Review: Exhausted by the commonness of survival

Compilation of Manto’s letters gives unique insight into life of the man extraordinaire

Tara Kashif August 20, 2016
Compilation of Manto’s letters gives unique insight into life of the man extraordinaire

KARACHI: I will confess that I approached Manto Namay: Makateeb-e-Saadat Hasan Manto with reluctance as I expected to be rudely awakened by the prose highlighting the latent vileness of human nature that makes animals thankful for their lack of humanity.

But, as I turned the pages of the book, I was enraptured by the ‘person’ Saadat Hasan Manto, who was deeply admired for his satirical writings that broke literary and cultural taboos in the time of extreme political and cultural censorship.

His ability to shock and cause squeamishness, laying bare the evil in society in the most matter-of-fact style remains unparalleled in Urdu literature.

This book is a collection of Manto’s letters to his family, editors, peers and friends, with the last section containing those received by him. It gives a unique insight into the life of the man extraordinaire, exhausted by the commonness of survival.

His letters are an emotional rollercoaster ride for the reader, laced with intriguing simplicity but woven with thorns of reality. Whilst reading them, one is uplifted from realism-inflicted exhaustion by the child-like innocence of Manto’s affections for those he loved and didn’t love, proving his quintessential nature tragically unappreciated by his critics.

Every letter reveals his impecuniousness, a tragedy still common with great writers, actors, and artists of today. His writing has the easy, uninterrupted flow of conversations where no detail is too personal to be revealed. His laying-bare style invokes empathy, compassion and affection, with a sadness one impotently feels for a loved one defeated by fate.

The letters are ordered in timely progression from the pre-Partition to post-Partition era, highlighting the different trials Manto experienced in his life. He was a man deeply perturbed by human callousness that he could not accept till the end of his days. His exasperation for being trialed for writing the truth, his frustration of wasting his effort and time in with meaningless jobs and his dejection for not being unpaid are not only read but felt by the reader; such is the power of his words.

His helplessness in being unable to stop others from gaining material benefit from his writings becomes almost tangible with his satirical appeals and threats written to the guilty. Manto’s allure touches romanticism in his communication with his friends and family, where he writes with love and affection of a common man whose words contain the magic of a literary maestro. The most interesting is his ‘unposted’ letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, an epitome of satirical writing in any language, which leaves the reader awestruck with the way he effortlessly weaves politics, sociology, nationalism and realism into one cloth.

The letters sent to him by others reveal the affection he enjoyed of his peers, contemporaries, fans and friends who were equally saddened at the literary world’s uncharitable treatment of the man and his work.

Manto Namay leaves the reader with a yearning for devouring his writings once again, to relish the bitter truth of human society.

Title: Manto Namay: Makateeb-e-Saadat Hasan Manto

Compiled by: Pervez Anjum

Publisher: Sang-e-Meel Publications

ISBN: 9693527763

Price: Rs500

The writer is a freelance contributor and editor

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2016.

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