‘Manto will never die’

Published in Pakistan Observer (19 Jan. 2011)

Saadat Hasan Manto

“Saadat Hasan will die one day, but ‘Manto’ will never die.” This line written by Manto himself has borne out Manto’s belief as his writings reign the Urdu literary world making him one of the greatest storytellers of South Asia.

Pakistan’s great literary icon, Saadat Hassan Manto’s 56th death anniversary was observed on Tuesday. Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-55) was a leading Urdu short-story writer of the twentieth century. His urdu short stories especially ‘Bu’ (Odour), ‘Khol Do’ (Open It), ‘Thanda Gosht’ (Cold Meat), and his magnum opus, ‘Toba Tek Singh’. In his short life, he published 22 collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches.

‘Manto Nama’ is a collection of Saadat Hassan Manto’s short stories. His plots revolved around stark truths about life and people, at a time when others were writing about fairy tale romances, and as such his writing marks a true watershed in Urdu literature.

In his article, Raza Rumi, a Lahore-based writer called Saadat Hasan Manto “the writer of stark realities” who dealt with the art of “combining psychoanalysis with human behaviour, which made him arguably one of the best short story tellers of the 20th century, and one of the most controversial as well.”

Manto was also known for his detestation of communalism, hypocrisy of believers, and exploitation of women and bloodshed on the eve of partition of India. He stood for humanism and exposed the characterless elite of his times. “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” writes Raza.

Manto is often compared with DH Lawrence, an English writer and like Lawrence he also wrote about the topics considered social taboos in Indo-Pakistani Society. He started his literary career translating works of literary giants, like Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Maupassant, Chekhov and Gorky who influenced him at earlier age. Manto also produced an Urdu translation of Victor Hugo’s ‘The Last Days of a Condemned Man’ which was published under the title Sarguzasht-e-Aseer (A Prisoner’s Story).

Adnan Ahmad, an admirer of Manto’s stories feels that “the power of his expression along with his command on human psyche often leaves readers wondering if they could ever forget his stories, even if they wanted to, considering the hard, cold truth about the dark side of humans highlighted in his stories.”

Postal stamp of Manto.

In 1955 he fell victim to liver cirrhosis and was hardly 43 when he died leaving behind his legacy, a significant literary work that truly made Manto the greatest storyteller of the South Asia region. On January 18, 2005, his 50th death anniversary, Manto was commemorated on a Pakistani postage stamp.

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