Manto: Still relevant, still cherished
January 18 marked the 57th death anniversary of Saadat Hassan Manto, the greatest and most controversial short story writer ever produced by Urdu literature.
Manto jumped into the realm of Urdu fiction in the early 30s. In the wake of the Progressive Movement, when all writers inclined towards realism were ardently following the ideology of the movement, Manto was the only exception. He was a movement unto himself. With his unique treatment of the subject, and psycho-analysis of human behaviour, Manto turned the whole course of Urdu fiction, which until then was mainly under the influence of Prem Chand’s realism and Sajjad Haider Yaldram’s romanticism.
Urdu literature has hardly produced any fiction writer of Manto’s stature. His work served to peel off the layers of dishonesty, falsehood, prejudice, and hypocrisy to expose the moral decay of his society.
Manto fearlessly touched upon certain subjects, which were then considered to be taboo across the subcontinent. Conservative sections of the society couldn’t grasp the inner meaning and thought-provoking ideas of his short stories. Subsequently, he was accused of obscenity. Most of his short stories truly reflect the savageness and brutality of human beings. At many occasions they express the reality that no beast on this earth is as savage as man.
Prostitutes shunned by society found a special place in Manto’s short stories. Unlike other fiction writers, Manto shared the sorrows of this rejected class of human beings. With his distinguished presentation, he was successful in universalising this subject. Today, even after the lapse of some six decades, his stories are as fresh and relevant as they were when he penned them. The characters that appear in Manto’s short stories are very relatable even in the times of today.
Sakeena of Khol Do symbolises the woman of today who is still vulnerable to male chauvinism. She is the symbol of the many women who are relentlessly falling victim of honour killing, acid attacks, and other forms of physical and mental torture. Likewise, Sultana of Kali Shalwar is the symbol of the chronic sexual servitude of women – concept which is still prevalent in our society. Sultana is a faceless woman who narrates the tale of hapless women who inexorably turn to the forbidden institution of prostitution to make ends meet.
Communal violence was another theme that attracted Manto’s attention. This menace remains at large in our society even today in the form of sectarian rifts which have plagued the inter-faith harmony across the country. Though the themes of Siyah Hashiay are written in the perspective of partition, they also rightly reflect the current socio-religious scenario of our times.
In a true sense, Manto was a perfect humanist who stood for the dignity of humanity. He raised his voice for social justice, and considered women, even prostitutes, as an equal part of society. His calibre lies in the fact that with every passing day his writings gain greater relevance.
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