SAFMA conference: Manto lauded for his contributions

‘Till his last day, he stayed true to himself and his craft’

Express January 22, 2011

LAHORE: The South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) organised a conference, in the city, on Friday to pay tributes to the legendary short story writer Sadat Hassan Manto. Friends, colleagues and family members recounted tales of the writer and gave their opinion as to why Manto continues to remain a relevant voice in Urdu literature. About 100 people attended the event at SAFMA’s auditorium.

Aqeel Ahmad said, “I came to listen and learn more about one of the finest if under-appreciated assets of Pakistan.” Manto was placed in the company of some of the world’s greatest short story writers.

Sarfaraz Syed, a close friend of Manto, said, “Manto was a talented and gifted writer and not many writers have made quite the impact he has.” Friend and co-worker Ali Sufyan Afaqi said, “The two things that ruined his health were publishers and his desire to do more for his children. Imagine, the man failed an Urdu examination once and now his work is part of the Urdu literature canon.” Both spoke about the mastery of Manto’s work and mentioned how his work was purchased cheaply.

Manto’s life was sketched out, born in India, he struggled through his youth till he became a celebrated writer. Participants did not shy away from the less savory parts of his life.

His alcoholism was blamed on how society ignored his voice and genius. Manto’s addiction to alcohol landed him in a mental hospital. Afaqi said, “He was a man with such vision and of course his battle with alcohol led him to a mental hospital. He was always controversial and never given due credit for his work and his mastery of the short story form.” To Afaqi’s mind, Manto’s characterisation was the strongest element of his work.

Aqeel Ahmad Rubi said, “Manto’s short story ‘Toba Tek Singh’ is an excellent example of Manto exploring the voice of the common man and his surroundings. His contribution to Urdu literature is great. What a pity that not even a road or park has been named after him to salute him and his art in some way.” Artiste Shujaat Hashmi then read the much celebrated Toba Tek Singh.

Manto’s daughter Nusrat said that she wished the children had been able to spend more time with him. He used to say “I earn from the stories I keep in my back pocket.” “Till his last day, he stayed true to himself and his craft,” she added.

The event came to a conclusion as Manto’s friend Sarfaraz Syed took to the stage. Sarfaraz said that the nation was lucky to have Manto’s work as part of the primary education curriculum. He wondered if his publishers had ever paid Manto’s family any royalties. He hoped that the progressive writing Manto had produced would never go out of print or be forgotten.

“He wanted to make people human. His stories were his way of reviving humanity in the world. His work will live forever,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd,  2011.

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