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Saadat Hasan Manto- Writer of Stark Realities
(Courtesy Iftikhar Chaudri) Saadat Hassan Manto (May 11, 1912 ? January 18, 1955) was a Pakistani Urdu short story writer, most known for his Urdu short stories , 'Bu' (Odour), 'Khol Do' (Open It), 'Thanda Gosht' (Cold Meat), and his magnum opus, Toba Tek Singh'. Unfortunately having spent life on both sides of the border he was portrayed as an Indian writer in Pakistan and in India he was portrayed as a Pakistani writer. But truely he was a writer of the subcontinent above distinctions of coutry or religion. He was also a film and radio scriptwriter, and journalist. In his short life, he published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches. He was tried for obscenity half-a-dozen times, thrice before and thrice after independence in Pakistan, but never convicted. Some of his works have been translated in other languages. Combining psychoanalysis with human behaviour, he was arguably one of the best short story tellers of the 20th century, and one of the most controversial as well. When it comes to chronicling the collective madness that prevailed in the Indian subcontinent, during and post the Partition of India in 1947, no other writer comes close to the oeuvre of Saadat Hassan Manto. Since he started his literary career translating works of literary giants, like Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde and many Russian masters like Chekov and Gorky, their collective influence made him search for his own moorings. This search resulted in his first story, Tamasha, based on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar. Though his earlier works, influenced by the progressive writers of his times showed a marked leftist and socialist leanings, his later work progressively became stark in portraying the darkness of the human psyche, as humanist values progressively declined around the Partition. So much so that his final works that came out in the dismal social climate of post-partition Indian subcontinent and his own financial struggles reflected an innate sense of human impotency towards darkness that prevailed in the larger society, cultivating in satirism that verged on dark comedy, as seen in his final great work, Toba Tek Singh, that not just showed a direct influence of his own stay in a veritable mental asylum, but also a reflection of collective madness that he saw in the ensuing decade of his life. To add to it, his numerous court cases and societal rebukes, deepened his cynical view of society , from which he felt ever so isolated No part of human existence remain untouched or taboo for him, he sincerely brought out stories of prostitutes and pimps alike, just as he highlighted the subversive sexual slavery of the women of his times. To many contemporary women writers, his language far from being obscene brought out the women of times in realism, seen never before, and provided them with the human dignity they long deserved. Unlike his fellow luminaries, he never indulged in didacticism or romanticized his character, nor offered any judgment on his characters. No matter how macabre or immoral they might seem, he simply presented the characters in a realistic light, and left the judgment on to the reader's eyes. This allows his works to be interpreted in a myriad ways, depending on the viewpoint of the reader. They would appear sensationalist or prurient to one, while exceedingly human to another. Yet it was this very non-judgmental and rather unhindered truism of his pen that put him in an opposite camp from the media censors, social prejudices and the legal system of his times, so much so that he remained banned for many years and lost out on many opportunities to earn a healthy living. Throughout the Indian subcontinent he is still known for his scathing insight into the human behaviour...
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