Manto and Our Times

Manto and Our Times

By Ashraf Lone

There is no denying the fact that this age needs Saadat Hasan Manto, a famous Urdu short story writer, very badly. Every other day, the pace at which people are becoming victims of hate and religious bigotry and extremism is alarming. Manto’s need and importance is more than that, what it was in 1947, when British India was divided into two nations- India and Pakistan. His stature is not only limited to the Urdu speaking world but he holds a position of respect among the greats of World Literature. The short story writer, who not only wrote about the problems and condition of oppressed women but also wrote some master pieces on partition and communal clashes. In these master pieces, Manto brought out the devilish nature and inhuman tendency of “human beings”. The great Manto, who saw humanity devastated before his eyes, not only depicted this beastly nature of humans in his short stories but also condemned it. While Manto is not alive but his writings are as poignant as ever and hold more importance and meaning today.
Killing in the name of religion and sects has become a new norm in today’s society- especially in South Asia. Now, every other person considers other person’s religion cancer and a kind of threat to his existence and he starts to think about how to wipe out the other. Religious extremism has taken a new ugly shape and this is turning more ugly with every passing day. Now killing or attacking a person of opposite faith or sect is not considered any sin; rather this kind of crime is committed with pride and nobody bothers about the law.
Religious interpretation is being done to suite one’s vicious political agenda and , according to which the people of different faiths and sects are “definitely the enemies of each other” and there is no room for interfaith dialogue. Brotherhood between the people of different faiths is waning. Now, whosoever holds power, he considers his religion superior and others’ as inferior. Same is happening in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, America, France and so on. People are getting killed in the name of faith. Whereas in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, there is no place for moderates and seculars and on the other hand in France, America and other European countries, religion is being insulted which adds fuel to extant conditions.
Manto has written very beautiful and meaningful short stories on communal clashes. He has thoroughly criticized persons responsible for the partition and communal clashes and has not spared extremism and hate mongering atmosphere, which made brothers enemies of each other and is responsible for bloodshed. In his short story, “Cold Flesh”(Thanda Gosht), Manto has depicted a very different picture of inhumanity and this depiction could have been done only by him only.
““Kalwant darling, I cannot tell you what a beautiful girl she was. I would’ve killed her too. But I said to myself, no, Eesher Singh, you enjoy Kalwant Kaur every day. Taste a different fruit.”
“I threw the trump card…but…but…,”
“She was dead, Kalwant, it was a dead body…a cold flesh “
And, we see how Ishar Singh is rendered impotent in the crime of trying in having sex with a dead body(cold flesh) and then gets murdered by his courtesan friend. Manto has just told a story of one Ishar Singh and his Ishar Singh even accepts his crime and feels pity about it but in today’ environment, , there are everywhere Ishar Singhs who celebrate their crimes. In Manto’s time, a murdered person knew, why he or people were getting killed or we can say the reason of murder was no secret, but now perhaps we have entered the age where the victim will not know for which crime he is being killed nor does the murderer will know why he is killing. That’s why it is being always said that today Manto has to come alive in another avatar.
Women were harassed during Manto’s times. Women got raped, killed but unlike today, no videos were made at that times. Today’s crimes and inhuman practices have taken new shapes and forms. There is another short story “Open It” ( Khol Do) of Manto on Communal clashes. Old Sirajudin loses his daughter and with this he also loses his senses. He is unable to understand where his daughter Sakina went. Sirajuddin tries hard to find his daughter but fails and eventually asks some volunteers to find his daughter. Volunteers are able to find his daughter but she falls prey to their lust. Here Manto has shown how during communal clashes, humans lost their humanity and are turned into beasts. The great writer has depicted this beastliness of volunteers and haplessness of Sakina’s father very artistically in these lines:
“”The doctor turned towards the girl and took her pulse. Then he said, “Open the window.”
The girl on the stretcher stirred a little.
She moved her hand painfully towards the cord holding up her salwar.
Slowly, she pulled her salwar down.
Her old father shouted with joy, “She is alive. My daughter is alive.”
The doctor broke into a cold sweat.””
After reading these line, not only doctor breaks into a cold sweat but the entire humanity. In the same, way humanity broke into cold sweat in Muzaffar Nagar and Gujrat when whole humanity was murdered there, when beasts were on prowl to rape the women and killed hundreds of Muslims, women children and old. The volunteers of “ Open It”(Khol Do) had left alive Sakina after raping her, but here women were burnt alive after being raped, pregnant womens wombs were ripped apart. Kunan Poshpara tragedy in Kashmir is another example where beasts were on prowl. The depiction of these tragic scenes would have made Manto’s pen tremble. But, still this age needs a Manto who can depict these inhuman and beastly scenes in his short stories. There are thousands of Sakinas today in Manto’s India and Pakistan, but there is no Manto who can depict and write the story of their pain and tragedy.
Manto never ridiculed any religion but he hated rigidity and mere ostentation. Just like the self styled custodians(thekedaars) of religion exploit the masses and are spreading religious extremism contemporarily, same was happening during the times of Manto. But at that time, there a was genius like Manto who could oppose these practices and likes of which is hard of find in contemporary times. There are writers, but rather than condemning extremism or killing in the name of faith, these scribblers are more interested in insulting a religion. They are more interested in the sale of their books and earning money by creating unnecessary controversies. That’s why these writers cannot stand before Manto and his stature.
Manto has not only depicted the beastly nature of a human being but also very beautifully the love and affection between humans. “Mozel” is a kind of short story in which Manto has depicted the love between the people of different faiths, but at the same time has shown how humans become blood thirsty of each other in the name of religion. In this short story , Manto’s ideas have come through the character of Mozel, who loves Trilochan but at the same time hates his religious showoff. Perhaps, this hatred is because Mozel has seen enough killings in the name religion in communal clashes. She has seen innocents being killed mercilessly during these communal clashes. And, today there are hundreds of Mozels around us who offer sacrifices for their friends and who have seen hundreds of people falling to extremes. These Mozels can be seen in Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Hindustan, Burma and other places.
The blood of innocents is being spilled these days. Today’s humans have lost a sense of concern for humanity no matter how much bloodshed is happening and how many are getting killed. Everyday hundreds of children, women and old are getting killed. Every religion believes in and carries a message of peace and harmony, but every time it is being misused to achieve the nefarious ends and exploit the poor and hapless. This exploitation still continues but missing is Manto who would have opposed this extremism and exploitation. As the famous Urdu poet, Fehmida Riyaz, has aptly said, “After Manto, there is none like Manto.”

—The author is a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be reachedat: [email protected]

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