A name that evokes perhaps the most quintessential idea of a writer from the pre-partition era. I had never read any work by a writer from the galaxy of stars generated in the Indian subcontinent during the early 20th century. This seemed to be a good place to start.
Depicting the brutality of human being’s bare existence, in the very form it exists, is extremely challenging. The narcissistic tendency of humans to subtly self-aggrandise through evocative language is a barrier that is tough to evade. However, Sadat Hasan Manto makes this look like a child’s play. It’s rather beautiful how he achieves this by weaving stories around the commonest of characters but the unlikeliest of their traits. A child prostitute’s passion for fast cars, an adolescent servant’s sexualising of a blouse, the rather stateless dog and many more. Picking up on details that perhaps evade the ordinary eye, Manto paints a whole new world in the space of an atom.
An important element of this collection is the efforts of the translator. A common complaint is with regard to the reinterpretation of the author’s original work by the translator. In that regard, it brought me great peace to read the note written by the translator, and also to sneakily verify his credentials on the internet.
Manto’s general demeanour (through his characters) is that he has one simple question to ask of the world. What is so perfect about the status quo that makes it immune from scrutiny or inspires homogeneity? He lived a troubled life, often being tried legally, morally and socially for obscenity and blasphemy. But therein lay the beauty of his work. The appeal of truth is simply too overpowering to be constrained by the claws of rigidity and lies. Any attempt to break free is always regarded as a red flag, an aberration, a problem to be dealt with. Perhaps, it isn’t, and for Manto, it never was, never is, and never shall be.
Cross-Posted at The Standing Coin