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Memories of Manto



Khalid Hasan


����������� Whenever there is a change of government in Pakistan, I ask myself if this time around the State of Pakistan will finally confer the recognition that it has denied for over half a century to its greatest writer. And every time, the expected happens, namely, nothing. One can, therefore, assume that nothing will happen this time either, because Saadat Hasan Manto remains an embarrassment to the Establishment.

����������� One of the best and most moving pieces written on Manto after his death at the age of 43 in 1955 was by Muhammad Khalid Akhtar, who sadly is no longer among us. He wrote, �Though his life was brief, he straddled our world like a colossus. In prose that was pure as a pearl, he continued to prick our dead conscience, shocking us out of our self-absorption, our complacency. He made us see ourselves in his shimmering mirror as we really were. He forced us to think so that we could be better human beings. By that I do not mean being intelligent, frugal and reticent, or to confuse selfishness with wisdom, to have no goal in life except one�s own and one�s children�s advancement � no, none of those qualities will be found in Manto�s ideal man, who is not from the privileged class. You will not find him in a mosque or a clubhouse, but on the road of life, taking long strides, devoted to his fellow beings, not holding on to the precious treasure of life, but showering it on others � Manto adhered to no particular �ism� but if he had an �ism� or a creed, it was his love for mankind, the greatest creed of all.�

����������� Manto arrived in Lahore from Bombay in 1948 and as long as he lived regretted ever having left the city that he loved and where he had spent the happiest and, financially, the most creative part of his life. In Lahore, the movie industry was in a ravaged state, still reeling from the shock of partition. Manto sold just one script. The movie was a flop. He never found any work after that. There was very little money to be made from writing. Most writers depended on their earnings from state radio, but Radio Pakistan had put every leading writer on its banned list, Manto included. What money he made in Lahore was through token book royalties, advances from publishers or by newspaper and magazine articles for which he was paid between twenty and thirty rupees a piece.

����������� In a postscript to one of his collections, Manto wrote, �You the reader know me as a story writer and the courts of this country know me as a pornographer. The government sometimes calls me a communist, at other times a great writer. Most of the time, I am denied all means of livelihood, only to be offered opportunities of gainful work on other occasions. I have been called an expendable appendage to society and accordingly expelled. And sometimes I am told that my name has been placed on the state-approved list. As in the past, so today, I have tried to understand what I am. I want to know what my place in this country that is called the largest Islamic state in the world is. What use am I here? You many call it my imagination, but the bitter truth is that so far I have failed to find a place for myself in this country called Pakistan which I greatly love. That is why I am always restless. That�s why sometimes I am to be found in a lunatic asylum, other times in a hospital. I have yet to find a niche in Pakistan.�

����������� In January 1983, it occurred to a group of Manto�s admirers, including Muzaffar Ali Syed, to ask Prof. G. M. Asar, one of Manto�s close friends and Laxami Mansion neighbours, to reminisce about him, especially his last days. Rashida Syed, Muzaffar�s wife transcribed the minutes of the meeting held at Hamid and Qaisra Alvi�s home in Islamabad. These were published in the magazine Nairang-e-Khyal in 1984. Some of what Prof. Asar said needs to be shared as we approach Manto�s 48th death anniversary next year. When asked why Manto was still anathema for the establishment, he replied, �Every political system, every administration, that this country has had, has used Islam to promote its own ends, used it as a trading commodity for political purposes. As long as that continues, there will be no tolerance in any educational or collective monopoly for Manto, an artist wedded to the truth.�

����������� Manto was always a drinking man, but in Bombay he led a well-regulated life. He would go to work in the morning, come home in the evening and do his drinking within reason. This routine was destroyed when he came to Lahore. Not only did his earning power crash but he had no fixed place to go to during the day. Ahmed Rahi once recalled how Manto used to long for a place he could go to every morning. In Pakistan, unlike Bombay where he drank a better brand of whiskey, he was forced to drink the awful substitute distilled by the outfit Minoo Bhandara now owns. At times, he drank even worst stuff. According to Prof. Asar, �I would always tell him, �Yaar, why are you after your own life?� In his ringing voice he would reply, �I am never going to die.� I would say, �Bhai, Manto will not die, but it is not Manto I am in love with but Saadat and I can see that you are after Saadat�s life.� That was how it was. We were close, we were neighbours and we met everyday. Manto�s feeling for other human beings, his belief in the equality of man, these were the most outstanding traits of his personality.�

����������� A little prayer Manto once wrote mirrors his human and artistic personality. �Dear God, Compassionate and Merciful, Master of the universe, we who are steeped in sin, kneel in supplication before Your throne and beseech You to recall from this world Saadat Hasan Manto, son of Ghulam Hasan Manto, who was a man of great piety. Take him away, O Lord, for he runs off from fragrance, chasing filth. He hates the bright sun, preferring dark labyrinths. He has nothing but contempt for modesty but is fascinated by the naked and the shameless. He hates what is sweet, but will give his life to sample what is bitter. He does not so much as look at housewives but is entranced by the company of whores. He will not go near running waters, but loves to wade through slush. Where others weep, he laughs; where they laugh, he weeps. Evil-blackened faces he loves to wash with tender care to highlight their features. He never thinks about You, preferring to follow Satan everywhere, the same fallen angel who once disobeyed You.�

 (Friday Times)

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