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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‘Remembering Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955)’ by Tariq Ali

“Something terrible happened fifty years ago today when India was divided. It is time to recognize it and see if it can be understood and transcended. The survivors owe it to those who perished.”

Saadat Hasan Manto’s centenary is being observed quietly by friends and admirers in Lahore. No official recognition or mention. He’s almost become a non-person. Manto died in Lahore in 1955. He was forty-three years old. The life of one of our greatest short-story writers had been prematurely truncated. I was eleven years old at the time. I never met him. I wish I had. One can visualize him easily enough. In later photographs the melancholy is visible. He appears exhausted as if his heart were entrenched with sadness. In these his face displays all the consequences of a ravaged liver.

But there are others. Here his eyes sparkle with intelligence, the impudence almost bursting through the thick glass of his 1940’s spectacles, mocking the custodians of morality, the practitioners of confessional politics or the commissariat of the Progressive Writers. ‘Do your worst’, he appears to be telling them. ‘I don’t care. I will write to please myself. Not you.’   Manto’s battles with the literary establishment of his time became a central feature of his biography. Charged with obscenity and brought to trial on a number of occasions he remained defiant and unapologetic.

It was the Partition of India in 1947 along religious lines  that formed his own attitudes and those of his numerous detractors. The episodes associated with the senseless carnage that accompanied the withdrawal of the British from India loom large in Manto’s short stories. A few words of necessary explanation might help the reader to understand the corrosive impact of  Manto on the reading public. The horrors of 1947 were well known, but few liked to talk about them. A collective trauma appeared to have silenced most people. Not Manto. In his stories of that period he recovered the dignity of all the victims without fear or favor. Even the perpetrators of crimes were victims of a political process that had gone out of control.

In these bad times when the fashion is to worship accomplished facts real history tends to be treated as an irritant, something to be swatted out of existence like mosquitoes in summer, it is worth recalling that something terrible happened fifty years ago today when India was divided.  It is time to recognize it and see if it can be understood and transcended. The survivors owe it to those who perished. At least a million men, women and children lost their lives during the carnage of ‘ethnic cleansing’ that overcame Northern and Eastern India as the Punjab and Bengal were divided along religious lines.

In the months that preceded Partition, Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other glared into each other’s hate-filled eyes before embarking on  frenzied blood-baths. The character and scale of the butchery was unprecedented in Indian history. In fact even Jinnah, as late as June 1946, was prepared to consider a federal solution as proposed by the Cabinet Mission sent to India by the Labour Government. It was the Congress Party which made that particular solution impossible.

This failure meant that exactly one year before Partition, the Hindu-Muslim riots started in Eastern India. During four days in August 1946, nearly 5000 people were killed and three times that number wounded in Bengal. The mood in the Punjab became edgy. Fear overcame rationality.

My mother, an active member of the Communist Party, often recalls how in April 1947, heavily pregnant with my sister and alone at home, she was disturbed by a loud knock on the front door. As she opened the door  she was overcome by anxiety. In front of her stood the giant figure of a Sikh. He saw the fear on her face, understood and spoke in a soft, reassuring voice. All he wanted to know was the location of a particular house on a nearby road. My mother gave him the directions. He thanked her warmly and left. She was overpowered by shame. How could she, of all people, without a trace of prejudice, have reacted in that fashion?  Nor was she the  only one. Manto’s stories help us to understand the madness that was bursting into bloodshed.

Trains became moving graveyards as they arrived at stations on both sides of the new divide, packed with corpses of fleeing refugees. As always, it was  the poor of town and country who were the main victims and they were buried or burnt in  hastily dug pits. Neither the song of the nightingale nor lamps or flowers would ever grace their graves. They are the forgotten victims of that year. No memorial in India or Pakistan marks the killings. The Partition of India was a tragedy and a crime. It was neither inevitable nor necessary and  its traces are only too visible in the unending anguish of the great  sub-continent. Faiz Ahmed Faiz,  one of the greatest of 20th century Urdu poets,  born in what  became Pakistan, spoke for many  in his poem Freedom’s Dawn on August ‘47:

This leprous daybreak, dawn night’s fangs have mangled—

This is not that long -looked-for break of day,

Not that clear dawn in quest of which those comrades

Set out, believing that in heaven’s wide void

Somewhere must be the star’s last halting place,

Somewhere the verge of night’s slow-washing tide,

Somewhere an anchorage for the ship of heartache.

But now, word goes, the birth of day from darkness

Is finished, wandering feet stand at their goal;

Our leaders’ ways are altering, festive looks

Are all the fashion, discontent reproved;–

And yet this physic still on unslaked eye

Or heart fevered by severance works no cure.

Where did that fine breeze, that the wayside lamp

Has not once felt, blow from—where has it fled?

Night’s heaviness is unlessened still, the hour

Of mind and spirit’s ransom has not struck;

Let us go on, our goal is not reached yet.

A year later, another poet Sahir Ludhianvi, who crossed the border and came to Pakistan could not bear the atmosphere and returned to India. He sent an explanation in the form of a dirge addressed to fellow-writers in Pakistan:

Friends, for long years

I have spun dreams of the moon and stars and spring for you,

Today my tattered garments hold nothing

But the dust of the road that we have travelled.

The music in my harp has been strangled

Its tunes buried by wails and screams

 Peace and civilization are the alms I crave

So that my lips can learn how to sing again.

Saadat Hasan Manto, was moved to write ‘Toba Tek Singh’. Manto wrote sparsely, each word carefully chosen. His diamond-hard prose was in polar contrast to the flowery language of many  contemporaries. He wrote about sexual frustration and its consequences, of jealousy and how it often led to murder. One of his stories, ‘Behind the Screen’, describes a wife’s revenge once she discovers her husband has a secret mistress. The wife takes the husband to his lover’s apartment and in his presence has her body chopped into tiny pieces. The story was based on an actual event that took place in the North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan. Manto spared his readers the real life ending: the wife  had her rival’s flesh cooked and forced her husband to eat the cooked flesh, a striking demonstration of the saying that truth is stranger than fiction. (footnote: cf Khalid Hasan, ‘Sadat Hasan Manto: Not of Blessed Memory’, Annual of Urdu Studies, 4, 1984, P.85)

‘Toba Tek Singh’  is a masterpiece, set in the lunatic asylum in Lahore at the time of Partition.  When whole cities are being ethnically cleansed, how can the asylums escape? The Hindu and Sikh lunatics are told by bureaucrats organizing the transfer of power that they will be forcibly transferred to  institutions in India.  The inmates rebel. They embrace each other and weep. They will not be parted willingly. They have to be forced on to the trucks. One of them, a Sikh, is so overcome by rage that he dies on the demarcation line which divides Pakistan from India. Confronted by so much  insanity in the real world, Manto discovered normality in the asylum. The ‘lunatics’ have a better understanding of the crime that is being perpetrated than the politicians who have agreed to Partition.

Few politicians on either side had foreseen the results. Jawaharlal Nehru’s romantic nationalism portrayed independence as a long-delayed “tryst with destiny”. He never imagined that the tryst would be bathed in countless gallons of Indian blood. This was partially the result of a failure by the Congress High Command to make the large Muslim minority an offer it could not refuse.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was a second-rate politician, but with a first-class lawyer’s brain. Initially he had used separatism as a bargaining ploy. Even later, he genuinely believed that the new state would simply be a smaller version of secular India, with one difference. Here Muslims would be the largest community. He really believed that he would still be able to spend some time every winter at his mansion in Bombay, the only city where he had found love and happiness.

Jinnah conceived of  Pakistan as an amalgamation of an undivided Punjab, an undivided Bengal together with Sind, Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province. This would have meant that forty percent of the Punjab would have consisted of Hindus and Sikhs and forty-nine percent of Bengal would have consisted of Hindus.   It was, alas, a utopian nonsense. Once confessional passions had been aroused and neighbors were massacring each other (as in the former Yugoslavia during the last decade of the 20th century) it was difficult to keep the two provinces united.

“I do not care how little you give me,” Jinnah is reported as saying in March 1947 to the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten,  “as long as you give it to me completely.”

A dying old man in a hurry, who could have been a willing collaborator in establishing a single state with important safeguards for the minority, had the Congress been capable of strategic insights, but now he wanted his own statelet, however small and awkward it might appear on the map.

India had come a long way in 1947. All previous rulers had attempted to govern with the consent of the ruling elites of whatever religion. The Mughal Emperors, themselves Muslims, had learnt this lesson very quickly and Akbar had unsuccessfully attempted to create a new religion synthesising Hinduism and Islam. Even the last of the great Mughals, the religious-minded Aurungzeb did not attempt any Islamicisation of his army:  his ablest Generals were Hindu chiefs!

The British, when confronted with the nightmare of actually governing India, realized that, despite their more advanced technology, they would not last too long without serious alliances. They could only govern India with the consent of its traditional rulers.  The raj was maintained by a very tiny British presence: in 1805 the pink-cheeked conquerors numbered 31,000; in 1911 they had grown to 164,000 and in 1931 there were 168,000. In other words the British in India never comprised more than 0.05 of the local population.

It was this fact that concentrated the finest minds of the raj on politics and strategy. The civil servants trained by Haileybury and other imperialist nurseries in Britain to govern a mighty sub-continent were political administrators, often of the highest order. They learned to speak Urdu and Bengali so that they could, when necessary, communicate directly with peasants and administer justice. They also learned how to divide local rulers from each other and how to fan religious prejudices. The birth of modern Sikhism and Hinduism owes a great deal to the British presence in India. In return, local potentates were permitted to learn English and taught the etiquette of nibbling cucumber sandwiches with His Excellency at Government House.

If the British had granted India self-government on the Canadian and Australian pattern after the First World War it is unlikely that the sub-continent would have been divided. Partition was not a planned conspiracy by either the British or Jinnah. It came about because of a combination of circumstance during the Forties, including the Second World War. Jinnah backed the war effort, the Congress demanded Independence. Some scores had to be settled. Pakistan was imperialism’s rap on the knuckle for Indian nationalism.

Nehru and Jinnah were both shaken by the orgy of barbarism. It offended all their instincts.  But it was Mahatama Gandhi who paid the ultimate price. For defending the right to live of innocent Muslims in post-Partition India he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, a fundamentalist Hindu fanatic. Godse was hanged, but two decades later, Godse’s brother told Channel Four that he regretted nothing. What happened had to happen.

That past now rots in the present and threatens to further poison the future.  The political heirs of the hanged Godse are shoving aside the children of Nehru and Gandhi. The poisonous fog of the religious world has enveloped politics. History, unlike the poets and writers of the sub-continent, is not usually prone to sentiment.

Partition was a disaster, adjacent to which there lurked another. The two parts of Pakistan were divided by a thousand miles of India, culture, language and political tradition. The predominantly Punjabi military-bureaucratic elite belonged to West Pakistan, while the Bengali majority of the population (60%) lived in East Pakistan. The refusal of the military rulers to permit democracy led to a successful uprising in 1968. A dictator was toppled. In the elections that followed the Bengalis of East Pakistan won a big majority. They were not permitted to take office. The Army invaded the Eastern part of its own country.  There was a massacre of intellectuals and mass rape (Punjabi soldiers had been told to ‘change the genes’ of Bengalis forever) followed by a civil war. Bangladesh was born. One partition had led to another.

India, too, was severely damaged by Partition. The Nehru years (1947-64) disguised the processes underneath, but now the Furies are out into the open. Bombay, once the centre of cosmopolitanism is now Mumbai and under the sway of a neo-fascist Hindu organization. In their absurd search for a new Indian identity, the scoundrel parties have re-discovered Hinduism and sections of the ‘secular’ Congress have fallen into line.  Communal riots have claimed tens of thousands of lives over the last fifty years.

Manto was amongst the few who observed the bloodbaths of Partition with a detached eye.  He had remained in Bombay in 1947, where he worked for the film industry, but was accused of  favoring Muslims and was subjected to endless communal taunts, even from those who had hitherto imagined to be like him, but the secular core in many people did not survive the fire.  Manto came to Lahore in 1948, but was never happy. He turned the tragedies he had witnessed or heard into great literature. He wrote of the common people, regardless of ethnic, religious or caste identities and he discovered contradictions and passions and irrationality in each of them. In his work we see how normally decent people can, in extreme conditions, commit the most appalling atrocities. ‘Cold Meat’ is one such story. In 1952 he wrote: “My heart is heavy with grief today. A strange listlessness has enveloped me. More than four years ago when I said farewell to my other home, Bombay, I experienced the same kind of sadness…”

Years later he was still trying to come to grips with what had happened:

“Still, what my mind could not resolve was the question: what country did we belong to now, India or Pakistan? And whose blood was it that was being so mercilessly shed every day? And the bones of the dead, stripped of the flesh of religion, were they being burned or buried? Now that we were free who was to be our subject? When we were not free, we used to dream about freedom. Now that freedom had come, how would we perceive our past state?

“The question was: were we really free? Both Hindus and Muslims were being massacred. Why were they being massacred? There were different answers to the question; the Indian answer, the Pakistani answer, the British answer. Every question had an answer, but when you tried to unravel the truth, you were left groping.

“Everyone seemed to be regressing. Only death and carnage seemed to be proceeding ahead. A terrible chapter of blood and tears was being added to history, a chapter without precedent.

“India was free. Pakistan was free from the moment of its birth, but in both states, man’s enslavement continued: by prejudice, by religious fanaticism, by savagery.”

In a series of Open Letters to Uncle Sam he marked his displeasure at the state of world politics and Pakistan’s Security Pact with the US. He displayed a remarkable prescience as expressed in this extract from his ‘Third Letter to uncle Sam’, written shortly before his death:

“Another thing I would want from you would be a tiny, teeny weeny atom bomb because for long I have wished to perform a certain good deed. You will naturally want to know what.

You have done many good deeds yourself and continue to do them. You decimated Hiroshima, you turned Nagasaki into smoke and dust and you caused several thousand children to be born in Japan. Each to his own. All I want you to do is to dispatch me some dry cleaners. It is like this. Out there, many Mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the after-drops of urine as they resume their walk. This they do in full public view. All I want is that the moment such a person appears, I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the Mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding.

“As for your military pact with us, it is remarkable and should be maintained. You should sign something similar with India. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us, the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle.

“Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is a Kashmiri, so you should send him a gun which should go off when it is placed in the sun. I am a Kashmiri too, but a Muslim which is why I have asked for a tiny atom bomb for myself.

“One more thing. We can’t seem able to draft a constitution. Do kindly ship us some experts because while a nation can manage without a national anthem, it cannot do without a constitution, unless such is your wish.

“One more thing. As soon as you get this letter, send me a shipload of American matchsticks. The matchsticks manufactured here have to be lit with the help of Iranian-made matchsticks. And after you have used half the box, the rest are unusable unless you take help from matches made in Russia which behave more like firecrackers than matches.”

Given the circumstances it is hardly surprising that he sought solace in alcohol and drank himself to death. He had written over 200 short stories and had no doubt of  his place in literary history and left behind the following epitaph for himself:

“Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto. With him lie buried the arts of short-story telling. Here he lies underneath tons of mud still wondering if he was a better short-story writer than God.”

TARIQ ALI’s latest book “The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad’ was published by Verso.


Celebrating 100 years of Saadat Hassan Manto (May 1912-2012) – Lahore May 14-17/12

By Kanwal Dhaliwal from Uddari Art

Celebrating 100 years of Saadat Hassan Manto (May 1912-2012)
In collaboration with the
Lahore Arts Council
Presents a
Tribute to Manto
On 14th, 15th , 16th & 17th May 2012 at 7pm
VENUE: Hall #2, Alhamra the Mall, Lahore.

You are coordially invited to the following events
14th and 15th May
Siyah Hashiye
Toba Tek Singh
Khol Do
Adapted by: Shahid Nadeem
Directed by: Madeeha Gauhar
Dramatised Readings
Akhri Salute
By Naeem Tahir

16th and 17th May
Naya Qanoon
Adapted by: Shahid Nadeem
Directed by: Naseem Abbas
Dramatised Readings
Sawerey Jo Kal Ankh Mairee Khuli
Pardey ki Baatain
Dekh Kabira Roya
Uncle Sam Ke Khatoot
By Naveed Shahzad, Naseem Abbas, Furqan Majeed

More Information:
Ajoka: 042-36686634, 36682443, 36677047 Alhamra: 99200917-8

Children under 12 are strictly not allowed
Mobile phones must be switched off before entering the hall
Doors shall be closed upon commencement of the performance
Consumption of eatables & drinks in the hall is not allowed

Facebook: AjokaTheatrePakistan

Pakistan’s famous ‘misfits’

Every system has its misfits but the religion-based political structure of Pakistan seems to have generated more than its share. Here is a list of a few famous writers, musicians and other creative people who were hunted down in Pakistan instead of having been recognized for their contributions.

I am presenting it here in the hopes that this list will grow with more information from Uddari readers about Pakistan’s ‘misfitting’ famous and non-famous creative people.

By Waseem Altaf

Today i.e. on Sunday 25th July, I was watching a program on Qurattulain Haider on a private channel and I recalled that she had come to Pakistan in 1949. By then she had attained the stature of a world class writer. She joined the Press Information Department and served there for quite some time. In 1959 her greatest novel ‘Aag ka Darya’ was published. ‘Aag Ka Dariya’ raised important questions about Partition and rejected the two-nation theory. It was this more than anything else that made it impossible for her to continue in Pakistan, so she left for India and permanently settled there.

Sahir Ludhianvi, one of the finest romantic poets of Urdu language settled in Lahore in 1943, where he worked for a number of literary magazines. Everything was alright until after partition when his inflammatory writings (communist views and ideology) in Savera magazine resulted in the issuing of a warrant for his arrest by the Government of Pakistan. In 1949 Sahir fled to India and never looked back.

Sajjad Zaheer, the renowned progressive writer Marxist thinker and revolutionary who came to Pakistan after partition, was implicated in Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case and was extradited to India in 1954.

Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan was a Pakistani citizen, regarded as one of the greatest classical singers of the sub continent, was so disillusioned by the apathy shown towards him and his art that he applied for, and was granted a permanent Indian immigrant visa in 1957-58. He migrated to India and lived happily thereafter.

All of the above lived a peaceful and prosperous life in India and were conferred numerous national awards by the Government of India.

Saadat Hassan Manto a renowned short story writer, migrated to Pakistan after 1947. Here he was tried thrice for obscenity in his writings. Disheartened and financially broke he expired at the age of 42. In 2005, on his fiftieth death anniversary, the Government of Pakistan issued a commemorative postage stamp.

Zia Sarhadi the Marxist activist and a film director who gave us such memorable films as ‘Footpath’ and ‘Humlog’, was a celebrity in Bombay when he chose to migrate to Pakistan. ‘Rahguzar’, his first movie in this country, turned out to be the last that he ever directed. During General Ziaul Haq’s martial law, he was picked up by the army and kept in solitary confinement in terrible conditions. The charges against him were sedition and an inclination towards Marxism. On his release, he left the country to settle permanently in the UK and never came back.

Faiz Ahmad Faiz, one of the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century was arrested in 1951 under Safety Act and charged in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case. Later he was jailed for more than four years.

Professor Abdussalam the internationally recognized Pakistani physicist, was disowned by his own country due to his religious beliefs, went to Italy and settled there. He could have been murdered in the land of Islam but was awarded the Nobel prize in the West for his contribution in the field of physics.

Ustad Daman, the ‘simpleton’ Punjabi poet had a flair of his own. Due to his unorthodox views, many a times he was sent behind bars. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru offered him Indian citizenship which he refused. The reward he received here was the discovery of a bomb from his shabby house for which he was sent to jail by the populist leader Mr.Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

I was wondering, had Mohammad Rafi the versatile of all male singers of the Indian sub-continent chose to stay in Pakistan, what would have been his fate. A barber in the slums of Bilal Gunj in lahore. And Dilip Kumar selling dry fruit in Qissa Khawani Bazaar, Peshawar.

Ustad Salamat Ali a bhagwan in Atari turned out to be a mirasi in Wahga all his life. Last time I met him at his rented house in Islamabad, he was in bad shape.

This state was not created and is not meant for these kind of people. Put on a sherwani and recite nahmadahu wa nussali ala rasool e hil karim if the spirit of times so demands. Or put on a designer suit with puppies in both hands and talk of enlightened moderation. Don’t ever defy the status quo, be a part of it, promote it and therein lies the perfect recipe for success.
From Socialist Pakistan News (SPN)

I know, i can add more names to this list including my own. There are many artists living in Pakistan who have dedicated their lives to their art but have to live through ongoing harassment. Kathak dancer/teacher Naheed Siddiqui in Lahore, Bharat Natyam dancer/teacher and an activist Sheema Kirmani in Karachi have performed miracles by surviving in Pakistan as women creative artists. Fahmida Riaz had to leave with her family to live in India during General Zia’s period.

If you know of another ‘misfit’, please add their name to this list via Comments or send us a message at

Fauzia Rafique

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