Toba Tek Singh: A peek into pre-partition history

As students, we acquired access to numerous short story writers, but Manto’s literary prowess was indeed unmatched.

Taha Kehar March 12, 2011

Story: Toba Tek Singh

Author: Saadat Hasan Manto

Genre: Satire

Saadat Hasan Manto entered the precincts of our adolescence through a short story — Toba Tek Singh. Its detailed rendering of pre-partition uncertainty provided us the window to his dynamic life. As students of A-level Urdu Literature, we had acquired access to numerous short story writers, but Manto’s literary prowess was indeed unmatched.

Our fascination with Manto conquered various horizons. We began to see his early life as a direct contradiction to his expertise as a writer; it reflected nothing but misfortune and failure. But as we progressed to understand his staggering transition to a revolutionary literary icon, our opinion of him completely altered. The man who would otherwise have been destined to languish between the pressure of making ends meet and finding the motivation to excel, was now a leading intellectual. His short story bore testimony to this.

As we read Toba Tek Singh, our understanding of Pakistan’s history was honed. There was something extraordinarily powerful about the narrative — something that instantly surpassed the skilful characterisation and firmness of the plot. In retrospect, I believe it was the strong allegorical representation of the political scene in the Indian subcontinent, but I feel there was greater depth to our interest.

Toba Tek Singh is set in a lunatic asylum where the in-mates are acquainted with the fact that there are revolutionary changes occurring in the political sphere but are not equipped with the overall knowledge to determine what consequences this can have. It is, in a sense, a ‘goodbye tale’ that stresses on the tyrannical nature of dividing people. The tone of the narrative is fresh and the concept, surreal. It made us question the dogma of national interest that we were raised to cherish. It provided an avenue for us to ponder over what the side-effects could have been. The experience was informative, engaging, passionate and at times quite devastating. But by the end of it, we felt triumphant at even minutely understanding the psychological impact of partition and parted with the story in hope of improving a society that was founded upon a shocking wave of separation.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2011.


Canzeon | 10 years ago | Reply A beautiful and thought provoking article. I would take this opportunity to eulogize Manto, the master story teller - the genius with a heart. In the whole body of urdu fiction and literature, there is not a single creation that even comes close to Toba Take Singh in sensitivity, poignancy and impact. I remember that first time I read this story, it made me cry. The writer is quite right that Manto's literary prowess is indeed unmatched, also his vision, depth and diction.
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