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"If you want to read Manto,

you will find him"
Thueaday, February 5, 2015

By Ruchhita Kazaria

Ayesha Jalal at
the Kolkata
Literary Meet
Kalam talks
about the
relevance of
Manto to India
and Pakistan

t the Kolkata Literary Meet

known as 'Kalam', I attended
an invigorating discussion on
the importance of the legendary Urdu short story
writer Sadat Hasan Manto
and why his works
should be read and
taught in India and
Since Kalam's
three years ago, this annual
event has included sessions
focusing on Manto, bringing
up his relevance even after
decades. The first two years,
well known Indians spoke
about the legendary writer,
the Urdu poet Javed Akhtar
the first year, and the actor
Naseeruddin Shah on 'Toba
Tek Singh' the second year.
This year, the featured panelist was none other than Dr
Ayesha Jalal, the well-known
Pakistani-American historian
and Manto's grandniece.
Dr Jalal commented that
since Manto wrote in Hindustani, neither India nor Pakistan can claim his works as
their own exclusively. On his
writing style, she remarked
that he was a 'clean writer of
prose', who wrote in 'short
sentences'. She spoke about
his fictional character 'Salim',
based upon Manto himself.
Salim features in a short story
about plotting the downfall of
the British Empire, reflecting
Manto's anti-colonial streak.
"Manto simply saw himself
as a vehicle of perception of
the society," she remarked before voicing one of his famed
lines, "Mein society ki choli
kya utaaroonga, jo hai hi
nangi. Main usey kapde
pehnane ki bhi koshish
nahin karta, isliye ki yeh
mera kaam nahin " (How

can I disrobe our society

when it's already naked? But
then, I don't even try to clothe
it that's not my job).
His lament reflects a situation in which members of society attack literature that
highlights the horrors that
exist, while themselves living
in denial. Manto's works depict and record the grim reality of humanity, something

In discussion with Ayesha Jalal: Sayan Bhattacharya (left) and Aakar Patel, author of "Why I Write: Essays by Manto". Photo: Abhishek Chamaria

perience the six-decade-old

massacre and chaos."
She paused before she
continued, allowing the audience a peek into his personal
life: "Manto left India for family reasons. He had a daughter
at that time. Instead of continuing to question his decision
of leaving India, it's time to
rather accept his decision.
His mother was suffering
and he didn't enjoy very a
healthy relation with his father. Manto's fiction serves as
a lens to understand the
tragedy of partition. He felt
there was a lack of definite
logic behind the partition.
However, he adopted Pakistan as his own.
Why shouldn't he have celebrated Pakistan Day? And
does his observing Pakistan
Day make him less empathetic towards Indians or the
horror of the partition? Read
his nine letters to Uncle Sam
you will appreciate him
better. Manto was one to continue with his life such was

his personality. So, that leaves

no scope for any contradiction."
"A lot of people don't
know about Manto. How do
we develop a renewed interest in him?" asked my friend
Saira Shah Halim.
Dr Jalal responded that for
those who don't read Urdu,
transliteration to Hindi and
translation into other languages is the key to read and
understand Manto. Audio
books are also an option for
those who can understand,
but not read the language.
"We cannot restrict him to
geographical boundaries and
hence, it depends upon you
what kind of a reader you
"If you want to read
Manto," she added, "you will
find him!"
The writer is a former
journalist with The Asian
Age and Times of India;

Visiting Delhi as a Pakistani, despite the visa restrictions and police reporting, no one treats me as a foreigner and I feel free to roam

o express solidarity with children in Pakistan following the

dastardly attack in Peshawar, non-resident Indian Samay
in New Jersey, USA, started Kids Beyond Borders to send
letters, drawings and poems to children in Pakistan with the
theme, "Pens not guns, Words not bullets".
Many children of Indian origin participated in the activity, facilitated by Aaghaz-e-Dosti (AED), a cross-border youth initiative. One school sent 20 letters. Students from Los Angeles also
sent messages of love and hope.
Abdur Rauf Yousufzai, AED Peshawar coordinator, met the
brave Army Public School students and shared the messages.
"Don't be scared be brave, it's good to be
brave. It's okay to be scared though.
Face your fear," wrote Marissa.
"Dear friend! Go to school, keep
learning and make the world a better
place. Don't be afraid," wrote Damian.
"Please say thanks to the friends who
sent the letters. I am not scared. I will go
to school every day," responded an APS
"All I can send back is blessings and
"I am hurt": Ved Kartik, love to all little angels in the world," said
a parent who lost a child in the attack.
Los Angeles

has kept him alive. That is

why he is read. The opposition to Manto remains and it's
good; this opposition made
him flourish. Manto's writings
have been gaining greater
recognition and a wider following. The trend is likely to
grow as translations of his
works become available in
the different regional languages of the subcontinent".
In response to a question
on how to equate the Manto
of Toba Tek Singh with the
one who celebrated Pakistan
Day, Dr Jalal traced Manto's
life in India, where he was a
rising screenwriter in Bombay
at the time of India's partition
in 1947.
He then migrated to Lahore, in the newly formed
Pakistan and took to writing
short stories in Urdu. Manto's
depiction of the partition and
its consequences through his
stories is evocative of the loss
that both the nations suffered.
He lets the modern-day
reader go back in time to ex-

No borders: Delhi, twenty-five years later

Peace calendar launches

For APS: Kids Beyond Borders

scenity six times, though

never convicted. I found it
heartwarming that his funeral
was attended by prostitutes
and others from the 'red light
area' even though many of
those who had termed themselves his friends didn't show
Introducing her book The
Pity of Partition: Manto's
Life, Times, and Work across
the India-Pakistan Divide,
Dr Jalal encouraged the audience to read Manto without
the prism of India or Pakistan.
"Empathise with him. Get
out of your comfort zone, and
then you will understand your
opponent's point. If Pakistanis view Indians as a threat,
fearing that they will stop
water to Pakistan had they
been in India's place, they
would have done the same
Responding to a question
on why Manto still thrives,
she replied; "The absence of
any kind of state sponsorship
by either India or Pakistan

Jalal on Manto: empathy


he third Calendar for Peace

and Love published by the cross-border youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti has been
launched at three more
cities Panipat,
Karachi and Lahore -following
Calendar launch: Panipat
launches in Delhi and in
Islamabad. An annual project of Aaghaz-e-Dosti (AED), a joint
Indo-Pak initiative of Mission Bhartiyam, India, and The Catalyst, Pakistan, the calendars feature selected artworks by students from India and Pakistan and messages from well-known
personalities. This year's calendar was supported by Justice,
Aid, and Development Foundation; Social Awareness Media
and Art Junction; South Asian Writers and Artists Network
from Pakistan, and Indian Council for Talent Search and Competition and Yuvsatta from India.
At the Panipat launch, held at the Hali Apna School (named
after the renowned Urdu poet), Mission Bhartiyam founder
Ravi Nitesh shared his experiences of visiting Pakistan. Eminent personalities participated in a discussion at the Mata
Seeta Rani Sewa Sansthan office later; some shared their experiences of partition. Everyone agreed on the urgent need to
establish peace for a better future.
In Karachi, the calendar was launched at a local government school, coordinated by AED's Suraiya Islam. The Lahore
launch took place at the Punjab Institute of Language, Art and
Culture, presided over by the eminent lawyer Reza Kazim, with
well-known actor Nadia Jamil as chief guest. Compered by the
writer Saeed Ahmed, the seminar featured several prominent
intellectuals and poets.
The calendar will also be launched at Nashik and Chandigarh. For more information, email:

that "irritated the so called respectable people". However,

as Dr Jalal clarified, Manto
was neither a misogynist nor
did he promote obscenity. He
was simply presenting human
characters in their stark reality.
Manto wrote extensively
and humanely about women,
including prostitutes and
pimps. He was tried for ob-

By Sehba Sarwar
In the dim light before
dawn, as the taxi meanders between neighborhoods to find Singh Sons
Hotel, I catch sight of an
elephant with its owner plodding along the street. Rubbing
my eyes, I peer out of the window but the bulky sight is left
far behind in the winter darkness. Later when I tell my
Delhi-based friend Fawzia, she
nods: People rent elephants
for weddings, she tells me.
They walk to different parts of
town, and sometimes they
have to start that early to
cover thirty miles.
I'm used to sighting animals
along Karachi streets where
camels, horses, donkeys with
carts and carriages or without
often slow down traffic. Animal owners depend on them
for transportation and income,
but this was my first time of an
elephant on a street.
But then, after the twentyfour hour journey from Houston to Delhi, all I want is to collapse on a bed. At the hotel
where I spend my first eight
hours before moving to
Fawzia's house the hotel
owner wants to photocopy my
passport. I oblige him, but a
few hours later, I'm woken up
by the jangle of my bedside
The hotel owner sounds
worried. I need to get your police reporting form, he tells me.
We must have photocopy of
I remember police reporting from more than thirty years
ago when I flew several times
to Delhi from Karachi with my
mother and siblings. Back
then, my sister, brother and I
didn't even have passports. We



Feedback, contributions, photos, letters:

Fax: +92-21-3241-8343
Post: aman ki asha c/o The News,
I.I. Chundrigar Road, Karachi

were simply names hand-written in our mother's passport.

Even back then, as a Pakistani
visiting India, she had to report
her arrivals and departures to
the police.
Since those early visits, I
have returned to India a couple
of times as an adult. The first
time was as a graduate student
when I interned at The Telegraph in Kolkata. Back then, I
managed to get a police-exempt visa, and a decade later I
returned as a tourist on my
American passport; no policereporting required.
But since the Mumbai attacks, the process for USbased Pakistanis holding dual
nationality has changed. Those
who wish to apply on US passports have to relinquish their
Pakistani nationality or else
apply on their Pakistani passports. I chose the latter option,
which means restricted travel
to an approved city or two (not
a visa for the country), and police-reporting.
And in the end, the reporting process isn't cumbersome.
My friends drive me to the Old
City near Turkman Gate to an
office marked with a sign,
"Pakistan National Registration
Office". Inside, the office is
clean, dotted with rows of
empty chairs. Behind the
counter sit a couple of men.
The older man on the podium
to the side gives me a number.
When my number is called,
I approach the expressionless
young man behind the counter.
Without looking up, he asks for
my passport and for my host's
identification card. Taking the
form stapled to my passport,
he stamps it at various places
and shakes his head. We are
done. The entire process takes
about 30 minutes, not counting
the long drive to Asaf Ali Road.
My friends and I celebrate
getting done with bureaucracy
by stopping at Bengali Sweets,
a chaat shop down the street.
We sit amongst businessmen,
romantic couples, housewives
and office workers to devour

Delhi: Street scene

pani puri, dahi vada and rasmalai.
Over the next few days,
while my friends are at work, I
rent a car and driver to get
around. The driver, a young
man who has recently moved
to Delhi from a nearby village,
is intrigued that I'm from Pakistan. We are going to go to a
big war, he tells me. Not with
Pakistan -- you are our sisters
and brothers -- but with China.
And we will win.
When I ask him what he
thinks of the new government,
he nods approvingly. They are
good, much more efficient. He
restates his point when he
takes me back to report to the
police prior to my departure.
See how clean the office is?
I report his words to my
friends, and they say: This is
the scary thing about India
today. The youth, and how they
believe in the army and Indian
superiority. This will be our undoing.
My friends are concerned
about the mass conversions to
Hinduism that are taking pace
in Aligarh and Lucknow, to
name just a few cities.
Back in Houston, the first

Rakshanda Jalil at Sindh talk: Delhi. Photos by the writer

thing my Indian friend Yaksha
asks me is, how did my people
treat you?
I nod. Just fine. I never felt
different from anyone. And
certainly, my time in Delhi was
just like being in Karachi; all
borders were erased.
In the end, the only things
that I found different from
being in Pakistan were the elephant that I never saw again
and the freedom on the streets
even though Delhi is not the
safest place for women.
Certainly, the autonomy
that I enjoyed was connected
to education and privilege, but
the open environment was re-

freshing, something that I don't

experience in Karachi any
more. When visiting universities, I didn't need to go through
metal detectors. Through my
entire visit, I was able to wander in and out of the Indian International Center (IIC) where
many seminars and book
launches occur. No one asked
to search me, or questioned
who I was.
Instead, in that space, I had
many border-free encounters:
one evening, I ran into Pakistani poet Kishwar Naheed
who was about to give a reading. I also had a spontaneous
visit with Nandita Bhavnani, a

who's submitting work for my
Houston-based arts organization's publication. I was introduced to her via a Karachi
friend, and she was in Delhi to
give a talk on post-partition
Sindh since that's where her
family comes from.
And aside from open intellectual borders, I also felt free
to roam within the city
(since I only had permission
to be in Delhi, Aligarh or Allahabad) just as did the couples wandering along the
streets. Youngsters went to
bars to dance and drink without worry of being busted. At
night I withdrew money from
ATM machines without fear of
being robbed. At a family luncheon, I sipped wine with elderly, sari-clad khalas.
My visit was short, but I
was able to use my time well
and spend time with everyone
I wanted to visit since there
were no city shutdowns,
strikes or bomb blasts. Yet, as
I boarded my plane, I felt a
sense of sorrow thinking of
what Karachi was, and what it
might have been had the eighties unfolded differently.
My sense of loss was exacerbated by recognizing that
the people I met -- artists,
writers and relatives -- have
families on both sides of the
border; we are connected to
each other with similar histories. Yet, today, not many of
us get to cross the borders,
and certainly, we cannot
move around each other's
countries without governmental permission.
The actions of a few have
changed the lives of many.
And because of the limitations, most of us are denied
the opportunity to learn for
ourselves that there is no real
Sehba Sarwar is a writer
and artist who has published
and exhibited work in India,
Pakistan and the US. Website:

A peace initiative whose time has come...

Destination Peace: A commitment by the Jang Group, Geo and The Times of India Group to
create an enabling environment that brings the people of Pakistan and India closer together,
contributing to genuine and durable peace with honour between our countries.