‘Ek Mulaqat Manto Se’: Rediscovering the Finest Urdu Writer
Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Location: India Habitat Center
Now that’s something you don’t hear too often about the Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, who is best known for capturing the ‘truth’ of partition in his stories such as Toba Tek Singh, Thanda Gosht (Colder Than Ice), and Khol Do (Open It).
Ashwath Bhatt, who recently acted in Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi, takes centre stage as Manto’s doppelganger or his ‘djinn’ (spirit).
Manto: Seer or Fraud?
Manto is perhaps the only Urdu writer whose works have been extensively translated into English. He published 22 short-story collections, a novel, several radio plays, essays, and sketches.
In the same sketch, he refers to himself as a ‘fraud’, a ‘thief’’, a ‘liar’, and a ‘cheat’, as he reflects upon his art as an act of pick-pocketing.
Manto Chronicled the Horrors of Partition
Manto moved to Pakistan after Partition. The bloodbath that he witnessed greatly affected him. He chronicled the horrors of partition and the human predicament at its most raw and cruel form in some of his best-known stories.
You would be surprised to know that not all of Manto’s partition stories are serious. In Sawairey Jo Kal Aankh Meri Khuli (A Stroll through the New Pakistan), for instance, he provides a sharp social critique of post-partition Pakistan in hilarious and sarcastic prose.
Partition and the move from Bombay (now called Mumbai) – a city Manto loved dearly – to Lahore had a deep psychological impact on him.
Manto on Trial
It is well known that most of Manto’s stories were not received favourably during his lifetime. They suffered from honesty. Manto was tried in court thrice in both India and Pakistan on charges of obscenity for his authored works.
Once, during a court trial, when his counsel did not appear, Manto chose to plead his own case. In A Day in Court, Manto recorded the trial in great detail.
Manto was fined in only one case but the court proceedings as well as what he witnessed during the post-partition period took a toll on him. His drinking and smoking increased manifold. So much so that it is impossible to think of Manto without a cigarette and bottles of alcohol to keep him company.
This was Manto, the man who wrote his own epitaph, in which he challenged the artistic ability of God himself.
Manto died at the age of forty-two in Lahore.