In these times of CAA and NRC, these times of fascism, separation, fear, Islamophobia and most importantly conjugal love that lives in different corners of geographical and symbolic corners, we take ourselves back to the times of the Partition, as those memories give us post-traumatic flashbacks of what went down amongst people and in particular women, children and people that often lose their voice in the books of history. To understand the voices and chronicles of people that have been ignored throughout history by czarist kings, autocratic empires, and unscrupulous British officers and viceroys, we take a visit to Saadat Hasan Manto’s aide-memoire. Manto, a writer, who Wikipedia refers to as a Pakistani playwriter is actually a humanitarian playwriter, a writer who tended to write along the frontiers of communal harmony, suffering people and suppressed emotions floating in the unconscious of a person’s personality. Manto was born in the Ludhiana district of Punjab in a Muslim family having Kashmiri roots and shifted to Bombay in his early youth period. Bombay was the making of Manto, where he lived in Foras lane, which was the red-light district of Bombay, and at various times written and talked about the condition of prostitutes and the way their employers treated them. Manto describes the dilapidated state of the prostitutes and the wear and tear they had faced physically, emotionally, mentally, and psychologically. In the times of deep-rooted hatred, anger and blood, Manto had a corner for these people, these suppressed people of whom nobody wanted to listen, all the people wanted was to use them as a tool to fulfill their sexual desires and needs and establish a sexual slavery bond, where a humanitarian feeling was missing and the relationship dissolves, where one man experiences sheer pleasure and the other becomes a solitary soul and faces melancholy. Manto had his stay in Bombay until the political partition took place, which further deepened the divide between the Hindus and the Muslims of India and a large mass of people became refugees losing their children, families, and their beloved ones. The two frontiers where the partition took place were Punjab and Bengal and during this time when Manto wanted to stay in India, in his homeland Bombay where his late son and mother were buried, amongst the communal plunder, Manto had to take the hard decision to shift to Lahore by undertaking a seafaring journey from Bombay to Lahore where he was one of the only few people who realized that he could never come back to his town and hence he forever wanted to be indebted to Bombay. While making his journey from Bombay to Lahore, Manto exclaimed, Hindustan Zindabad and Pakistan Zindabad expressing his love, compassion, sense of belongingness to undivided India which was to be divided in the theocratic state of Pakistan and the secular state of India, where both were to follow democracy and live upon the ideals of freedom and sovereignty. While the books of history, only talk to us till this moment, the sufferings and bloodshed remain consistent even after this bloody turn. As Manto steps into Lahore, the worst turns take place in his life, were he sees sufferings amongst the poor and peasantry, he realizes the objects people have lost amongst the partition, the property, tables, chairs, pictures, and everything people had left behind amid fear and hunger to rot, die and kill. Manto realizes, the condition of the women, where women were killed and honor killings took place, where women to save the family name, jumped into wells and killed themselves and at times they were killed by other people who had monstrous ideals, and at this time where the man was supposed to protect his land and women, was the prime duty of the man. Manto engulfed all of this in him and picked up his sword to write the harshest truths of the society as his sensibility was hurt, where on three different accounts Manto was charged for obscenity in his writings. Manto said, “A writer picks up his pen only when his sensibility is hurt.” And he went on to produce some of the deepest works of literature portraying social evils, and produced works such as The Assignment, Toba Tek Singh, Dhanda Ghosht (Cold Flesh), Hattak and many more. Manto had associated himself with various intellectuals at the Pak Tea House which was established by a Sikh family and run by two Sikh brothers which served as a hub of people who belonged to the same school as Manto did and many brilliant works of Manto have been penned down at this institution, where gradually due to the drifting social situation Manto became a severe alcoholic and his end was near.
One of Manto’s most spectacular work is Toba Tek Singh, which portrays an image of the governments of India and Pakistan and their insensitive plight towards people and sending them from India to Pakistan and vice-versa even after the partition. Even after the partition, both the governments were insensitive to the people and were only interested in political gains and Toba Tek Singh is the story of a man who originally belonged to Toba Tek Singh (now in Pakistan) and was sent to India which was not his homeland on the account of him being a Sikh. These writings of Manto, come as a freshener in these times when people are being charged for sedition, his writings come as a humanitarian Dove, where Manto inspires thousands of writers and artists to move towards humanity, love, and unity and explore even more micro themes in their writings and talk more about the marginalized section of the people, and the people who have not been given any heed in history. Manto wrote, not what was sold and paid well, but he wrote what was required, the truth and prophecy which has come out as immortal writings in these times. These times when humans are seeking immortality and gruesome riots are taking place, the only thing which remains immortal is the art and the only thing that survives the ravages of time and gives viability to societies and civilizations is humanity, what Manto strived for and limned in his writings, which remain sempiternal.
“Hindustan had become free. Pakistan had become independent soon after its inception, but man was still slave in both these countries- slave of prejudice- slave of religious fanaticism- slave of barbarity and inhumanity” – Saadat Hasan Manto (lives on, in the immortal pieces of art providing emotion and expression to slaves of inhumanity living in geographical and symbolic corners of the world.)