Manto: Still relevant, still cherished

Published: January 20, 2012

Manto raised his voice for social justice, and considered women, even prostitutes, as an equal part of society. PHOTO: FILE

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.

Fazal Baloch

Fazal Baloch

A lecturer at the Atta Shad Degree College Turbat.

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

  • Ali Tanoli

    Great yadien they were my favuorit Urdu Nasar writters Munshi prem Chand ji, Sahadat Hasan
    Munto sahab, & sajjad haideer yaldrem.. but my favourit was Munshi Prem chand sahab.Recommend

  • Rayaan

    Thank you for writing this beautiful piece. The last paragraph in particular is most poignant. It is somewhat disheartening indeed that, as you aptly reminded us, issues like marginalization of women and sectarian rifts remain at least as prevalent today as they were decades ago when Manto was writing. It is some consolation though that Manto’s legacy is kept alive by our scholars like Mr Fazl Baloch who have not forgotten the indelible and profound imprint of Manto on our literature. Recommend

  • rationalist

    How does Manto stand for humanity when you claim that in reality Man is the greatest and the scariest beast himself? It means then Manto’s humanity is other than the reality. I choose to believe in reality. Recommend

  • Ayesha Ahmad

    thanks for the insight! I’m now excited about reading his writingsRecommend

  • sidjeen

    the sad thing is Manto was demonized by the conservative sections of our society without even trying to understand what he was writing. anyway Manto was a genius a master writer and understood human psychology better that most writers i have read. i do recommend his short story Naya Qannon to any one who is interested in studying Saadat Hasan Manto.Recommend

  • Deb

    One of a kind.There will never be another Manto.
    Who can forget Toba Tek Singh?Recommend

  • Parvez

    You have done justice in describing the work of a genius, for Manto was that and more.Recommend

  • atiq rahman

    a perfect humanist & greatest fiction-writer of the neglected part of our society, a true pakistani genious….,Recommend

  • Iram

    Yes Manto was a very different writer, and there are (and were) very few writers who analyse human psychology and not only analyze but present it too.. Recommend

  • Ahmad Hammad

    Manto’s Khol Dau is undoubtedly a masterpiece.
    Many pre-Manto n post-Manto Urdu fiction writers did write on the Taqseem, but the way Manto has treated this subject is just splendid.

    Yaa-Khudaa by Qudratullah Shahab also talks about the miseries of the Taqseem. Dilshaad of Yaa-Khudaa suffers from the atrocities of friends and foes simultaneously n equally.

    But, as Shakespeare tells, brevity is the soul of wit, Khol Dau is brief………and astounding…It’s powerful in its effect. The reader can’t go untouched while giving even a casual read to this short story…….

    What Manto did in Fiction, Faiz did in Poetry. Read about FaizFaizFaiz at:

  • Cynical

    @atiq rahman
    ….Manto a Pakistani genius.
    In a life spanning only 43 years Manto lived in Pakistan for only about last 7 years of his life.
    At 36, when he left India he was already an established (an much admired) writer.
    So he can equaly be branded as an Indian genius.But more importantly Manto himself probably wouldn’t have approved such branding of himself.

    His writings takes him far beyond this petty identity politics and establish him as a great humanist first before anything else. Recommend

  • Tamoor Rindh

    Good job..Recommend