Manto Is Most Relevant Today-Dr. Ashraf Lone

There is no denying that this age badly needs Saadat Hasan Manto, the prolific Urdu short story writer. The pace at which ordinary citizens are becoming victims of hate, religious bigotry and extremism, we can assume that Manto is more relevant today than he was in 1947, when British India was divided into two nations – India and Pakistan. Manto’s stature is not limited to the Urdu world, he holds a position of respect among the greats of world literature.

He not only wrote about the condition of oppressed women, but also authored some masterpieces on the Partition and communal clashes – in them he brought out the devilish traits of the “human being”. Manto, who saw humanity devastated before his eyes, depicted our beastly nature in his short stories just as well as he condemned it.

Manto is not alive today but his writings are, and they hold more importance and meaning than ever.

Killing in the name of religion and sect has become a norm in today’s society, especially in South Asia. Nearly every individual considers the next person’s faith a threat to his/her existence and begins to think of ways to wipe out its existence.

Religious extremism is taking an ugly turn with each passing day. Killing or attacking a person of another faith is no longer considered a sin; rather, such crimes are committed with pride.

Manto has written beautiful and deeply meaningful short stories on communal clashes. He has thoroughly criticised those responsible for the Partition and sectarian upheaval. In his short story Thanda Gosht (“Cold Meat”), Manto exposed a different side to inhumanity:

“Kalwant darling, I cannot tell you what a beautiful girl she was. I would’ve killed her too. But I said to myself, no, Eesher Singh, you enjoy Kalwant Kaur every day. Taste a different fruit. I threw the trump card…but… She was dead, Kalwant, it was a lifeless body… cold flesh.”

We see how Ishar Singh is rendered impotent as he tries to have sex with a lifeless body (cold flesh). He is then murdered by his courtesan friend. Manto’s Ishar Singh confesses to his crime, he even feels remorseful, but in today’s India, there are Ishar Singhs who celebrate their crimes.

Women were harassed during Manto’s times too. They were raped and killed as they are today, only no videos of the crimes were made at that time.

Today, such crimes have assumed disastrous proportions. In another short story by the author on communal clashes, Khol Do (Open it), an elderly Sirajudin loses his daughter Sakina in the riots that follow the Partition – with it, he also loses his mind. Unable to find Sakina, a beleaguered Sirajuddin eventually asks some volunteers for help. They are able to find his daughter, but she falls prey to their lust and they rape her. Here, Manto shows us how – during communal clashes – men turn into beasts and lose their humanity.

Manto has depicted this ghastliness of volunteers and the haplessness of Sakina’s father stirringly with these lines:

“The doctor turned towards the girl and took her pulse. Then he said, ‘Khol Do… [open the the window].’

The girl on the stretcher stirred a little.

She moved her hand painfully towards the cord holding up her salwar.

Slowly, she pulled her salwar down.

Her old father shouted with joy, “She is alive. My daughter is alive.”

The doctor broke into a cold sweat.”

Not only does the doctor break into a cold sweat, but the whole of humanity is left feeling stunned. Humanity suffered the same fate in Muzaffarnagar and Gujarat, when men on the prowl raped and killed Muslims – sparing no one, be it women, children or the elderly.

The difference between Manto’s Khol Do and today’s communal carnage is that the volunteers in his short story had left Sakina alive after gang-raping her, but in our times, women are burnt alive after enduring horrific assault.

Writing the tragic scenes would have made Manto’s pen tremble. There are thousands of Sakinas today in Manto’s India and Pakistan, but no longer is there a Manto who can write stories of their pain and the shattering apathy of our society.

Manto never ridiculed religion but he hated rigid mullahs, mere showoffs. He beautifully rendered the love and affection between humans and sharply criticised religious extremism at the same time in his short story Mozel: he poignantly writes of the love among people of different faiths, and at the same time how humans become bloodthirsty in the name of religion.

Manto’s ideas come through the character of Mozel, who loves Trilochan but at the same time hates his religious proclamations. Perhaps, this hatred stems from the fact that Mozel has seen enough killings in the name of religion. She has seen innocents being killed mercilessly during communal clashes. And, today, there are hundreds of Mozels around us who offer sacrifices for their friends and who have seen their friends fall for this religious extremism.

Perhaps, the Mozels of our time are waiting for another Manto with whom they can share their stories. They can be seen everywhere in the world – from Iraq to Pakistan, to India and Burma.

“Mozel got up and, in her alluring way, shook her well-trimmed brown hair. ‘Shave your beard and let your hair down. If you do this, guys are going to wink at you – you’re beautiful.'”

Mozel helps rescue Kirapal Kaur, another woman, during a communal clash, but ends up getting killed.

As she dies, Mozel’s words bring out her hatred for religious fanaticism:

“Mozel removed Trilochan’s turban. ‘Take it away – this religion of yours,’ she said, and her arm fell dead across her powerful chest.”

Mozel hates Trilochan’s turban, but not Trilochan.

Much blood has been spilled in the name faith today. Daesh, Boko Haram, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Hindutva hardliners and other extremist organisations have interpreted religion to suit themselves; according to them, a person of another faith is liable to be murdered.

These outfits do not believe in dialogue and lack logical arguments. Every religion believes in and carries the message of peace and harmony, but it is misused to achieve nefarious ends and exploit the poor and hapless.

Had he been alive, Manto would have risen against such exploitation. As famous Urdu poet Fehmida Riyaz aptly said: “After Manto, there is none like Manto.”

Dr. Ashraf Lone is a leading Kashmiri intellectual and scholar who did his Ph.d in Urdu literature from JNU. Delhi
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