Blunt Manto: Your sensitivities are unimportant

Published: August 19, 2012

Manto makes me feel that it’s okay to be human. He understands my needs, my desires, my insecurities, my fears. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHID

Saadat Hasan Manto was awarded the Nishan-e-Imtiaz on August 14, 2012. For all I know, Manto is probably uttering his favourite catchphrase, “bakwas hai” (it’s all trash), over and over again from up there, while calculating the pints of liquor, which selling the award at Lahore’s Landa bazaar will procure him.

Manto, you thought the only better story teller than you was God himself? Oh, you clearly haven’t met the government.

Manto mania; that’s my disease. It results in spasms of depression when Manto’s work is spoken about condescendingly, and soaring spirits whenever I meet people who love Manto’s stories as much as I do. I never do find many of those, for navigating through Manto’s work is a cruel chore.

The journey agitates you, infuriates you, gives you sleeping disorders, causes you to hate unyieldingly and love unrelentingly─the very same things, at the very same time, till you can’t help but peruse through more of his stories, looking for an answer to God knows what.

Speaking for myself, I may assuredly say that Manto gave me a new purpose for reading stories. Before coming across his work, I read for two reasons; firstly, I read for the sorry purpose of appearing smart and well-versed, and secondly, I read to understand the world. The first motive was given up only a few years ago when I understood the futility of living in the good books of a world that shunned Manto’s books. The second motive still stands, but under the shadow of another ponderous one─that of understanding my own self.

Manto has brutally cloistered women; recklessly wandering women, scrupulously modest women, angry vixens of women─all dwell within me. I understood that I am not just one whole, but an amalgamation of several parts. I am vile like my favourite prostitute Saughandhi. I am naive like Mangu Kochwaan. I am mad like Toba Tek Singh.

Manto makes me feel that it’s okay to be human. He understands my needs, my desires, my insecurities, my fears. He tells me that there is bestiality within my goodness, and goodness within my bestiality. Altogether, I am too complex to be encaged in uniformity of any sort. Force of any kind makes me want to rebel just for the heck of it. Hunger can make me forget all moral values. Does that make me immoral? Maybe it does. But I’m fine with it.

Then come his partition scenes; gory and ghastly; poignant and piercing; blood-boiling and toe-curling. He shows it all with bitter impassiveness, regardless of how you bear the visuals. For him, the truth is the truth. Your sensitivities are your own problem.

While unveiling the horrors of the partition, he was able to put down the most awe-inspiring pieces of literature. I find Manto’s writing reflected within Bertrand Russell’s philosophy. The latter writes, thus, in “A Free Man’s Worship”:

“The beauty of tragedy does but make visible a quality which, in more or less obvious shapes, is present always and everywhere in life. In the spectacle of death, in the endurance of intolerable pain, there is a sacredness, an overpowering awe, a feeling of the vastness, the depth, the inexhaustible mystery of existence, in which, as by some strange marriage of pain, the sufferer is bound to the world by bonds of sorrow.”

Sacredness. Vastness. Tragedy. Depth. Bingo, Manto. And congratulations, I hope you have enough whisky to celebrate.

Read more by Faiza here.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sahar

    and he portrays sex so temptingly …You forgot to add that point ! Ms. Trying-to-be-philosophical !Recommend

  • Yumna Saleem

    This was a great piece, keep writing Faiza :)Recommend

  • Deb


    ‘and he portraits sex so temptingly…’

    Have you read Manto?
    If you did, you didn’t understand any of it for sure.Recommend

  • Deb

    Sorry for the typo. ‘portrays’.Recommend

  • George Takei

    Oh my !! :ORecommend

  • Secular Extremist

    Even though Toba Tek Singh is considered his masterpiece, I have yet to read a story to rival The Last Salute.Recommend

  • Rizwana

    The author has presented the gist of Manto’s writing very accurately. But she has missed out his views on sex itself. I think she has somewhat implied in the 8th paragraph without being very open. Manto was a strong proponent of the idea that women have sexual needs too which are just as important as a man’s since she is a human being too. This idea is just intolerable in today’s society which thinks that sex is something taboo and disgusting and women should specially not discuss it. So women lead deprived and unnatural lives in the name of piety and chastity, something which even Islam frowns upon. There should be a blog on this issue too. Recommend

  • aizaz anwar

    amazing writer he was .unsung hero of Urdu literature . His bitter and bold writings are true reflections of demeanor’s present in our society .Recommend

  • Sane

    Those who read Manto as sex writer are totally illiterate about the literature. Manto is a class of its own and to understand him one needs to have a good vision and understanding of human nature. Manto is not for commoners. Like Ghalib is not for ordinaries.Recommend

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  • Shahzad

    Manto , Ashfaq Ahmed and Prem chand were master of pain and intensity. Short story, poem or a painting some time leave a long lasting effect. If you have an iota of sense for artistic touch then you would never be able to derive any erotic pleasure from Parveen Shakir’s ‘Ecstasy’ or from Sa’adat Hasan Manto’s ‘Khol Do’. Instead, you would dive in deep ocean of human feelings, beyond flesh and bones …Recommend