Manto & '1947

Written by Tariq Ali

He had no doubt of  his place in literary history and left behind the following epitaph for himself: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto. With him lie buried the arts of short-story telling. Here he lies underneath tons of mud still wondering if he was a better short-story writer than God.”

Saadat Hasan Manto died in Lahore in 1955. He was forty-three years old. The life of  one of our greatest short-story writers had been prematurely truncated. I was eleven years old at the time. I never met him. I wish I had. One can visualise him easily enough. In later photographs the melancholy is visible. He appears exhausted as if his heart were entrenched with sadness. In these his face displays all the consequences of a ravaged liver. But there are others. Here his eyes sparkle with intelligence, the impudence almost bursting through the thick glass of his 1940’s spectacles, mocking the custodians of morality, the practitioners of confessional politics or the commissariat of the Progressive Writers. ‘Do your worst’, he appears to be telling them. ‘I don’t care. I will write to please myself. Not you.’   Manto’s battles with the literary establishment of his time became a central feature of his biography. Charged with obscenity and brought to trial on a number of occasions he remained defiant and unapologetic.


was prepared to consider a federal solution as proposed by the Cabinet Mission sent to India by the Labour Government. The episodes associated with the senseless carnage that accompanied the withdrawal of the British from India loom large in Manto’s short stories. My mother gave 2/8 . In fact even Jinnah. she was disturbed by a loud knock on the front door. understood and spoke in a soft. At least a million men.  Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other glared into each other’s hate-filled eyes before embarking on  frenzied blood-baths. The survivors owe it to those who perished. nearly 5000 people were killed and three times that number wounded in Bengal. My mother. as late as June 1946. All he wanted to know was the location of a particular house on a nearby road. The horrors of 1947 were well known. A collective trauma appeared to have silenced most people. but few liked to talk about them.   In the months that preceded Partition. As she opened the door  she was overcome by anxiety. In these bad times when the fashion is to worship accomplished facts real history tends to be treated as an irritant. Fear overcame rationality. In his stories of that period he recovered the dignity of all the victims without fear or favour. It was the Congress Party which made that particular solution impossible. The character and scale of the butchery was unprecedented in Indian history. During four days in August 1946. Not Manto. The mood in the Punjab became edgy. This failure meant that exactly one year before Partition. In front of her stood the giant figure of a Sikh. it is worth recalling that something terrible happened fifty years ago today when India was divided.  It is time to recognise it and see if it can be understood and transcended. something to be swatted out of existence like mosquitoes in summer. Even the perpetrators of crimes were victims of a political process that had gone out of control. often recalls how in April 1947. He saw the fear on her face. the Hindu-Muslim riots started in Eastern India. A few words of  necessary explanation might help the reader to understand the corrosive impact of  Manto on the reading public. an active member of the Communist Party.Manto & '1947' Written by Tariq Ali It was the Partition of India in 1947 along religious lines formed his own attitudes and those of his numerous detractors. reassuring voice. women and children lost their lives during the carnage of ‘ethnic cleansing’ that overcame Northern and Eastern India as the Punjab and Bengal were divided along religious lines. heavily pregnant with my sister and alone at home.

festive looks Are all the fashion. A year later. Not that clear dawn in quest of which those comrades Set out. The music in my harp has been strangled Its tunes buried by wails and screams 3/8 . Nor was she the  only one. word goes. It was neither inevitable nor necessary and  its traces are only too visible in the unending anguish of the great  sub-continent. Manto’s stories help us to understand the madness that grippped Trains became moving graveyards as they arrived at stations on both sides of the new divide. have reacted in that fashion. Neither the song of the nightingale nor lamps or flowers would ever grace their graves. Today my tattered garments hold nothing But the dust of the road that we have travelled. Our leaders’ ways are altering. But now. He sent an explanation in the form of a dirge addressed to fellow-writers in Pakistan: Friends. He thanked her warmly and left. They are the forgotten victims of that year. blow from---where has it fled? Night’s heaviness is unlessened still. Where did that fine breeze. Somewhere an anchorage for the ship of heartache. it was  the poor of town and country who were the main victims and they were buried or burnt in  hastily dug pits. believing that in heaven’s wide void Somewhere must be the star’s last halting place.-And yet this physic still on unslaked eye Or heart fevered by severance works no cure. The Partition of India was a tragedy and a crime. packed with corpses of fleeing refugees. the hour Of mind and spirit’s ransom has not struck. Let us go on. How could she. No memorial in India or Pakistan marks the killings. for long years I have spun dreams of the moon and stars and spring for you. discontent reproved. of all people. wandering feet stand at their goal. without a trace of prejudice.  born in what  became Pakistan. our goal is not reached yet.Manto & '1947' Written by Tariq Ali him the directions.  one of the greatest of 20th century Urdu poets. the birth of day from darkness Is finished. She was overpowered by shame. that the wayside lamp Has not once felt. Somewhere the verge of night’s slow-washing tide. another poet Sahir Ludhianvi. who crossed the border and came to Pakistan could not bear the atmosphere and returned to India. Faiz Ahmed Faiz. As always. spoke for many  in his poem Freedom’s Dawn on August ‘47: This leprous daybreak. dawn night’s fangs have mangled--This is not that long -looked-for break of day.

alas. ‘Behind the Screen’. Manto spared his readers the real life ending: the wife had her rival’s flesh cooked and forced her husband to eat the cooked flesh. They have to be forced on to the trucks. This would have meant that forty percent of the Punjab would have consisted of Hindus and Sikhs and forty-nine percent of Bengal would have consisted of Hindus. describes a wife’s revenge once she discovers her husband has a secret mistress. of jealousy and how it often led to murder. One of them. but with a first-class lawyer’s brain. bordering Afghanistan.  When whole cities are being ethnically cleansed. is so overcome by rage that he dies on the demarcation line which divides Pakistan from India. Even later. the founder of Pakistan. was moved to write ‘Toba Tek Singh’. he genuinely believed that the new state would simply be a smaller version of secular India. One of his stories.     Mohammed Ali Jinnah. a striking demonstration of the saying that truth is stranger than fiction (1). a utopian nonsense. The story was based on an accrual event that took place in the North West Frontier Province. the only city where he had found love and happiness. ‘Toba Tek Singh’  is a masterpiece set in the lunatic asylum in Lahore at the time of Partition. Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province. His diamond-hard prose was in polar contrast to the flowery language of many  contemporaries. Manto wrote sparsely. Jawaharlal Nehru’s romantic nationalism portrayed independence as a long-delayed “tryst with destiny”. Jinnah conceived of Pakistan as an amalgamation of an undivided Punjab. how can the asylums escape? The Hindu and Sikh lunatics are told by bureaucrats organising the transfer of power that they will be forcibly transferred to  institutions in India. Here Muslims would be the largest community. was a second-rate politician. They will not be parted willingly. The wife takes the husband to his lover’s apartment and in his presence has her body chopped into tiny pieces. He wrote about sexual frustration and its consequences. Initially he had used separatism as a bargaining ploy. Few politicians on either side had foreseen the results. with one difference. Once 4/8 . Saadat Hasan Manto. Confronted by so much insanity in the real world.Manto & '1947' Written by Tariq Ali Peace and civilization are the alms I crave So that my lips can learn how to sing again. They embrace each other and weep. The ‘lunatics’ have a better understanding of the crime that is being perpetrated than the politicians who have agreed to Partition. an undivided Bengal together with Sind. This was partially the result of a failure by the Congress High Command to make the large Muslim minority an offer it could not refuse.  The inmates rebel. Manto discovered normality in the asylum. He never imagined that the tryst would be bathed in countless gallons of Indian blood. each word carefully chosen. He really believed that he would still be able to spend some time every winter at his mansion in Bombay. It was. a Sikh.

including the Second World War.  The raj was maintained by a very tiny British presence: in 1805 the pink-cheeked conquerors numbered 31. however small and awkward it might appear on the map.000.05 of the local population. In return.Manto & '1947' Written by Tariq Ali confessional passions had been aroused and neighbours were massacring each other (as in the former Yugoslavia during the last decade of the 20th century) it was difficult to keep the two provinces united.000 and in 1931 there were 168. often of the highest order. Pakistan was 5/8 . local potentates were permitted to learn English and taught the etiquette of nibbling cucumber sandwiches with His Excellency at Government House. The Mughal Emperors. but now he wanted his own statelet. Some scores had to be settled. It came about because of a combination of circumstance during the Forties. had the Congress been capable of strategic insights. had learnt this lesson very quickly and Akbar had unsuccessfully attempted to create a new religion synthesising Hinduism and Islam. Jinnah backed the war effort. despite their more advanced technology. they would not last too long without serious alliances. “I do not care how little you give me.   It was this fact that concentrated the finest minds of the raj on politics and strategy. communicate directly with peasants and administer justice. when confronted with the nightmare of actually governing India. who could have been a willing collaborator in establishing a single state with important safeguards for the minority. The birth of modern Sikhism and Hinduism owes a great deal to the British presence in India. If the British had granted India self-government on the Canadian and Australian pattern after the First World War it is unlikely that the sub-continent would have been divided. They learned to speak Urdu and Bengali so that they could. themselves Muslims. In other words the British in India never comprised more than 0. Lord Mountbatten. They could only govern India with the consent of its traditional rulers. All previous rulers had attempted to govern with the consent of the ruling elites of whatever religion. The civil servants trained by Haileybury and other imperialist nurseries in Britain to govern a mighty sub-continent were political administrators. the Congress demanded Independence. the religious-minded Aurungzeb did not attempt any Islamisation of his army:  his ablest Generals were Hindu chiefs! The British. when necessary. India had come a long way in 1947.” Jinnah is reported as saying in March 1947 to the last Viceroy. “as long as you give it to me completely.” A dying old man in a hurry. Even the last of the great Mughals. in 1911 they had grown to 164. They also learned how to divide local rulers from each other and how to fan religious prejudices. realised that. Partition was not a planned conspiracy by either the British or Jinnah.000.

India. ‘Cold Meat’ is one such story. In his work we see how normally decent people can. unlike the poets and writers of the sub-continent. They were not permitted to take office. Bombay. The poisonous fog of the religious world has enveloped politics.Manto & '1947' Written by Tariq Ali imperialism’s rap on the knuckle for Indian nationalism. Nehru and Jinnah were both shaken by the orgy of barbarism. In their absurd search for a new Indian identity. but the secular core in many people did not survive the fire. The refusal of the military rulers to permit democracy led to a successful uprising in 1968.  But it was Mahatama Gandhi who paid the ultimate price. even from those who had hitherto imagined to be like him. What happened had to happen. The two parts of Pakistan were divided by a thousand miles of India. Godse was hanged. the scoundrel parties have re-discovered Hinduism and sections of the ‘secular’ Congress have fallen into line. once the centre of cosmopolitanism is now Mumbai and under the sway of a neo-fascist Hindu organisation. Partition was a disaster. too. where he worked for the film industry. regardless of ethnic. religious or caste identities and he discovered contradictions and passions and irrationality in each of them. but two decades later. language and political tradition. but now the Furies are out into the open. Manto was amongst the few who observed the bloodbaths of Partition with a detached eye. Bangladesh was born.  He had remained in Bombay in 1947. but was accused of  favouring Muslims and was subjected to endless communal taunts. commit the most appalling atrocities. Godse’s brother told Channel Four that he regretted nothing.  The political heirs of the hanged Godse are shoving aside the children of Nehru and Gandhi.  There was a massacre of intellectuals and mass rape (Punjabi soldiers had been told to ‘change the genes’ of Bengalis forever) followed by a civil war. A dictator was toppled. The Nehru years (1947-64) disguised the processes underneath. It offended all their instincts. He turned the tragedies he had witness or heard into great literature. In the elections that followed the Bengalis of East Pakistan won a big majority.  Manto came to Lahore in 1948. a fundamentalist Hindu fanatic. For defending the right to live of innocent Muslims in post-Partition India he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. is not usually prone to sentiment. One partition had led to another. while the Bengali majority of the population (60%) lived in East Pakistan. in extreme conditions. That past now rots in the present and threatens to further poison the future. In 1952 he wrote: “My heart is heavy with 6/8 . The Army invaded the Eastern part of its own country. was severely damaged by Partition. He wrote of the common people. but was never happy. The predominantly Punjabi military-bureaucratic elite belonged to West Pakistan. adjacent to which there lurked another.  Communal riots have claimed tens of thousands of lives over the last fifty years. culture. History.

Out there. More than four years ago when I said farewell to my other home. You decimated Hiroshima. but when you tried to unravel the truth. A strange listlessness has enveloped me. you were left groping. India or Pakistan? And whose blood was it that was being so mercilessly shed every day? And the bones of the dead. by savagery. You will naturally want to know what. A terrible chapter of blood and tears was being added to history. a chapter without precedent. Pakistan was free from the moment of its birth. "Everyone seemed to be regressing. you turned Nagasaki into smoke and dust and you caused several thousand children to be born in Japan. the British answer. "India was free. use the stone to absorb the after-drops of urine as they resume their walk. All I want you to do is to dispatch me some dry cleaners. what my mind could not resolve was the question: what country did we belong to now. Every question had an answer. teeny weeny atom bomb because for long I have wished to perform a certain good deed. You have done many good deeds yourself and continue to do them. written shortly before his death: “Another thing I would want from you would be a tiny. Hedisplayed a remarkable prescience as expressed in this extract from his ‘Third Letter to uncle Sam’. Why were they being massacred? There were different answers to the question. Now that freedom had come. This 7/8 . were they being burned or buried? Now that we were free who was to be our subject? When we were not free.Manto & '1947' Written by Tariq Ali grief today. Bombay. man's enslavement continued: by prejudice. stripped of the flesh of religion. by religious fanaticism. Only death and carnage seemed to be proceeding ahead. the Indian answer. It is like this. Each to his own. I experienced the same kind of sadness…” Years later he was still trying to come to grips with what had happened: "Still. how would we perceive our past state? "The question was: were we really free? Both Hindus and Muslims were being massacred. many Mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar. the Pakistani answer. we used to dream about freedom." In a series of Open Letters to Uncle Sam he marked his displeasure at the state of world politics and Pakistan’s Security Pact with the US. but in both states.

‘Sadat Hasan Manto: Not of Blessed Memory’. One more thing.” Given the circumstances it is hardly surprising that he sought solace in alcohol and drank himself to death. so you should send him a gun which should go off when it is placed in the sun.” Notes: Khalid Hasan.85 Tariq Ali is British Pakistani historian. filmmaker. 4. You should sign something similar with India. As for your military pact with us. He is a memb New Left Review and Sin Permiso and re 8/8 . send me a shipload of American matchsticks. the rest are unusable unless you take help from matches made in Russia which behave more like firecrackers than matches. it cannot do without a constitution. He had written over 200 short stories and had no doubt of  his place in literary history and left behind the following epitaph for himself: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto. One more thing. Here he lies underneath tons of mud still wondering if he was a better short-story writer than God. P. And after you have used half the box. campaigner and commentator. The matchsticks manufactured here have to be lit with the help of Iranian-made matchsticks. As soon as you get this letter. We can't seem able to draft a constitution. 1984.Manto & '1947' Written by Tariq Ali they do in full public view. the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us. but a Muslim which is why I have asked for a tiny atom bomb for myself. novelist. it is remarkable and should be maintained. All I want is that the moment such a person appears. Annual of Urdu Studies. I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the Mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding. Do kindly ship us some experts because while a nation can manage without a national anthem. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is a Kashmiri. unless such is your wish. I am a Kashmiri too. With him lie buried the arts of short-story telling.