Kumar S Bhattacharya
HSS F316- Popular literature and culture of South Asia
15th April, 2013
Turmoil and the ensuing Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto
Saadat Hasan Manto’s works portrays the darkness of the human psyche, as values continuously plummeted during the Partition. His works, released during the dark social climate of post-partition Indian subcontinent reflected an innate sense of human helplessness towards darkness that prevailed in society. The tragedy of partition is brought into focus by his works. Manto’s life and works serve as a mirror to capture the human element of sectarian conflict in the final decades and immediate aftermath of the British Raj. This paper draws on Manto’s stories, characters and incidents to paint an image of the Indian subcontinent during partition and to personify its devastating toll. The 20th century will always be remembered for two major catastrophical events, the Holocaust during the Second World War and then the proceedings closer to home, the Partition in India. These events of the past have been shaping the ideology and thinking of several generations both in India and around the world. Contemporary literature written in various Indian languages possesses many a masterpiece which has taken inspiration from these historical events.
To clearly understand the ideology and thinking behind each character and their story, it is important to know about Manto’s life. Manto was born into a middle class Kashmiri family of Amritsar. Even as a child, Manto was a rebel, questioning what others took for granted; his father scoffed at the idea of him taking up writing, he wanted Manto to become a lawyer as his brothers. His hometown of Amritsar was the hub of revolutionary thoughts during those days, he was deeply motivated by these. It was here, in the spring of 1919, when Manto was seven years old, that a British general had opened fire on some twenty thousand Indians gathered in a public garden, an act that roused anti-imperialists across the land and hastened India’s march to independence from British rule. In this gaseous atmosphere Manto came of age. (New Yorker and primary text). As the years passed by, it was in Bombay where Manto finally settled down; he was in love with the city and its people, but in 1948, Manto left Bombay to go to Pakistan. Manto himself has not written the reason behind this decision. On 6th April 1968 his wife Safia wrote to one of Manto’s Indian biographers “He was always treated unjustly by everyone. The truth is that he had no intention of leaving India, but a few months before Partition, Filmistan handed him a notice of termination and that, believe me, broke his heart. For a long time, he kept it hidden from me because he was proud of his friendship with Mr Mukerjee and Ashok Kumar. That was when he started drinking heavily which in the end claimed his life. I had come over earlier; he came in January 1948.” Mr Mukerjee and Ashok Kumar were Manto’s closest friends as well as his bosses. He had gone through a lot with them but once the partition took place everything changed. He had seen a lot of atrocities being committed during the mass migration which took place during the Partition. He had made his identity as an Indian, but now he was being defined by his Muslim identity, as a member of the minority community. This is similar to what happens in ‘The Assignment’. As Mel U praises it saying “’The Assignment is a heart-breaking story of betrayal, of evil returned for generations of good, of senseless violence, deaths of the innocent, deaths with no reward but the temporary satiation of blood lust and religious hatred. A retired Muslim judge once helped in a very important way a Sikh man; for many years afterwards the Sikh made a gesture every year towards the Muslim family to show his gratitude. It was a cross religious bond that meant a great deal to both families and both used it to teach their...