“How can a society that is already naked be stripped of its blouse?” remarked Dr Ayesha Jalal dismissing the allegation that some of Manto’s writings were ‘obscene’.
She was speaking at the launch of Manto Centenary 1912-2012 at Alhamra Hall of the Punjab Arts Council on Friday. The book launch was scheduled to mark Manto’s 100th birth anniversary.
Dr Ayesha Jalal, professor of history at the Tufts University and visiting faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, said it was ironic that people attributed negativity and vulgarity to his writings.
“While Saadat Hassan has died, Manto lives on,” she said adding, “Manto wrote mostly about ordinary people, but with empathy and had refused to accept the social limitations of race and religion to impinge upon his choice of friends.”
Manto Centenary, a bilingual book in Urdu and English, has been edited by Dr Ayesha Jalal and Nusrat Jalal. Priced at Rs2,000, it was available for Rs1,500 at the launch.
The book is divided into four parts: the first is Manto’s autobiography, the second and third deal with Manto’s works and the fourth has several essays on Manto by various authors.
Speaking at the event, poet Kishwar Naheed said that the women depicted in Manto’s works were ordinary women. Reading an essay addressed to Manto, Naheed painted a dark picture of the society today.
“The red light areas have closed down, but we have ‘red zones’,” she said, apparently hinting to urban violence prevalent in the cities.
Referring to cases like Mukhtaran Mai, Naheed said, “Had Manto been alive, he would have seen how women are paraded naked on the streets by men for what they call honour.”
She also talked about gender discrimination and religious and sectarian violence in the Pakistani society.
Naheed concluded by saying: “Khoon safaid naheen kaala hogaya hai Manto sahib”
Columnist Mujahid Eshai said, “We need to understand Manto’s work and teach it to the younger generation.” For students to relate to the literary culture of the land, he said, it was vital to read and relate to Manto’s writing.
Asghar Nadeem Syed said Manto was the “epitome of innocence”. He said Manto observed the society through the eyes of an “innocent child” and revealed its reality in all its ugliness and beauty. He called Manto’s work “secular fiction” and said it had helped bridge the gap between India and Pakistan after partition.
He said Manto was in a continuous conflict with the society’s hollow values. Several readings of Manto’s work followed including Samia Mumtaz’s reading of Sarrak Kay Kinaray and Salman Shahid’s Shaheed Saaz.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2012.