Manto revisited on a rainy day, with touch of madness

Nothing new really for ever since Manto started wielding his pen, there has been an attempt by guardians of society to keep the genteel away from the troubled tales he told boasting that he was the most authentic authority on pimps and prostitutes for he was a chronicler of the marginalised.

punjab Updated: Sep 30, 2018 16:10 IST
Hindustan Times
Manto,Chandigarh,Sukhna Lake
Saadat Hasan Manto (HT File )

On the last day of the incessant rain which swept the region, a dozen oddballs were sitting in a near-deserted auditorium of a multiplex in Chandigarh’s Manimajra. The city was just about recovering from the astonishment of the downpour of the kind it had not seen in a long time. The floodgates of Sukhna Lake, which has got used to thirsting for water, had been opened as the danger mark had been reached. Yet a handful of bravehearts made it for the matinee show of Nandita Das’s cine tribute to the wild child of Urdu literature, Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-55).

Three of the seats were occupied by three of us, including my daughter and grand-daughter not yet five. She had come armed with a new umbrella and thrilled that at last granny had brought them for movies and quite liked the playful name Manto. The reason for bringing her along was that there was no place to leave her even though a matronly painter sitting in a row behind us looked at me in self-righteous disapproval that what was a child like her doing in a film on Manto.

Nothing new really for ever since Manto started wielding his pen, there has been an attempt by guardians of society to keep the genteel away from the troubled tales he told boasting that he was the most authentic authority on pimps and prostitutes for he was a chronicler of the marginalised.

Even from the margins, he brought out the most humane, touching and somewhat ironic tales. From the dark margins of Partition of the sub-continent in 1947 that he collected tales of the depths the human soul could sink to. He told also of how a few who could escape the inferno, paying a heavy price nevertheless just as he did.

Chronicler of partition

Nearly four decades after his death, he literally started rising Phoenix-like from the earth he was buried beneath to be raised to the ranks from the unacknowledged to the acknowledged chronicler of Partition. It was then that the Manto mania started spreading in full force for his writings were a valuable source of information forgotten in the joy of gaining freedom from colonial rule for Hindustan and the double joy of Independence and creation of a new nation for Pakistan.

A painting of Saadat Hasan Manto by Kanwal Dhaliwal

So historians thronged to read the somewhat lacking translation into English by Khalid Hasan. Hasan was chided enough for his inadequate translations but at least he did them because nothing is quite real to the people who have been once colonised unless it comes out in English. So it did and following the historians were academics of different literary breeds with a valuable subject for research. Then came theatrewalas, tele-filmmakers and filmmakers. Next it was the turn of psychiatrists who wanted to study this writer’s brain and find what was wrong. Foreseeing the danger of gravediggers, Manto had been wise enough to put it all in black and white for all times.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not being funny! Friend Google has actually brought out a valuable case study from across the border in Pakistan penned by Ali M Hashmi and Muhammad Awaiz Aftab. It is titled ‘The touch of madness: Manto as a psychiatric case study’. They trace his alienation to lack of affection from his father and a growing Oedipal inclination which amounts for his empathy with the women of his stories as well as the turbulence of the 20th century.

The gathered assessment, not dictum, is that external events were taking a toll on his sensitive mind. He was suffering from anxiety and depression, fuelled further by substance abuse. His was a strong death wish.

All this notwithstanding, Hashmi and Aftab pay him the ultimate tribute: “Despite all these problems, in his seven years in Lahore, Manto wrote 127 short stories as well as two collections of essays, two collections of sketches, a collection of the account of his trials, and a novelette, ‘Baghair Unwaan Ke’ (Untitled). This shows that despite growing mental and physical weakness, Manto’s creative faculties remained intact till his last breath, though some of his last stories (for instance, ‘Phundnay’ /Tassels) give the impression of being the work of a madman.”

Dealing with trouble

Now to erase the guilt of taking a child to the world of Manto’s characters and life, I must say children have a way of dealing with trouble and the troubled. She started a couple of times in the film and once outside, she said, “Naani this Manto movie was very scary!” Then she added after a thought, “You know many people were trapped in it. Some bad police had put them all there!”

The child’s critique is somewhat similar to Manto’s own. He had said: “If you want to know of the times through which we are passing, read my short stories. If you cannot tolerate them, it means this age is intolerable. There is no fault in my writing. The fault which is attributed to my name is actually the fault of the current system.”

The ‘system’ of Manto and the ‘bad police’ of the child are synonyms of a sort‘, current’ in Manto’s times, much before that and sadly ‘current’ in our times too.

First Published: Sep 30, 2018 09:18 IST