Manto: A realist par excellence

Published: May 13, 2014

Manto was a household name for me, virtue of my mother being his daughter. PHOTO:File

Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) is a name synonymous in the annals of Urdu literature. Considered among the greatest contemporary Urdu short story writers of the 20th century, he has left a legacy that stretches far and wide.

Manto’s greatest gift was his ability to depict the reality of society with such ease that he would leave the reader mesmerised and in utter awe. His attention to minor details and his signature style of description was second to none. Manto was a realist and a puritan who hated hypocrisy in every given way.

Manto was a household name for me, virtue of my mother being his daughter. The name of ‘Manto Abajaan’ echoed in my ears from a very early age. He was not someone for me to discover or look for, he was very much part of my conscience.

As an eight-year-old, I distinctly remember his readings being staged in the Goethe Institute by the Ajoka Theatre group in Lahore where now ChenOne stands alongside Hafeez Centre. Famous personalities like Uzma Gillani are embedded in my memory, reading stories like Tetwal ka Kutta and others on a sultry November evening echoing the end of the autumn season.

Having grown up in an environment where the mention of Manto was synonymous with Urdu short story writing, there was always a question mark in my mind over his writings being very controversial. I had all the access in the world to his books and was never stopped from reading his works whether in Urdu or English translations that followed in the early 1990’s to early 2000’s. I always wondered what made him so controversial and why a particular segment of society was vehement on calling him a ‘Fahaashi’.

Lacking a clear understanding as a youngster, I started reading his stories well into my early 20’s. It was then that I realised, the genius of the man and the wizardry in his stories.

As a reader, his writings projected the harsh reality of the society, which we now live in. I felt the intricacies in his writings were rather touching; his attention to issues that were sensitive in nature heralded the greatness of the man. Being termed a ‘Fahaashi’ was something very hard for me to digest, but with the passage of time I realised that he is a public figure open to criticism and acclaim. The more I read about him, the more I marvelled at his ability to foresee the future and the direct relevance he commands in every era.

I have always heard from my mother, that Manto was a very sensitive man, and his persecution and boycott by the literary masses and public at large did impact him. He was denied the right to earn a livelihood in a society that persecuted him for his writings that perpetuated the grim reality of society. The persecution and boycott did not stop Manto from unleashing his creativity and repertoire which was viewable in his writings till the very end.

Manto’s observation skills and directness of his language, while writing, were arguably second to none. A humanist par excellence barring his alcoholism, he was proud and arrogant in nature, which was a virtue of his talent. He never augured faith and beliefs into his friendships. Manto forged bonds with people from all walks of life, irrespective of faith, and examples of that are Ashok Kumar, Shyam and Pran.

Manto’s uniqueness lay in calling a spade a spade, and would not budge one bit from what he wrote.

Outspoken and brash in nature, this made him susceptible to attack from all quarters which as a result led him into trouble amongst the literary elite of that time. He was a rebel, who had formed his own niche of writing, and was unique in every given sense of the word.

Mohammad Farooq

Mohammad Farooq

The writer is a columnist and member of the Digital Rights Foundation. He tweets as @MohammadFarooq_ (

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

  • Noman Ansari

    Nice blog by a nice guy. :)Recommend

  • Saad Rashid

    Good to read someone from Manto sahibs family. Nice concise piece. Write more.Recommend

  • Farah Qadeer

    Great read about a legend. Do write more about him,ok?:) Recommend

  • Kamran Hayder

    The people who think a dead body can provoke the sexual desire of a man (as in “Thanda Gosht”) are critiques of Manto, rather Manto presents it as a mental state of our commen men. Further, those who criticize him for vulgarity dont have read his writings on Indo-Pak seperation. He had got the ability to predict the future based on the current circumstances. Nice tribute to Manto by the writter.
    But personally, i think proper age to read and understand Manto is not less than 20-25.Recommend

  • Ram

    Manto become “Fahwashi” probably perhaps he happen to be in wrong place on a wrong time, If you need answers you should try to understand why an intellect of Manto’s caliber become so elusive and alcoholic, his life cut short similar to a tree which was uprooted from its place, Mantoo should have stayed in India in my opinion, may be he knew this himself down in his heart and that could be one of the reason all his stories revolves around partition and some how becomes his own autobiography. He was one of those few guys who was way ahead of his time and made many right predictions about Pakistan which caused great deal of trouble during his life time.

    It is sad even today Manto was not fully understood in Pakistan. I also wonder about story he narrated where someone getting injured while trying to destroy Sir Ganga Ram statue was taken to Sir Ganga Ram hospital if this is indeed a true story or one of his candid imagination.Recommend

  • Zahra

    That’s a great job Farooq!! And you should write more about him.Recommend

  • amal

    Sadly, Manto’s writing skills have skipped two generations.Recommend

  • Zainab Iris Rose