian award when six decades ago he was persecuted for obscenity and today the Supreme Court is hearing a petition to ban ‘obscenity’ on TV.”
Indian scholar Dr Gopi Chand Narang was also awarded a civil award by the government for his service to Urdu literature.
(Mehmal Sarfraz is a Lahore-based journalist)