KARACHI: Saadat Hasan Manto wrote about rape, murder and the partition of the subcontinent with a mad passion which bordered on morbid reality. Once, it nearly sent him to prison.
Although, contemporaries such as Sajjad Zaheer criticised him, he carried on - harsher, more ruthless, more real than ever. He wrote about shalwars, women getting raped, necrophilia, prisoners being torn apart and stories with a ‘human’ angle in such curt detail that many writers from the Progressive Writers Movement were forced to shun him for not pushing ahead with the communist agenda.
According to the associate professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, Kamran Asdar, at that time many people did not realise that by describing a pair of torn trousers, in Safai Pasand, Manto was actually talking about the country’s identity crisis. A cursory observation of Manto’s work shows that he wrote about what was going on in the hearts and minds of the people.
“He was a complex character and very hard to understand,” said Asdar at a talk on ‘Progressives and “Perverts”’ at The 2nd Floor on Wednesday. “Leading writers of the movement like Zaheer, Ashfaq Baig, Sibte Hasan and Hasan Nasir, who were communists, were against Manto because his perverseness was thought to be influencing the way a reader thought and lived.” He added that the progressive writers were unusually cold towards Manto, while Zaheer even went as far as to write articles against him.
While talking at the event, Asdar said that the writers attacked anyone with any imagination and ran the literary town like an oppressed state. He added that Manto was severely affected by Partition and struggled quite a bit in Pakistan.
“With short story titles like Khol Do, Kali Shalwar (Black Trousers), Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat), Manto had acquired a certain reputation,” he said. “It was understood and misunderstood by many readers and contemporaries.” He added that the ‘perverted’ reality could not be ignored just because it was not openly discussed or talked about. “It is reality that he wrote about,” said Asdar. “Female magazines, including Teen Aurtain Theen, Kahanian and Pakeeza were hugely popular because they were someone’s fantasies - a prostitute getting married, an unhappy wife eloping with another man etc.”
While nitpicking Manto’s eccentricities, Asdar said that it was his odd personality and dislike of uniform behaviour which made the literary circle dislike him instantly. “He was uncouth and unconventional,” he said. “He walked into a room with the purpose to cause a disturbance. He did strange things.”
Zaheer’s hatred for Manto was summed up in an anecdote shared at the event. Zaheer used to contribute short stories to a literary journal, however, when he joined the PWM, he disowned all that he had written and said that anything which was written without a meaning was useless. For him, Manto’s realistic and human approach was not something to write home about.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2012.