Art and Obscenity: The Case of Manto


Written by Randeep Singh

The Urdu short-story writer Manto was charged with obscenity six times for his short-stories, three times in India before 1947 (‘Dhuan,’ ‘Bu,’ and ‘Kali Shalwar’) and three times in Pakistan after 1947 (‘Khol Do,’ ‘Thanda Gosht,’ and ‘Upar Neeche Darmiyaan’). He was fined only in one case. The charges of obscenity haunted him nevertheless until his death: “I am not a pornographer but a story writer,” he would defend himself.

Under section 292 of the Indian Penal Code and the Pakistan Penal Code in Pakistan’s early years, a book or writing would be considered obscene if “it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect … if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.”

The book or writing would not be found obscene however if it was “justified as being for the public good on the ground that such book, … writing… is in the interest of … literature, art … or other objects of general concern.”

Manto wrote about his experiences at the trial and appeal hearing of “Thanda Gosht” between 1949 and 1952. A witness at trial for Manto, Syed Abid Ali Abid, the Principal of Dayal Singh College, testified: “from Wali to Ghalib, everyone at some time, has written what is generally labeled as obscene. Literature can never be obscene. And, what Manto writes is literature.”

One witness, Dr. Saeedullah, gave Manto the title of “musavvar-e-hayaat,” the painter of life. Soofi Tabassum, a professor of Government College, deposed that “immoral writing is where the sole object of the writer is to undermine morality” and that “Thanda Gosht” did not affect public morality.

In Manto’s testimony, “Thanda Gosht” was a story “telling human beings that they are not separated from humanity even with they become animal like.” Like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary which had also been charged with obscenity, “Thanda Gosht” was a serious story filled with melancholy. As for the potentially corrupting influence of his stories on the public, Manto remarked, “my stories are for healthy people, normal beings, not for minds who dig  up carnal meanings in innocent and pure things.”

The case of Manto is relevant to the question of what is art and what is obscenity. The following questions are worth considering:

  1. What is the artists’ intention in writing the story (to arouse sexual excitement etc.)?
  2. Is the sexual element of the story the primary or dominant value of the story or is it subordinated to the writer’s aesthetic goals?
  3. How does the reader experience the story? Does it appeal more to his or her aesthetic judgement or mostly to his or her senses and carnality?
  4. Does the aesthetic experience of reading the story do away with the reader’s “practical, operational” ways of viewing its characters and situations as if they were real people or situations?

If the story’s primary or overriding goal is to sexually arouse the reader, then the work can be considered obscene. If the story’s primary or overriding goal though is to use sexual or erotic scenes for some larger artistic purpose related to theme, setting etc., the story can be considered literature. A story moreover may have sexual situations or scenes which by themselves may be considered obscene but which have some meaning in the story’s overall context.

In “Thanda Gosht,” Manto tells the story of Isher Singh, a Sikh, who tried to rape an already dead Muslim girl, a heap of “cold flesh.” In “Khol Do,” a brutalized, unconscious  girl on the verge of death, Sakeena, opens her shalwaar qameez after the doctor examining her utters the words “khol do” (‘open’) to a nurse to open a window. The suggestion of raping a corpse or a girl opening her shalwaar on hearing the words “open (it)” by themselves may have been obscene; in their proper context, they illustrate the extent to which women were brutalized in the Punjab in 1947.

Manto was not only holding up a mirror to the dirt, hypocrisy and puritanism in Indian and Pakistani society; he was showing a way out of it. Ismat Chughtai wrote in her memoir “Kaghazi Hai Pairahan” that Manto’s “flinging it (dirt) about makes it visible and one’s attention can be called to the need of cleaning it.”  His stories unsettle us because they take us to the darker corners of our psyche, to desires repressed and to the ugliness that results. South Asia still struggles with the brutalization of women, sexual repression, sexual abuse, a growing AIDS menace and with discussing sex or sexuality openly.

Manto is still holding up the mirror to ourselves.

Further reading:

Ayesha Jalal, The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide (Princeton University Press, 2013).

Aziz Akhmad, “Manto Ka Muqaddama: Obscenity Trial”:


Destination South Asia

Here’s a taste of some of the talks at Destination South Asia which took place at the University of British Columbia on March 23, 2013.

“Why is Poverty Declining so slowly in India,” Dr. Ashok Kotwal

  1. India continues to be so poor because most of its population continues to be employed in agriculture which pays so little if anything.
  2. Indians need to shift into non-farm jobs, like manufacturing but India does not have enough skilled labour partly because.
  3. Indians are so poorly educated or not educated at all

Some other points from Dr. Kotwal’s paper on the subject ( )

  1. Most Indians (93%) have no job security nor access to credit, infrastructure or skills training as they work under the table (the ‘informal sector’), and;
  2. Unskilled and poor workers have benefited little from the “high growth” because they lack the skills to take part in such skill-intensive sectors as business services (which employ only a small part of the labour force anyway).

How will India reap its “demographic dividend” when its people are unskilled, undereducated, malnourished… ?


“Beyond Political Frames: Literary Voices on Partition,” Nabila Pirani

Short-stories on Partition are written by writers alive at the time of the event, offering the benefit of immediacy to the reader, but can bring out the human and social aspects of Partition more effectively than purely historical or political narratives.

Summarizing the stories “Siqqa Badal Gaya,” “Lajwanti” and “Khol Do” by Krishna Sobti, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Saadat Hassan Manto respectively, Pirani, and the following discussion, revealed the many textures and tones of the Partition era.

In “Siqqa,” Pirani underlines how for many Punjabis, the violence of partition was mostly in the background and how the experience of partition changes through the perspective of a woman writer and protagonist. In “Khol Do,” Manto upsets the apple cart by suggesting that men from a particular community may have raped their own women. Lastly, in “Lajwanti,” Pirani looked at the invisible walls that develop between a husband and a wife who had recently been returned to her husband after being classed as “missing.”

“Pakistan’s Fading Cultural Heritage,” Umair Jaffar

Pakistani singer

The Institute for Preservation of Art and Culture (IPAC) is a Pakistani non-profit organization which seeks to support struggling artists and ustads and to preserve and propagate the classical and folk musical and artistic heritages of Pakistan.

The soul of Pakistan can be heard in the ballads of Marwari women in the Southern Punjab anticipating the return of their husbands from war as it is in the Nur Sur tradition of Baluchistan, a folk story-telling tradition stretching back to the Greek period. There are the instruments, like the Sindhi “borindo,” have been found in excavations in the Indus Valley from over 4000 years ago. And, we see how ancient instruments like the Baluchistani “banjo” can produce the sounds of the modern electric guitar.

Jaffar points out that public media presentations of folk and classical music performances were banned during Zia’s time resulting in a growing number of Pakistani youth over the years who have become disconnected from those traditions. At the same time, some traditions have also enjoyed an upsurge, such as in Baluchistan where folk music traditions have revived as part of a general cultural revival in recent years. I argued that folk and classical music traditions are bound to decline in a country where the languages held in greatest esteem (Arabic, English and Urdu) are not connected to nor supportive of its folk traditions. On the other hand, the traditions of poetry and music connected to the mother tongue helped produce the likes of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.


“History of Intercultural Dialogue and Engagement in Vancouver,” Naveen Girn


Girn’s presentation including rare photographs, news excerpts and audio clips and now part of the public archive, serves as a reminder of the history of South Asians in Vancouver.

The story of South Asians in Vancouver can be said to begin with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. To attend the Jubillee in London, England, the army regiments of the subcontinent had to first pass through Vancouver. By 1907, a sizeable number of South Asians had settled in the city and that year saw the opening of the 2nd Avenue Gurdwara in Kitsilano, the first gurdwara in North America.

More than a sacred space, the gurdwara was a meeting ground for Indians of different communities, including socialists, revolutionaries and members of the Ghadr party. The early community lived through the 1907 race riots in Vancouver and the Komagata Maru, published their own news magazine (associated with the Ghadr movement), forged associations with members of Anglo-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian communities and sent delegates to Ottawa to petition the government to grant South Asians the right to vote. The gurdwara also hosted Rabindranath Tagore, who Girn points out slept in the basement there after being turned away from the Hotel Vancouver and Nehru, who visited in 1949.

The Pity of Partition: Dr. Ayesha Jalal’s Lectures at UBC

jalal image

As part of the Virani Lecture 2013 series at the University of British Columbia, Ayesha Jalal delivered two lectures on the Partition, the first on March 14, 2013, the second on March 15, 2013.

The first lecture, “The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide,” looked at Manto’s life before, during and after the partition and how he portrayed it in his stories. By looking at Manto’s early revolutionary aspirations in Amritsar, his days as a screenwriter in the film industry of cosmopolitan Bombay and his reluctant boarding of a ship to Karachi in 1947, Jalal showed how partition can be examined through analyses that are not communitarian in tone but, as in Manto’s case, cosmopolitan and post-communitarian.

manto book

The second talk by Jalal, “Separating at Close Quarters: Interpreting PartitionViolence,” sought to dismantle some of the dominant modes of interpreting partition. First, Jalal pointed out that it was not religion as “faith” that was responsible for the violence but rather religion as “difference” between people. Second, communal differences were affected by the material considerations of acquiring “zan, zar, zameen” (gold, land, women). Partition was as much about looting mansions, snatching land and appropriating women as it was about killing one’s fellow man.

Third, traditional analyses of partition forget to mention that most Punjabis refrained from violence, looting, rape and arson. Most of the violence Jalal argued was perpetrated by mobs, thugs and vigilante groups but little beyond that. Muslims helped Hindus and Sikhs helped Muslims reach safe passage. In other cases, women who were  kidnapped decided to stay on the “wrong” side of the border after the formal exchanges of abucted women had been made between India and Pakistan. Any analysis of partition violence Jalal argued has to consider factors beyond just religion.

Jalal is Professor of History at Tufts University and has taught at Columbia University, the University of Madison-Wisconsin and Harvard University. For more information on Professor Jalal’s book on Manto, please click here:

Hindi and Urdu: Sa’adat Hasan Manto


This is Muhammad Umar Memon’s translation of an article by Sa’adat Hasan Manto.

The translation first appeared in The Annual of Urdu Studies.The Hindi-Urdu dispute has been raging for some time now. Maulvi Abdul Haq Sahib, Dr Tara Singh and Mahatma Gandhi know what there is to know about this dispute. For me, though, it has so far remained incomprehensible. Try as hard as I might, I just haven’t been able to understand. Why are Hindus wasting their time supporting Hindi, and why are Muslims so beside themselves over their preservation of Urdu? A language is not made, it makes itself. And no amount of human effort can ever kill a language. When I tried to write something about this current hot issue, I ended up with the following long conversation:Munshi Narain Parshad:  Iqbal Sahib, are you going to drink this soda water?

Mirza Muhammad Iqbal: Yes, I am.

Munshi: Why dont you drink lemon?

Iqbal: No particular reason. I just like soda water. At our house, everyone likes to drink it.

Munshi: In other words, you hate lemon.

Iqbal: Oh, not at all. Why would I hate it, Munshi Narain Parshad? Since everyone at home drinks soda water, I’ve sort of grown accustomed to it. That’s all. But if you ask me, actually lemon tastes better than plain soda.

Munshi: That is precisely why I was surprised hat you would prefer something salty over something sweet. and lemon isn’t just sweet, it has a nice flavour. What do you think?

Iqbal: You are absolutely right, but…

Munshi: But what?

Iqbal: Nothing. I was just going to say that I’ll take soda.

Munshi: Same nonsense again. I’m not forcing you to drink poison, am I? Brother, what’s the difference between the two? Both bottles are made in the same factory after all. The same machine has poured water into them. If you take the sweetness and flavour out of the lemon, what’s left?

Iqbal: Just soda… a kind of salty water…

Munshi: Then, what’s the harm in drinking the lemon?

Iqbal: No harm at all.

Munshi: Then drink!

Iqbal: And what will you drink?

Munshi: I’ll send for another bottle.

Iqbal: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking plain soda?

Munshi: N… n… no harm.

Iqbal: So then, here, drink the soda water.

Munshi: And what will you drink?

Iqbal: I’ll get another bottle.

Munshi: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking lemon?

Iqbal: N… n… no harm. And what’s the harm in drinking soda?

Munshi: None at all.

Iqbal: The fact is, soda is rather good.

Munshi: But I think that lemon… is rather good.

Iqbal: Perhaps, if you say so. Although I’ve heard all along from my elders that soda is rather good.

Munshi: Now what’s a person to make of this: I’ve heard all along from my elders that lemon is rather good.

Iqbal: But what’s your own opinion?

Munshi: And what’s yours?

Iqbal: My opinion… hum… my opinion. My opinion is just this… but why don’t you tell me your opinion?

Munshi: My opinion… hum… my opinion is just this… but why should I tell it first?

Iqbal: I don’t think we’ll get anywhere this way. Look, just put a lid on your glass. I’ll do the same. Then we’ll discuss the matter leisurely.

Munshi: No, we can’t do that. I’ve already popped the caps off the bottles. We’ll just have to drink. Come on, make up your mind, before all the fizz is gone. These drinks are worthless without the fizz.

Iqbal: I agree. And at least you do agree that there’s no real difference between lemon and soda.

Munshi: When did I ever say that? There’s plenty of difference. They’re as different as night and day. Lemon is sweet, flavourful, tart-three things more than soda. Soda only has fizz, and that’s so strong it just barges into the nose. By comparison, lemon is very tasty. One bottle and you feel fresh for hours. Generally, soda water is for sick people. Besides, you’ve just admitted yourself that lemon tends to be tastier than soda.

Iqbal: Well, that I did. But I never said that lemon is better than soda. Tasty doesn’t mean that a thing is also beneficial. Take achaar, it’s very tasty, but you already know about its harmful effects. he presence of sweetness and tartness doesn’t prove that something is good. If you cnsulted a doctor he would tell you the harm lemon does to the stomach. But soda, that’s something else. The thing is, it helps digestion.

Munshi: Look, we can settle the matter by mixing the two.

Iqbal: I have no objection to that.

Munshi: Well, then, fill this glass halfway with soda.

Iqbal: Why don’t you fill half the glass with your lemon? I’ll pour my soda after that.

Munshi: Makes no sense. Why don’t you pour your soda first?

Iqbal: Because I want to drink soda-lemon mixed.

Munshi: And I want lemon-soda mixed.

By Shivam Vij. Reproduced from Minds@UW and posted December 5, 2011 in “Kafila” at

‘Why Pakistan’s writers must attend the Jaipur literature festival’ by Kamila Shamsie and Salil Tripathi

The Guardian
Thursday 24 January 2013

Once again, religious fundamentalists in India are threatening to disrupt the Jaipur literature festival. The festival has grown over the years to be among the world’s largest such gatherings, bringing together writers from all continents, and, more important, showcasing South Asian writing talent, including the rich and diverse universe of regional languages. The festival has not been without controversies. Last year, Salman Rushdie withdrew after he received credible death threats from a Muslim group.

Five writers protested Rushdie’s absence by reading out excerpts fromThe Satanic Verses. Politicians filed lawsuits against the organisers and four of the authors – Jeet Thayil (whose novel, Narcopolis, was shortlisted last year for the Man Booker prize), Ruchir Joshi, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar – and investigations are ongoing. On the last day of the festival, Muslim fundamentalists refused to let the organisers even telecast a conversation with Rushdie. On 21 January, a few self-described Muslim scholars asked the festival to disinvite the four this year. Of the four, Thayil is the only featured speaker. The organisers have held firm – he should attend.

In parallel, and in a pattern that’s now increasingly, and dismayingly, predictable, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is India’s main opposition party, has warned Pakistani writers not to participate in this year’s festival. Among those expected are Mohammed HanifNadeem Aslam (see the interview on page 12), Jamil AhmadFehmida Riaz and Musharraf Farooqi. To their credit, the organisers have also refused to buckle under this threat. The BJP’s demand is technically unrelated to the Muslim call, but it is in line with the fundamentalist Hindu aim, to stop all cultural and sporting contacts with Pakistan, because tensions along the “line of control” – the de facto border that separates Kashmir into parts controlled by India and Pakistan – have escalated. In a series of confusing events, both sides have accused the other of violating long-standing agreements by undertaking construction, firing, and beheading soldiers along the border.

Hindu activists succeeded in stopping two talented Pakistani theatre groups from staging plays of the late Saadat Hasan Manto, a Pakistani writer who grew up in pre-partition India and is regarded as one of the most poignant chroniclers of the partition of 1947. Activists also succeeded in getting Indian Hockey League teams to drop Pakistani players they had acquired in the region’s first professionally run hockey league. Now it is the turn of the Pakistani writers to bear the brunt of Hindu wrath.

This is deeply troublesome, given the vitiated state of relations between the neighbours who have fought four wars since independence. The party-wreckers seek to weaken the festival because it has become one of the few intellectual spaces in India where it is possible for Indian and Pakistani writers to interact meaningfully with one another and their readers. Much to the chagrin of the fundamentalists, Pakistani writers are popular in India, and attract a fond following.

Hindu apologists claim they are only reacting to Muslim intransigence, but that is preposterous. Intolerance cuts across all religions (as we have argued in our respective books, Offence: The Muslim Case and Offence: The Hindu Case (Seagull), outlining fundamentalist attacks on freedom of expression). What’s peculiar in the Indian instance is the notion of competitive intolerance, due to which each side tries to outdo the other in demanding restrictions, narrowing the discourse. That’s terrible for India, for Pakistan and for literature.

Over the years, the Jaipur festival has earned the reputation of being an important destination on the global literary map. Any steps politicians and politically inclined groups take to stamp their authority on it diminishes the world. India and Pakistan may have legitimate grievances with each another, but a literary festival, like a stage or a hockey field, is no place to settle them – on the contrary, those spaces exist so that both countries can expand their views of each other beyond the rhetoric of politicians and generals.

Moreover, both Hindu and Muslim groups who want to keep authors away from Jaipur are hurting India’s long tradition of intellectual freedom. It is for the organisers to remain firm in their resolve and stay on the path and stare back at their philistine critics. And it is for the Indian government to ensure that the festival takes place without any restrictions.

Pakistan-born Kamila Shamsie and India-born Salil Tripathi are co-chairs of English PEN’s Writers at Risk committee.

‘Manto and Sindh’ by Haider Nizamani

Saadat Hasan Manto (1912–1955)
Birth Centenary 1912 – 2012

SINDH has no equivalent of Saadat Hasan Manto as a chronicler of Partition. And the absence of a Manto-like figure in Sindhi literature on that count is good news. It shows the resilience of Sindh’s tolerant culture at a time when Punjab had slipped into fratricidal mayhem.

While Amrita Pritam called out for Waris Shah to rise up from the grave to witness the blood-drenched rivers of Punjab, Sindhi woman writers such as Sundari Uttamchandani were not forced to ask Shah Latif to do the same.

From Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s Facebook Page

The tragedy of Partition inflicted different types of pain on the Punjabi and Sindhi communities and these peculiarities shadowed and shaped post-Partition communal relations between people of different faiths who traced their roots to these regions. What Manto endured and witnessed in 1947 and afterwards, became, through his eloquent writings, simultaneously an elegy and indictment of Punjab losing its sense of humanity at the altar of religious politics. The political air in Sindh was filled with religious demagogy but it did not turn into a communal orgy.

Urdu literati and historians interested in Partition and its impact on the subcontinent have used Manto’s birth centennial, that was recently observed, to remind us of his scathing sketches of lives destroyed by Partition. Ayesha Jalal in her essay ‘He wrote what he saw — and took no sides’ published in the May issue of Herald, writes Manto “looked into the inner recesses of human nature…” to “fathom the murderous hatred that erupted with such devastating effect” …in “his own home province of Punjab at the dawn of a long-awaited freedom”.

There was no eruption of murderous hatred between Sindhi Hindus and Muslims. They did not lynch each other en masse as was the case in Punjab. The violence against Sindhi Hindus and their mass migration to India was a tragic loss scripted, orchestrated and implemented by non-Sindhis in Sindh. As result of varying trajectories of interfaith relations during the Partition period, the intelligentsia of Sindh and Punjab evolved and adopted different views towards Hindus and India.

The collective memory of the Partition days in Punjab is marked more by the stories and silence of the victims and perpetrators of violence. Even the journey towards the safer side was fraught with danger. People who survived had bitter memories of the ‘other’.

The Sindh story is not the same. Ram Jethmalani, a leading lawyer in India today and a member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was a young advocate in Karachi in 1947. His senior partner was none other than A.K. Brohi, a right-wing Sindhi lawyer who became federal law minister during the Zia period.

Jethmalani has no compunction in saying that there was no love lost between the two because of Partition. Jethmalani stayed back in Karachi and only left for Mumbai in 1948 when Brohi told him he could not take responsibility for his safety as the demography of Karachi had changed with the arrival of migrants from the northern Indian plains. That arrival was accompanied by violence against Sindhi Hindus.
Kirat Babani, a card-carrying communist, chose to stay in Sindh after 1947 and was thrown in prison in 1948. Released 11 months on the condition of leaving Karachi within 24 hours, Kirat took up a job with Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi, pioneer of the peasant struggle in Sindh. The administration pressured Jatoi for harbouring an atheist. Jatoi advised, much against his desire, Kirat to go to India. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that groomed L.K. Advani, a native of Karachi who later became India’s deputy prime minister, acknowledges that Sindhi Muslims did not push Hindus out of the province.

Sindhis lost on two fronts in the wake of Partition. The migrant Sindhi Hindus had minimal clout in the Indian state. While many of them had led a comfortable life in Karachi and other towns of Sindh, their position in India was of a vulnerable minority. Instead of a consolidated presence in a particular region, Sindhi Hindus were scattered all over India. Their intelligentsia had to fight hard for official recognition of the Sindhi language in India which was finally achieved 20 years after Partition.

Ironically, Sindhi is the only language without a state in the Indian Union. In Sindh, the departing Hindu middle class left a void that was politically, economically and culturally filled by non-Sindhi speaking migrants.

Sheikh Ayaz – photo from

In post-1947 Punjab, Hindu and India were, and still are, used synonymously at a popular level. When Pakistan and India went to war in 1965, the intelligentsia in Punjab cheered on the soldiers to crush Hindus. Sindh’s supreme poet of the time, Sheikh Ayaz, questioned waging war through a poem mentioning the name of his Hindu Sindhi counterpart Narayan Shyam in a simple yet powerful way. ‘When battle lines are drawn, opposite me is Narayan Shyam; he and I speak the same language, cherish the same culture; and you expect me to shoot him?’ Ayaz’s book was banned.

Manto bemoaned how people living in relative harmony lost all sense of humanity in the political mayhem accompanying Partition. This did not happen in Sindh, so luckily Sindh doesn’t have a Manto.

Manto died more than half a century ago but Punjab and Sindh today are beset by issues that rankled the outstanding writer.

In Punjab, Salmaan Taseer was gunned down for saying things that Manto would have said. In Sindh, the manner in which some women are coerced into renouncing their faith proves neither the superiority of one religion nor the inferiority of the other. It shows erosion of the composite ethos where once people of different faiths lived free from fear.

The writer is Canada-based academic.


‘Manto – my Garain’ by Daljit Ami

 Saadat Hasan Manto (1912 – 1955)
Birth Centenary 1912 – 2012

Revisiting Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) on his birth centenary turned out to be an experience which cannot be described by a single adjective. It was not just a return to Manto but also a home-coming to my associations with him. I was introduced to Manto in the 1980s during my graduation in A S College Khanna, in Ludhiana district of Punjab. There, I could immediately relate to Manto’s Toba Tek Singh, as the prevalent vicious communal atmosphere and brutal state response was nothing short of insanity. After graduation I came to Chandigarh which, despite being the capital of Punjab was aloof from the madness reigning in the countryside.

Here, Manto again helped me to understand how the same situation could have different impacts. The massacre of April 1919 of Jalianwala Bagh, Amritsar had changed the life of Udham Singh and Saadat Hasan Manto in different directions. Udham Singh became part of history as Ram Mohammad Singh Azad when he avenged the massacre of Jalianwala Bagh and was hung by the British. In another but equally powerful trajectory, Manto wrote his first short story, ‘Tamasha’, using the backdrop of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, and went on to become one of the most acclaimed story tellers of the Subcontinent, with prolific writing until his untimely death at forty two.

In Chandigarh I learnt that Manto belonged to Papraudi, a village near Samrala in Ludhiana district. We Punjabis have a fluid definition of the term ‘village’. Whenever a Bihari labourer received a visitor, we used to say that someone had come to meet him from his village. It did not matter that one was from Gopalganj at the western end of Bihar and the other from Kotihar in the east. Similarly, when we moved out of our villages the concept of village expanded along with the distance from native place. Living in Europe or North America, someone from Bahawalpur (West Punjab) and other one from Patiala (East Punjab) can comfortably claim that they belong to same village. Manto’s village is just 15 km from my village, Daudpur — in the same district and tehsil. This piece of information made me feel closer to Saadat Hasan Manto. From a mere reader I became his garain or someone from the same village.

In the 1990s Lal Singh Dil, a revolutionary Punjabi poet was running a roadside tea stall in Samrala, from where I used to change my bus while commuting between Chandigarh and Daudpur. Mostly, I used to stop at his tea stall to talk about poetry, politics and literature or sometimes just to chat. It was a great feeling that Manto, Dil and I are garain.

I went to Lahore in 2003 to attend the Punjabi World Conference. In a parallel program on the Seraiki language someone told me that Hamid Akhtar was also in the gathering. Hamid Akhtar was an old friend of Manto and Sahir Ludhianvi and his ancestral village was also in Ludhiana district. They all migrated to Pakistan after Partition but Sahir eventually returned to India. Hamid Akhtar was looking very frail, as he had just recovered from throat cancer. I was told that his hearing was very weak so he would not be able to understand many things and, furthermore, he could not speak very easily.

However, I was sure that he could listen to his garain. I touched his feet and greeted him with folded hands, ‘Sat Sri Akal’. He looked at me and I introduced myself, ‘Mein Samrale toh ayan’ (I have come from Samrala). In a trice, Hamid was on his feet. He hugged me and announced, without the help of a loudspeaker, ‘Eh mere pindo aya. Manto de pindon (He has come from my village, from Manto’s village).’ He made me sit next to him, all the while holding my hand. His first question: ‘Samrale vich kithon ayan’ (From where in Samrala do you come)? I replied, ‘Daudpur.’ With a few explanations, he could understand the geography as well as roads from Daudpur to Papraudi and to his native village near Jagraon. Hamid subsequently recovered from cancer and has visited Chandigarh twice, thereafter. He would call and ask, ‘Mein aa gayan, sham nu tun meinu sharab pilauni aa’ (I am here. In the evening you will take me for a drink). We would end up discussing Manto, Sahir, India and Pakistan. This is Sadda Gran, our village.

Recently, I visited Papraudi to make a special program for the news channel Day and Night News, on Saadat Hasan Manto’s birth centenary. One of Manto’s contemporaries, Ujjagar Singh, remembers having played with him when they were children. At the age of ninety plus Ujjagar Singh has memories of Manto and his family. He identified Manto’s house, which was auctioned after Partition by government as ‘evacuee property’. I asked him if he had read Manto’s writing. He replied, ‘I have not read him as I can’t read Urdu. I have heard that he is a renowned writer. He has made our village proud.’ I talked to at least half a dozen people but none of them was familiar with Manto’s writings.

Then we went to the village Gurudwara where the Punjabi Sahit Sabha, Delhi, opened the Manto Memorial Library two years ago. The caretaker of the Gurudwara, Lakhwinder Singh, looks after the library as it is housed in his one room accommodation. The bookshelf carrying 200 books has two translated volumes of Manto’s stories. The library attracts not more then a couple of readers a month so Lakhwinder Singh has not felt the need to unbundle books. Now Punjabi Sahit Sabha Delhi is planning to shift this collection to Samrala. Hopefully Manto’s writings will have more readers in his home village.

Continuing my quest for Manto the person, I went to Amritsar to film the places he is supposed to have frequented. One such place is Katra Sher Singh where he lived. The demography of this area has changed, as it was a Muslim dominated locality before Partition, and witnessed remorseless killings and brutality of untold magnitude. Katra Sher Singh now has a Hindu-Sikh population. No trace of its bloody past or its displaced populace is visible to an observer.

Manto might have gotten his characters of ‘Khol Do’ and ‘Thanda Ghosht’ straight out of these environs, I imagine as I walk the streets. Since I had been steeped in Manto for many days, I could feel the traumatized young Sakina’s presence. As in ‘Khol do’, she is not confined only to being Sirajudin’s daughter, but symbolizes the vulnerability of women subjected to sexual violence during Partition. Even after 65 years, it is scary. I do not want to dwell on what Manto had gone through while witnessing and then recording these details. He took refuge in ‘Toba Tek Singh’’s Bishan Singh, who says, ‘Aupar di, gargar di, bedhiyana di, annex di, mungi di daal of the lantern of the Hindustan of the Pakistan government, dur fiteh munh.’ All the words of this sentence are familiar but still it is an enigma inviting silence. Manto too, is such an enigma who may have grown out of words so he chose silence at the age of forty two. As a garain of Manto I am unnerved by his silence, Sakina’s predicament and Bishan Singh’s gibberish. Oh, when Manto is not confined to any one village, why should I think that I am the only one who is scared while revisiting him? It leaves me with a final question: can scared people celebrate birth centenaries?


 Manto and wife Safia


Manto and one of his children


With his three daughters


Manto family


Manto’s residence at Beadon Road, Lahore. Photo by Amarjit Chandan, Dec 2011.


Manto’s Nameplate: ‘Saadat Hasan Manto – Short Story Writer’


Munib Anwar as Manto with another actor, London 1999


Paul Waring’s set of Manto’s ‘Toba Tek Singh’


Manto’s resting place in Lahore


The Epiteph:  Meri qabr ka qatba
Saadat Hasan Manto
qabr ke hai
jo ab bhi samjhta hai ke uss ka naam
lauh-e-jhan pe
harf-e-mukarrar nahin tha
padayesh 11 May 1912, wfaat 18 Januar 1955

The epiteph of my grave
This is
the tablet of
Saadat Hasan Manto’s
who still thinks that his name
was not a repetitive letter
on the page/tablet of life (Manto)
Birth May 11, 1912, Death January 18, 1955

(Refers to Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s couplet ‘Ya rubb zmana mujh ko mittata hai kiss liye, loh-e-jahan pe harf-e-mukarrar nahin hoon main’ – ‘O Creator why does world wants to rub me off, i am not a repetitive letter on the tablet/page of life’


2005 comemorative stamps on his death centenary

Photographs from Amarjit Chandan Collection

Previously published at and

PS: According to Amarjit Chandan, Hamid Akhtar’s ancestral village was Mehatpur near Nakodar. Akhtar passed away in 2011.

Daljit Ami is a documentary filmmaker, journalist and cultural activist from Chandigarh. After studying Ancient Indian History Archaeology & Culture, and later, Mass Communications, he has worked on several independent films and documentaries dealing with poignant social issues in northern India. Ami also contributes to Chandigarh’s Punjabi Tribune as an Assistant Editor.

Saadat Hassan Manto From Wikipedia: ‘(Punjabi, Urdu: ‏‏سعادت حسن منٹو) (May 11, 1912 – January 18, 1955) was a short story writer of the Urdu language. He is best known for his short stories, ‘Bu’ (Odour), ‘Khol Do’ (Open It), ‘Thanda Gosht’ (Cold Meat), and his magnum opus, ‘Toba Tek Singh’. Manto 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.[1] Manto was tried for obscenity half-a-dozen times, thrice before 1947 and thrice after 1947 in Pakistan,[2] but never convicted. Some of his works have been translated in other languages.’
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