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Reinterpreting Manto

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by Syeda Saleha
If the title is to be taken as an indicator, the book under review is an attempt to re-interpret Manto against the backdrop of the ideology of Pakistan. It contains six articles which are "Manto ki Pakistaniat"; "Manto aur jang-i-azadi-i-Kashmir"; "Inqilab pasand Manto aur Namnihad taraqqi pasand"; "Manto ki fikri salabat aur nazriati isteqamat"; "Toba Tek Singh - ek nai tabeer" and "Manto ki misaliat pasandi". These are further supplemented by articles, three of which were written by Manto himself, four by Mohammad Hasan Askari, one by Zaheer Kashmiri, another introductory article to Risala Urdu Adab and a sketch of Manto by the author of the book. The titles mentioned above are self-explanatory and they have been written in order to evaluate the element of patriotism - Pakistaniat in Manto. While these elements have been in Manto's writings, the irony is as to why they have been "discovered" now. Why did his wife have to complain that "he was always treated unjustly by everyone". Khalid Hasan in his introduction to Saadat Hasan Manto in A Wet Afternoon writes, "After arriving in Lahore in 1948, Manto wrote just one film that flopped badly. After that he did not get any work. There was hardly any money to be made from writing. Most writers survived on what they made on Radio Pakistan. Ironically, every leading writer was on the government's banned list, Manto being one of them. The list's existence was never officially revealed but it was common knowledge that it not only existed but was also scrupulously respected. Even today, more than half a century into independence, the government-run media maintains an intellectual censorship. This fact has been accepted and lamented by Mohammad. Hasan Askari in his article, 'Pakistani hakoomat aur adeeb' as well." This explains quite a lot about the people in power. Manto's differences with the Progressive Writers' Movement are well known and need not be further discussed, albeit he is now regarded as one of the greatest fiction writers and the history of Urdu literature is incomplete without him. Not only is he recognized internationally, but also respected across the borders. Regarding his criticism on "Toba Tek Singh: ek nai tabeer", the author states that Manto never used his writings as a tool to propagate any political ideology and was against autocracy in literature. He writes, "After his demise his acquaintances never lost the opportunity to use his writings for political propaganda. His masterpiece 'Toba Tek Singh' was used by the pro-socialists and nationalists for their own purposes, who tried to interpret it according to their own whims, which does not come spontaneously but appears to have been fabricated." "Prof Fateh Mohammad Malik, criticizing the Marxist scholar Tariq Ali and the anti-socialist Waris Alvi, wonders at the similarity of thoughts and presents his own thesis that this story was never written against the backdrop of the great divide and the resulting holocaust. Ending his article he holds: "There is only one possible interpretation of this story and that is the ideology of Pakistan, the Pakistan movement and the establishment of Pakistan which cannot be understood by lunatics like Bishen Singh. Thus the theme of the story is, loss of memory and the death of imagination." Khalid Hasan in the above mentioned book writes: "This is how Manto ends this classical parable: 'There behind barbed wire on one side, lay India and behind more barbed wires, on the other side, lay Pakistan. In between a bit of earth which had no name, lay Toba Tek Singh!" If Bishen Singh insists on finding out where is Toba Tek Singh, then how can one agree on loss of memory and death of imagination? Manto wrote scores of short stories on communal disturbances. His collection Siah Hashiey is based on the aftermath of partition. Manto penetrates into human psychology. The characters have no names; they are neither Hindu nor Muslim. They are just human beings with all their shortcomings and selfishness. Their behaviour does not shock Manto. "Khol do" is also one of his masterpieces, based on the barbarism of the people who have crossed all their humanism in the fire of revenge. "Titwal ka kutta", and "Akhri salam" are his two stories about the Kashmir war. Here Manto wonders how the soldiers who together fought the Second World War, were suddenly turned into enemies. Yet, learning their identities they recall their old memories. Manto's pen brings forth the humanism in their heart. Manto has written so much about the partition and the events that followed that it is not possible to give an account of all his writings. His work should be seen in a broader perspective. Manto stands out for his secularism. He has compassion for humanity irrespective of caste, creed and religion. His collection Ganje Farishte is a revival of his memories and association with his friends and colleagues with whom he shared some precious moments of his life in Mumbai. He had nostalgia for Mumbai and wrote, "That was where I had formed the most lasting friendships of my life, friendships of which I am proud." However communal tensions on the eve of partition affected the course of his life. He migrated to Pakistan. Now he was a citizen of Pakistan and showed his love for the country. Hamid Jalal in his article "Uncle Manto" writes, "He never failed to rally in time for Pakistan Day celebrations. Like most other intellectuals, he cannot make a flag of his patriotism and flutter it from his housetop, but he wants his children to do so. He has always sobered up for Pakistan Day, bought bunting and with the help of delighted children put up little flags all over the front of his flat and mine". Manto's secularism and humanism is not in conflict with his love for his country. Today, when millions of people rally on the roads of London, Paris, Italy and elsewhere against war in Iraq, irrespective of their separate identities, Manto deserves a "broader" appreciation

The Dawn

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A Club of Urdu Writers

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Mohammad Hameed Shahid

Mohammad Hameed Shahid

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