Manto the chronicler of human suffering
By Dr Arshad Waheed
Manto has a unique position in the galaxy of his contemporary writers who completely changed the literary scene of that time. Instead of looking into human realities with any ideological lens, as it was in vogue in those days, he focused on human beings as they were. He could neither be dictated by Progressive Writers Association to focus only on economic injustice nor by proponents of Art for Art sake, to discover only literary aesthetics in literature. He created his own way, and discovered political, social, psychological and existential aspects of human existence in changing social contexts. He described the characters, which were shaped in a particular environment and struggled to fulfill their basic human desires and ambitions in a society, which was not ready to accommodate them as they were. No wonder, that he lived in the time of great short story writers like Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ghulam Abbas, and Krishan Chandra, but still stands as the short-story teller who described the agony and complexity of human beings of his time and beyond, in the best possible artistic manner.
Manto’s stories are the mirror of the essence of our society and human conduct. He does not tell about the surface of a society, but deep-rooted realities of our social systems. His story ‘Bu (Smell)’, throws light on a very subtle aspect of love experience of man and woman. His short story ‘Naya Qanoon (The New Law)’ is a sarcastic comment on the kind of freedom a native can perceive while living under a colonial rule. His short story ‘Kali Shalwar (Black trousers)’ reveals the absurdity of human needs and morality, and narrates that how sexual favours can be bartered by a promise of help observe faith associated rituals.
His masterpiece short stories are on violence occurred during the partition of India. His short story ‘khol do (Open it)’ exposes the actual character of Muslim volunteers who did not spare even helpless Muslim refugee girls during partition. On the other hand, he also shows that how human beings can care for others out of love, in his short story ‘Mozail’. His story ‘Thanda Gosht (The Cold Meat)’ throws light on another aspect of human experience where barbaric actions of the story’s protagonist, are compromised by his humanistic values. His short stories ‘Taitwal ka Kutta’ and ‘Toba Tek Singh’ reflect upon the absurdity of partition of India and events that followed in the wake of migration and creation of new boundaries.
Similarly, his letters to Uncle Sam after the partition of India are a kind of prediction as to how Pakistani political system would find a new ruler after the UK in the form of USA.
The sketches he wrote about his friends and other people, also introduced another way of portraying human beings, not showing them as saints or sinners, but as ordinary people with all kinds of good or bad behaviors they had. In the collection of his sketches ‘Ganjey Farishtey, (The bald angels), he narrated the life sketches of poets like Mira Ji, actors like Shyam, Ashok Kumar, Pari Chehra NasimBano, writers like Bari Aleeg, Ismat Chughtai, Agha Hashar Kashmiri, and Azad, the driver of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. All of them were his friends, but he did not just praise them but portrayed them as they were.
Manto told the stories, as he understood the world, without caring to appease literary, political or social establishments of that time. That is why he still remains t unfit to be accommodated by any authority system. Nowadays, even Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Habib Jalib, the literary symbols of political resistance have been co-opted by right-wing Muslim league leaders and even Jamat Islami, who keep singing their poetry. However, since Manto did not remain confined to political ideas, rather he raised questions on very nature of human behaviors and morality, he still stands alone as a rebel against a decaying and exploitative social and political system and remains too difficult to be co-opted.
Manto was a writer who did not do anything else but writing all his life. He did not join any other profession. Be it cinema, radio or literary and journalistic papers, he contributed to them by writing. Manto left Mumbai and came to Lahore after partition. However, his free-spirited soul could not reconcile with the new state, which was bent upon to redefine moral and social values of the country. No wonder, he was tried for obscenity six times, before and after the partition of India. For him, nothing changed even after independence.
Manto was not unique only due to the topics he chose to write. He was also distinct due to his mastery of the art of storytelling. His stories were composed by simple language, he used words economically; not more, not less, and he used his skill to drive his point home in a very subtle manner.
Manto created his short stories by creating a drama between innate nature of man, social order, values, and man’s failed struggle to produce a balance between all these elements. By doing so, he irked all those sections of society who lived happily in a make-believe reality, that everything was in order, and no one should be allowed to disturb their tranquility and comfort level.