Of the several hundred stories, the court found only two stories in which he had transgressed the law and was liable for punishment. But his critics and the custodians of society declared Manto to be retrogressive and licentious. Even the so-called "progressives" betrayed him. At one strike they tarnished his entire writing career with the same dirty brush as the others... To call a writer's work nothing on the basis of two stories is crass injustice. We cannot overlook the fact that Manto's masterpieces such as "Toba Tek Singh", "Mozel", "Babu Gopinath" have nothing to do with obscenity." (Jagdish Chander)
1948 to 1955 saw Manto writing most of his controversial stories. With the outcome that he was being hauled up in courts. He got into trouble for five of his stories. Boo (Odour), Kali Shalwar (Black Trousers), Thanda Ghosht (A Lump of Cold Meat/Flesh), were three of them.
In the short span of his life, he published 22 collections of short stories, a novel, 5 collections of radio plays, 3 collections of essays, and two collections of personal sketches, besides a full-length play. He wrote in Urdu but was as popular in Hindi, Punjabi, Kashmiri and some other languages.
It will not be wrong to say that Manto was a born story writer. He paid special attention to the structure of the story, bringing out precisely its significant details, invested with deep insight. His characters mostly comprise the fallen and rejected members of society- the fallen woman and prostitutes as in "Kali Shalwar".
Khol Do was his second story that he had written after his emigration to Pakistan and the shortest. It was published in the “Naqoosh” magazine around 1948 to 1949, which was forced to suspend its publication for six months. This was because the govt. feared that the story held a potential threat- a “breach of public peace”. Although the literary circles at the time forcefully opposed the govt.’s view, it cut no ice with the govt. which had taken an exception to the last portion of the story where the girl is shown pushing down her shalwar from her thighs in a state of semi-consciousness.
Manto’s story forms a part of what came to be known as “Partition Literature”. It can be understood as the “creative attempt” to make sense of one of the worst “pogroms” in human history. “In trying to grapple with the enormity of misery, writers dealing with this period obsessively developed imageries of rape, violence and destruction” (Anuradha Marwah Roy).
The story revolves around the father’s frantic search for his daughter Sakeena whom he has lost in the wake of the attacks on them in India. The title, “Khol Do” suggests Manto’s attempt at calling the reader’s attention to the last part of the story where one realises that the girl has been gang-raped by a group of men masquerading as “social workers” (Devendar Issar). In a broader sense, the story highlights the problem of the woman becoming a victim of the “male prowess” (Alok Bhalla) in the wake of the Partition. It is not just Sakeena but her mother too who is a victim. Though it may or may not seem to be Manto’s intention, I find the choice of the title interesting as “Khol Do” could be connected to the plight of Sakeena’s mother too, her stomach ripped open. But more than that, it is an uncovering of the shameful face of those ‘Razakars’ who see her as an object of desire. These lustful men derive their pleasure in exploiting her so much so that she is seen, opening her shalwar on hearing the doctor’s words- ‘Khol Do.
Interestingly, Manto merges the story of Sirajuddin with the crowd. Though his story is centred around Sirajuddin and Sakeena, he does not fail to catch the reader’s attention by referring to the ‘others’ too who were in ‘need of sympathy’ (Jai Ratan’s translation). He is successful in sensitizing the readers by then placing him in the centre and the readers come to realise that this story is not just the girl’s...