Saadat Hasan Manto ( 1912-1955 )
By Justice Markandey Katju, former Judge, Supreme Court of India
Two days back, on 18th January, was the death anniversary of Saadat Hasan Manto ( 1912-1955 ), whom I regard as one of the greatest short story writers of the world, comparable to Maupassant, Somerset Maugham, D.H.Lawrence, O.Henry, Premchand, etc.
Upendra Nath Ashk had been Manto’s colleague in the AIR in Delhi
I never had the privilege of meeting Manto, but I used to often meet his friend Upendra Nath Ashk, himself a well known Hindi short story writer, in the Coffee House in Civil Lines, Allahabad ( I was then a lawyer in Allahabad High Court ). Ashkji had been Manto’s colleague in the All India Radio in Delhi in 1941 and 1942, and he told me much about Manto ( he even wrote a book on him called ‘Manto Mera Dushman’ ).
Ashkji told me that Manto was an emotional, angry, highly sensitive man.
Manto’s stories e.g. ‘Khol do’, ‘Bu’, ‘Kali Shalwar’, ‘Dhuan’, etc. were called pornographic by some people ( just like Maupassant’s stories ) and he often wrote about the seamy, squalid, sleazy, and sordid side of society, which no other writer dared to do.
He was tried for obscenity 6 times in a court of law, though never convicted.
Manto himself said “People call my stories dirty, but that is because your society is dirty. I only tell the truth.“.
Saadat Hasan Manto strongly opposed Partition
Manto strongly opposed Partition, calling it madness. At that time he was living in Bombay, writing for films, but he had to depart for Pakistan when Muslims connected with the film world started receiving death threats.
In Lahore he would associate with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Nasir Kazmi, Ahmad Rahi, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi and other writers in the Pakistan Tea House, but it seems he was never happy in Pakistan, and he became an alcoholic and died of cirrhosis of the liver before he was 43.
Manto’s stories about Partition highlight its horrors and reveal the macabre animalistic side of human beings whose minds had been filled with communal hatred e.g. ‘Thanda Gosht’, ‘Tiithwal ka kutta’, ‘Toba Tek Singh’ etc.
His ‘Letters to Uncle Sam’ are a satire on Pakistan which he believed had become a neo-colony of America.
It is a pity that such a great writer died so early.