Manto did not aim to be political in his work, but the controversial nature of his writings, such as “Naya Kanoon”, automatically made them so.
This was said by Dr Iqbal Afaqi, a writer, while talking about the various paradoxes in Saadat Hasan Manto’s various works. He was speaking at a gathering organised at the South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) on Saturday to honour Manto’s literary genius at his centennial birth anniversary.
Manto, born a century ago, was tried for obscenity six times and never quite received the appreciation that he deserved.
But the National Language Authority (NLA) hopes to change the masses’ attitude towards his work. The tribute is but one of the many commemorations intended for 2012, according to the organisers.
In the Friday’s gathering, the NLA organised a reading of his works and screened Sarmad Sehbai’s telefilm adaptation of Manto’s magnum opus, “Toba Tek Singh”.
NLA Chairperson Dr Anwar Ahmed commented on Manto’s acute sensitive observation of his surroundings that led him to pick characters based on socially-marginalised persons in society.
He highlighted Manto’s ability to negate negative behaviours in society; for example, he gave the example of Babu Gopinaat, a character who, despite Zeenat Begum’s philandering escapades and flirtatious nature, treats her with impeccable respect and adoration.
Gopinaat’s non-judgmental persona reflects Manto’s own ability to view real individuals and his characters beyond society’s dichotomy of right and wrong, he said. After all, Manto’s own writing fell into the “wrong” category defined by the society, though he was a sensitive and caring individual.
Ravish Nadeem, a lecturer at Islamic International University, also spoke and focused on Manto’s female characters, addressing his empathetic sensibilities that empowered women while identifying injustices faced by them.
In humanising women, Manto successively unveiled the typical hypocrisy of a traditional male and the anxiety men face in reaching social standards of masculinity, Nadeem said.
A psychoanalysis of Manto’s work shows that he looked beyond gender distinctions (not playing the blame game) and saw human beings struggling with their instincts within those contexts, gender and otherwise.
He himself was a very mild mannered man who had an affinity with women beyond sexual or domestic relationships.
Later, columnist Marvi Sirmed read one of Manto’s essays “Gunnah ki betiyan” (Daughters of sin).
The event was organised by the National Language Authority in conjunction with Safma.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2012.