Rabi Sankar

Born in 1962, he has been writing for over thirty years. His novel The Biography of Midnight won the West Bengal’s Government’s Sutapa Roychowdhury Memorial Prize. Dozakhnama, acknowledged by the late doyen of Bengali literature Sunil Gangopadhyay as the finest novelist of 2010, won the West Bengal Government’s Bakimchandra Smriti Puraskar. A journalist by profession, Bal lives in Kolkata and passionately follows literature, music, painting and world cinema. His new novel “Aynajiban” (Life, a mirror) is based on the life of the Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi, and told through the imagined eyes of Ibn Batuta.

Manto – in Kashmiri language means weight or weighing scale. Manto himself had made it known to his readers. Once he wrote “My ancestors were large property owners. While weighing grains they used gold and silver as weights.” We never know how far this is true. He might have made fun of himself, it was so natural of him. He also mocked at several renowned persons; we will find it in his book Ganje Farishtay which in english means Bald Angels. These personalities include Ashok Kumar, Rafique Gaznavi, Shyam, Kuldip Kaur, Nargis, Sitara, Baburao Patel, Paro Devi, Noor Jahan, V H Desai, Nawab Kashmiri, Neena. All of them were either actors or producers of the Bombay Film Industry. Manto lived a short life of only 43 years and he had to carry the unbearable burden of living. He had to make his way through the labyrinths he himself created.
The early years of his life were very commonplace, mundane. There was not the slightest hint of what he would become one day. In the fag end of his life he wrote, “We ,Sadat Hasan & Manto were born together. I suppose we will die together. But it may also come to pass that Sadat Hasan may die and Manto may not. This thought really bothers me because I have done my best to keep our friendship.” This is also a joke, a self inflicted one. But this one is really important because Manto is living till date whereas Sadat Hasan may have passed into oblivion. Manto – this very name is more than enough.
Manto’s ancestors were Kashmiri traders who came down to the plains and settled in Lahore. His grandfather a trader in Pashmina later left Lahore for Amritsar. Manto’s father Moulavi Ghulam Hasan married twice and fathered 12 children. Manto was born of his second wife. On 11th May 1912 this ‘fallen angel’ was born in Samrala in Punjab. Manto’s family was run under the stern leadership of Ghulam Hasan who was primarily a lawyer and then got promoted to the post of a judge. Manto’s three half brothers were also successful lawyers. Manto was the only misfit. Ghulam Hasan wished that Manto also tread the same path. But he was none but a fallen angel. So he had utter contempt for rules and discipline. Even when he was a mere school boy he was bent towards literature. He opened a drama club for staging a drama by Agha Hasar Kashmiri. One day Ghulam Hasan stormed into the theatre and destroyed all the musical instruments. Literature, drama, music all these were meaningless to this experienced lawyer. His father’s opposition and hatred for literature undoubtedly deepened Manto’s love for the same, like in the case of Franz Kafka. He had the least botheration for text books. On the other hand his eagerness for the books forbidden for that age increased day by day.
The year 1919 witnessed the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Manto was then only 7 years. But the next 10 years, which saw the unprecedented unrest in Punjab and revolutionary meetings and processions, culminated in the execution of Bhagat Singh in 1929. Manto was by then a great follower of Bhagat Singh. There was a photograph of this great leader on his study table. The background of his first story Tamasha was also turbulent Amritsar. Again a joke, a practical one. This great irrefutable Urdu writer failed twice in Matriculation examination and that also in Urdu language. Next he got admitted into Hindu Sabha College but he naturally had no interest in studies. He was more akin to out of syllabus books and cinema. He used to see Hollywood movies regularly with his friends Khaja Hasan Abbas and Abu Sayeed Kureshi and secretly planned to travel to Moscow in order to ignite the fire of revolution in India. At the same time he came close to gambling, alcohol and other addictions. Actually amidst all this tumult Manto was just in the making.
And this future Manto was first recognized by Abdul Bari Alig, a journalist with an anti establishment attitude. This man first discovered the sparks within young Manto. Bari sahib introduced Manto to the world of 19th century classic English, French and Russian literature. Manto started reading Oscar Wilde, Chekov, Pushkin, and Maupassant & Victor Hugo. Bari Sahib encouraged him in translating Victor Hugo’s drama against capital punishment “The Last days of a Condemned”. He translated Wilde’s Vera along with Hasan Abbas. Both the pieces emitted the frenzy of revolution. Manto then dreamt of the streets and lanes of Amritsar as if they were the nooks and corners of Moscow and they were fighting to do away with a regime of tyranny. During this time he produced his first story Tamasha in pseudonym.
Manto and Abu Sayeed Kureshi left Amritsar in 1943 to get admitted to Aligarh Muslim University. The atmosphere was then all excitement. The effects of Khilafat Movement and the Indian Freedom Movement on the Muslim intellectuals were dragging them towards an ordeal of fire. The movement of the progressive writers was gradually gaining ground though the first conference was held in 1936. This was the time for preparation of real Manto, iron hearted, who will later on study his time and society with the clinical eyes of an autopsy surgeon.
Ghulam Hasan died in 1932. Manto’s mother could not afford to help him financially. He managed to get a job in the Paras Magazine. Subsequently he was invited by Nazir Ludhianvi to edit the Mussawar, a film magazine published from Bombay. Manto reached Bombay in the final months of 1936. It was the beginning of a completely new era for Manto. Bombay became his “ Meri Jaan” heart throb.
Following a minor dispute Manto had to quit his job for a brief period though he edited the Mussawar till 1940. Simultaneously he worked as a dialogue writer for the Imperial Film Co.There is no denying the fact that Manto had and indomitable attraction towards cinema , but was it his only job to edit a film magazine and to work as a mere dialogue writer . Manto, started writing stories which were published in book form as Manto ki Afsane and Dhnua in 1940 & 1942 respectively.
Manto was then leading an unrestrained life in Bombay . His own elder sister Iqbal Begum was also residing in the same city. His half brothers and brother-in- law could not bear him. Film was a nasty and derogatory occupation. And Manto’s daily life ? He was to be found among the slum dwellers in the kholis. He had an easy access to the red light area of Bombay among the pimps and the whores. How can he have a place in the civil society? In the eye of the so called rich and cultured people Manto was an untouchable. On the other hand the Marxist progressive writers had stamped him as obscene. Boo, one of the most controversial stories of Manto was published in the annual issue of Adab-e-latif in 1944. In no time there was a tremendous reaction in the daily Pravat. It wrote: A story of this kind will pollute the minds of the younger generation. The Editor of Pravat demanded imprisonment of Manto upto a term of three years. Thus it was clearly revealed that both the conservatives and the Marxist progressives reacted in the same way.
Amidst this turbulence Manto had a new guest, a calm and silent girl Safia Begum to whom he was married in 1939 and who will cradle this restless soul till his death in 1955. After marrying Safia Manto turned suddenly into a family man . He was tied to the minute details of family life more then his wife. So unpredictable was Manto.
While working in Bombay Manto earned fairly well. But his lavish life style and addiction to alcohol ate up the most of it. In 1940 Manto lost his job in Mussawar and applied for a new one in the All India Radio. Krishan Chander recommended Manto for a job there. In A.I.R. he became intimate with personalities like Ahmed Shah Bukhari , N.M.Rashid, Miraji and Upendra Nath Ask .There was an atmosphere for serious literature .During this time Manto wrote several satirical Radio drama.
Soon a mishap occurred in his life. He lost his minor son Arif. This incidence influenced his later writing. He had depicted the death of Arif in his story Khalid Mian. During this Delhi –era Manto wrote more than hundred Radio drama, two story books and a collection of essays. He could not work at the AIR for more then eighteen months Upendra Nath Ask made some changes in his drama Awara. Manto did not hold Ask in a very high esteem. He did not compromise .Rather he quited the job and started for Bombay.
This was a period of greater involvement with the Bombay Film industry. On the other hand there was an ever increasing distance between him and the progressive writers. Manto refused to wear a hoodwink of philosophy completely ignoring the raw life of man. The progressive camp stamped him as an obscene writer. Proceedings were started in the Lahore Session Court against stories like Kali Salwar, Dhnua and Boo.Later on in Pakistan Thunda Gost Khol Do Upar Niche Aur Darmia had to face court cases .In 1945 Manto went to Lahore along with his friend and author Ismat Chughtai to attend a hearing in the court. Ismat’s story Lihaf had also invited a Court case. Ultimately Manto was charged with a fine. In a five page statement Manto declared ‘there is nothing called obscene in the relationship between man and woman…I am not a pornographer I am an author’
Now Manto started writing film scripts for Bombay’s Filmistan studio .He wrote script for Mirza Galib, Begum, Chal Chal Re Naojoan and Agosh. He wrote Kichor along with Krishan Chander. Consequent upon strained relation with Fimistan he started working for ‘Bombay Talkies’ Here he came across the great actor Ashok Kumar and the two became friends. There is a beautiful account of Ashok Kumar in Ganje Farishtay, written in tears.
But these sunny days did not last long. The year 1947 witnessed the holocaust of the partition and a rift had developed within Manto himself. The first shock came from Ashok Kumar when he rejected Manto’s story for another one by Ismat Chughtai for his films. The gradually rising communal tension had an adverse effect on the film industry. The very existence of the Muslims in Bombay was at stake. Manto became anxious about his future. His wife and children had already migrated to Pakistan in 1948. Manto finally left India to join his family.
Manto went to Pakistan with a hopeful heart. This new nation might give a proper place of honour, a writer deserves. But in Pakistan all his hopes were in a shambles. All his dreams were shattered to the ground. He was friendless, penniless, and the state was against him. To quote Manto, “I have done simply nothing in the past 3 months. It occurred to me as if I am viewing several films on a single screen – the bazaars and alleys of Bombay, the speedy trams and the slow mule drawn carts of Karachi and the diurnal pandemonium of the Lahore restaurants – all mingled up. I could not make out where I was. All day long I sat there on a chair engrossed in thought”.
In Pakistan Manto spent the remaining 7 years of his life. He hardly had any income and was heavily submerged in personal debts and all his friends and acquaintances nearly fled when they ran into him. The worst of all was that Manto was desperately drowning himself in alcohol so much so that he had to be admitted to lunatic asylums for de-toxification treatment. After returning home he again took to liquor. At that time he had a company of some alcoholics only. Lahore had no film industry then, where he could earn something. He stormed to newspaper offices, sat there and jotted down stories at amazing speed. The remuneration he got was partly spent on liquor and the rest he handed over to Safia Begum. Manto finally left his “brief season in hell” on 18th January 1955, but the funniest part of it was that Manto demanded whisky on his death bed. Wasn’t it a meager demand for a great author like him.
Manto wrote his own epitaph which reads “Here lies Sadat Hasan Manto and with him lie buried all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing…under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer, khuda or he…” but ironically it doesn’t appear on his grave stone because his family feared that the conservative mullahs might declare the act heretical.
Manto never believed in the existence of God . He never attended the Namaj. But all his stories started with the letters 786,which denote Bismillah . In his epitaph he wrote ‘Who is the greater short story writer Khuda or Manto’ . So writing story is not merely a matter of literature for him, it means unveiling of ones own existence. To quote Manto ‘when a person’s feeling is hurt he picks up the pen.’ He once said ‘my body temperature is one degree above the normal .This will make you feel what fire is burning within me.’
In the film Yukti Tokko ar Goppo made by Rittick Ghatak, the shattered intellectual Nilkantha Bagchi once remarked ‘Everything is burning , I am burning, the whole universe is on fire’.Manto’s story is a tale of intense combustion . Manto declared for his reader ‘if you are not acquainted with the time we are living through , read my stories. If you can not tolerate them think that the time itself is intolerable.’
In his stories a large role is played by the marginal women of our society –the prostitutes .Now in the modern society we call them sex workers. There is noting more contemptible than this new coinage. The words ‘women of pleasure’, ‘prostitute’ connote some thing more than sex. In earlier time in the king’s court these women also took the task of teaching etiquette to the young. But we modernists have decided to call them sex workers thus considering them as nothing more than sex toys.
Sadat Hasan Manto stayed far from such middle class intellectualism. He felt that a woman who can have a smooth sleep after an entire day of grinding the grain can never be a heroine of a story. Instead that women, a harlot, who kept a wake whole night, and whose sleep in the day time is frequently tormented by her own horrible image of old age, – only she can play a major role in Manto’s story . Manto believed that a brother is actually a corpse, which is carried by the society. It is not by chance that Manto made a whore or a pimp the central character of his story. It has an integral place in his thought process. It is an open sabotage within the conventional frame of the society. Manto questions the low place of the women in society. At the same time he questions our hypocritical codes of morality regarding sex. What is our respectable society’s attitude towards prostitution? Go to the whores ‘Kothi’ furtively and then forget all about her and deny her existence. In reply to the common allegation that Manto is obscene, he says ‘Literature itself is not a disease. It is an answer to a disease. It points out the ill health of our society’ Manto also used to say ‘why should I expose this society. It is already exposed, devoid of its barest minimums. But I will never try to cover it up . It is the job of a tailor not an author.’ Such was Manto’s sabotage.
In a book about Franz Kafka Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari spoke of minor literature: ‘…Minor no longer designates specific literature but the revolutionary condition for every literature within the heart of what is called great (or established ) literature” . How is that literature? How is that revolutionary condition born ? ‘Writing like a dog digging a hole, a rat digging its burrow’ i.e. literature then becomes a question of life and death. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari writes about Kafka, ‘How to become a nomad and an immigrant and a gypsy in relation to ones own language? Kafka answers: steal the baby from the crib, walk the tight rope.’ In urdu literature Manto’ was also a nomad and immigrant, a gypsy .Within the boundaries of major literature Manto created minor literature, he created revolutionary conditions not only in language but also in his choice of subject.
But sabotage is not Manto’s only preoccupation. He takes the side of the women. Stories like Kali Salwar, Hattak, Babu Gopinath, Mummy, Ten rupees show us Manto’s dispassionate stainless concern for women. In this context we may refer to Premendra Mitra’s Sansar Simante for a comparative story. Sansar Simante’s Rajani was a prostitute no doubt but she apparently belonged to the middle strata of the society, because Rajani’s writer treated her with his middle class outlook. But in Manto’s story Hattak Sougandhi chased his lover Madho out of her room and picked up her dog, put it carefully on her bed, laid herself next to him, threw an arm around its wasted body and went of sleep. Manto wants to reveal these marginal women their loneliness alienation and the absurdity of their existence. In this story Saugandhi silently told the Seth who had rejected her: ‘what you came to buy… well you can have it free. But you will never be able to reach the woman who is inside this body. Her insult brought to light how Madho was exploiting her .It was more respectable to sleep with a dying street dog than to live with Madho . No Indian writer, before or after Manto could reach the loneliness of a prostitute on such a passionate scale.
Ten Rupees is another story by Manto. It centres around a fifteen year old innocent girl Sarita. She plays with her lot in the slum she dwells in. Sometimes her mother sends her out to earn a living Sarita is also happy with this job because she loves to ride a car. In this story she goes for a joyride with three strangers. On her way back home she was offered ten rupees by the men. But she instantly refused the money . She had gone for a pleasure trip, why should she be paid for it ?
How is a woman forced to become a prostitute? There is an extraordinary story by Manto titled Licence which portrays how Nesti, a simple girl was turned into a whore .It is a crude portrayal of how an innocent girl craving for freedom is compelled by society to take the course of flesh trade.
Another cruel story is The Room with a bright light the prostitute of this story has no name. One night she was fast asleep .The pimp awakened her ‘Are you going to get up or not?’ She answered ‘Just let me sleep.’ The pimp screamed again, now in a broken tone’ ‘you heard me, are you getting up or not. You know what I will do to you.’ultimately the woman was forced to attend a customer. On her return she killed the pimp by smashing his head into a pulp with the help of a brick.
There is a story called Bismillah, written during Manto’s stay in Pakistan. During partition Jahir forced Bismillah into prostitution. How was this Bismillah? “Her complextion was dark. She had large dark melancholy eyes. Her photograph rever revealed that she was so dark. Sayeed wondered why are her eyes sorrowful Did they have any secrets or their shape was such that they naturally looked sad”.
I feel that among all the Manto stories about these marginal women Kali Salwar is the best. It is the story about a prostitute named Sultana who before moving to Delhi lived in the Ambala cantonment where she was regularly visited by British Tommies roaring drunk. Between 3 or 4 hours she could easily handle 9 or 10 of them and would have them on their way to the barracks lighter in pocket by 20 or 30 rupees. But business in the new city was almost non existent as not a single tommy came to her there. She reported to Kudha Bux about this repeatedly. How Sultana and Khuda Bux met is a long story. Kudha Bux was a professional photographer who came across Sultana in Ambala. She also took an immediate fancy to him. They lived lavishly in Ambala. But the scenario changed after migrating to Delhi. The situation became difficult. The rent of the flat was Rs. 20 a month. Then there were the bills for water and electricity followed by foods, clothes and odds and ends. There was no income. 18 Rupees and 8 Anna’s in three months is next to nothing. She had to sell eight bangles and her wrists become bare. She was too much worried and started to feel lonely.
Manto has depicted Sultana’s loneliness with a great expertise. “Sometimes she would stand on her balcony staring endlessly at the railway yard across the busy street with its stationary and shunting engines and wagons. On the other side was a long railway goods godown. On its right hundred of bales and crates of different sizes laid scattered under a huge shade with a concrete roof. To its left was an open space with a crisscrossing railway track. The sun light would make the steel track sparkling reminding Sultana of her hands with their increasing protuberant blue veins. There was always something going on there. There were always engines blowing their steam hooters, their rhythmic chug chug fading in the distance. When Sultana came out in the balcony early in the morning, she was always struck by a peculiar sight. Through the hazy light she would see an engine giving out smoke, and then she would look up at the sky and watch it rise in a thick column taking the shape of a fat man. Sometimes she would see a long wagon being sent rolling down the track. She would then think of herself. Had she too not been pushed on the track of life? Others may change their direction but she was moving not of her own volition. And at some unknown point at some unknown place she would slowly come to a halt, never to move again”.
Sultana was living a mundane life until a stranger dawned upon her. He was Shankar. Sultana asked him “What is your line of work”?
“The same as yours”, Shankar replied.
“What do you do”?
“I…I…I….don’t do anything”.
“I don’t do anything either”.
When Sultana asked Shankar “Are you going to marry me”? He answered curtly “Marriage? You and I wont be involved in that type of nonsense. Such things are not for people like us. Don’t speak rubbish. Say something useful. You are a woman, say something that will help us while away the time nicely. That is more to life than talking shop”.
Sultana once asked him “Will you do me a favour?”
Let us go through this part of the story.
“Say it first” Shankar asked.
“You might think I was trying to charge for what you just did.” Sultana hesitated.
“Come on tell me what you want me to do for you”.
Sultana got back her lost courage. “Muharram is knocking at the door and I don’t have any money to buy a black salwar. Well I have a white kamiz and a dupatta which I have given to the dyers.”
“Do you want me to give some money for the black salwar?”
“I actually don’t mean that. But if you could get me one….”
“It is a rare incident for me to have money in my pockets. However, I promise you will have the black salwar on the first day of Muharram. Take my word for it. Cheer up now” Shankar smiled.
He then looked up at Sultana’s earrings “Can you give me those?”
“What’d you do with them?”, Sultana smiled at last. “They are very cheap silver earrings worth no more than 5 rupees.”
“I asked you for the earrings. I did not ask you the price. Will you give me or not” Shankar said.
“Here you are then” Sultana handed over the earrings to Shankar. However she felt sorry the next moment for parting with the earrings but then it was too late. Shankar was gone.
Sultana was sure the Shankar would not keep his promise. But after a week on the first day of Muharram there was a knock at her door at about 9 in the morning. Surprisingly enough it was Shankar. He handed over to Sultana something wrapped in a newspaper.
“A Black satin salwar. Could be a bit long. See you later”.
His hair was disheveled. His trousers had several creases as if he had just rushed out of bed.
When Shankar was gone Sultana unwrapped the package. It was a lovely black satin salwar, much liked the one her friend Mukhtar was wearing the other day. She was overwhelmed with joy. At last she had got a black salwar. Shankar had kept his word. She forgot all about her earrings.
In the afternoon she brought her dyed dupatta and kameez from the laundry. When she was putting on her new clothes there was a knock at the door. It was Mukhtar. After sizing up Sultana carfully she said, “the Dupatta and the Kameez appear to be dyed black. But the salwar looks new. Did you have it stitched recently?”
‘Only today. The tailor delivered it in the morning’ Sultana lied. Suddenly she notice Mukhtar’s earrings. ‘Where did you get these from?”
‘Only today …today morning’ Mukhtar replied.
For a short while they gazed at one another neither of them could speak.
Kali Salwar leaves us spellbound. Truth and lie become one and the same .What is left is pure and raw lust for life.
Sex is a controversial theme of Manto’s stories. Time and again he had been condemned by the court of law, for allegation raised by progressive Marxists. Sex to him is a basic necessity, for whose fulfillment man takes every possible recourse, but veils it under pretentions of rituals and superstitions. Manto openly exposes man’s carnal instincts in his stories. Say for example the story ‘Boo’ (odour) where Randhir seeks in his wife’s perfumed body the odour of sweat cascading out of the armpits of an unclean street girl. Gopi Chand Narang once remarked ‘Manto was a supreme rebel, he was up against doxa, be it in arts, , literature, customs, manners, social norms, morality or whatever.’ Manto hardly believed in the magnanimity of man. But that every man is enlightened by the light of his own independent soul is revealed in the two hundred fifty odd Manto stories.
‘The first loss which the rightless suffered was the loss of their homes , and this meant the loss of entire social texture into which they were born and in which they established for themselves a distinct place in the world.’
Hanna Arendht wrote in her book ‘The Origin of Totalitarianism: Imperialism.’ The incident of 1947 had not only rooted out the people from their native soil but also wiped out so many words and dialogues from their life. Manto and Manto alone had remained a witness to this gradual process of oblivion.
Now we shall move away to another part of the story. What should be the subject of literature? Manto has raised this basic question and has provided with the answer himself. He has found an underlying connection between literature and the two most original and basic instincts of man–hunger and sex. He ardently believes that all human actions can be explained with reference to the relationship between these two forms of hunger. One is physical hunger in relation to the stomach and the other one is man’s carnal desire- the relation between the man and a woman
Manto most efficiently correlates man’s prehistoric instincts with his time, his country and his history. Manto’s short pieces about partition clearly bring to life how these blind basic instincts go violent and crazy during times of turmoil. Small pieces of tragedy are woven together to create the greatest tragedy of history.
There are many other authors writing stories about partition before and after Manto. But Manto has a different staying. A story by Manto is a wound in itself. Most of the other writers have given greater priority to their own opinion and philosophy than to the tragedy of time. Some of them are tilted toward Islam; some have a definite bias towards Hinduism. But Manto saw human beings above all religious identities becoming victims of partition, a friend turning into a foe in an instant.
In the beginning of his story Sahay Mumtaz says ‘Don’t tell me a hundred thousand Hindus and the same number of Muslims has been massacred. The great tragedy is not that two hundred thousand people have been killed, but that this enormous loss of life has been futile. The Muslims who killed a hundred thousand Hindus must have believed that they had exterminated the Hindu religion. But the Hindu religion is alive and well and will remain alive an well. And after putting away a hundred thousand Muslims, the Hindus must have celebrated the liquidation of Islam. But the facts are Islam had not been affected in the least. Only the naïve can believe that religion can be eliminated with a gun. Why can’t they understand that faith, belief, devotion, call it what you will, is a thing of the spirit; it is not physical. Guns and knives are powerless to destroy it.’
This story like most of his stories is autobiographical. The story portrays the tragedy of Manto or Mumtaz leaving India for Pakistan. Manto recollects the last days of his stay in Bombay in his article about his actor friend Shyam : ‘It seems such a long time ago . The Muslims and Hindus were engaged in a bloody fratricidal war. Thousands died every day from both sides. One day, Shyam and I went to visit a Sikh family from Rawalpindi- Shyam’s hometown- and sat there listening in shocked silence to their horrifying account of the killing and rioting they had witnessed and survived. I could see that Shyam was deeply moved. I could well understand what was passing through his mind. When we left, I said to him, ‘I am a Muslim, don’t you want to kill me?’ ‘Not now’ he replied gravely, ‘but while I was listening to them and they were telling me about the atrocities committed by the Muslim, I could have killed you. His answer shocked me deeply. Perhaps I could have killed him too when the spoke those words. When I thought about it latter, I suddenly understood the psychological background of India’s religiously motivated bloodbath. Shyam had said he could have killed me ‘then’ but not ‘now.’ Therein the lay the key to holocaust of Partitio’.
Only Manto’s stories throw light on how blind human instincts react suddenly and violently to a terrible incident of history. In a preface to an English collection of Manto’s stories M.Asaduddin mentions some important aspects ‘While other writers on partition employed a narrative strategy that depended on the all to familiar balancing act between the different forms of communal violence, Manto’s stories look at the violence and barbarity of partition as plain and simple descent into the heart of darkness inherent in man. He stares violence in the face and is two clear-sighted to seek refuge in the rhetorical consolation of spiritual redemption or healing as many of his fellow writers did.’ Manto’s stories look straight into the eyes of violence murder and blood shed; they need not take shelter of any ethical school of thought.
Not a single Manto’s story about partition is burdened with the author’s opinion. He only points out the small tragedy which join together to create a bloodstained history of partition. The stories remind us of Walter Benjamin where he says “there is no history of civilization which is not a history of barbarism at the same time.” Manto’s story Sharifan is another dispassionate narration of how violence is born out of the depths of the dark animal instincts of man.
Was Kaseem of this story a murderer? He was merely a labourer. But two brutal murders– of his wife and his daughter– carve a murderer out of him. The meaninglessness of his murder was revealed when Bimla and Sharifan became one and the same. After killing Bimla he lifted his trembling fingers and uttered the name Sharifan.
Anton Chekov once remarked that it is not the author’s duty to pronounce any judgment or issue a court verdict. He is there to share the pathos of the executed people. The thematic integrity of Manto’s stories is the helpless man simple and innocent who is turned by time into a ruthless criminal.
Let us take for example the story Thanda Gost. This story was charged with an allegation of obscenity in Pakistan. During the court proceedings Manto made it clear that the very name of the story can never stimulate sexual desire in a person. The meat hanging in a butchers shop makes us feel as cold as steel. If this story awakens sexual desire in any reader he should be sent to a psychiatrist.
During the riot, Ishwar Singh after looting several households and killing six members of a Muslim family had just returned to Kulwant Kaur. He had come home after several days. Kulwant Kaur screamed “Ishwar Sian”. Instantly she came near Ishwar and asked in a hushed up voice “where have you been all these days”? Ishwar Singh moistened his parched lips and said “I don’t know”.
“What type of answer is that”? Kulwant lost her temper. Ishwar Singh threw his Kirpan aside and slumped on the bed. Kulwant Kaur was making frantic efforts to arouse Ishwar Singh but in the end she gave up. She was in a fury. Finally Ishwar submitted. His face was coated with cold sweat. He started ‘Kulwant jani, you can have no idea what happened to me. When they began to loot Muslim shops and houses in the city, I joined one of the gangs. All the cash and ornaments that fell to my share, I brought back to you; there was only one thing I hid from you.’ He began to groan. His pain was becoming unbearable, but she was unconcerned, ‘Go on,’ she said in a merciless voice.
‘There was this house I broke into.. there were seven people in there, six of them men whom I killed with my kirpan one by one…and there was one girl.. she was so beautiful… I didn’t kill her… I took her away.’
She sat on the edge of the bed, listening to him.
‘Kalwant jani, I can’t even begin to describe to you how beautiful she was…. I could have slashed her throat but I didn’t…..I said to myself.. Ishwar Sian, you gorge yourself on Kalwat Kaur every day…how about a mouthful of this new luscious fruit !
‘I thought she had gone into a faint, so I carried her over my shoulder all the way to the canal which runs outside the city… them I laid her down on the grass, behind some bushes and … first I thought I would shuffle her a bit… but then I decided to trump her right away…’
‘What happened? she asked.
‘I threw the trump … but, but…’
His voice sank.
Kalwant Kaur shook him violently. “What happened?’
Ishwar Singh opened his eyes.’She was dead…I had carried a dead body… a heap of cold flesh…jani, give me your hand.’
Kalwat Kaur placed her hand on his .It was colder than ice”.
While trying to have sexual intercourse with a dead women Ishwar Singh himself turned into a thanda gost (cold meat). It is because humanity is still awake within him. Even the voluptuous Kulwant failed to arouse him.
Among Manto’s partition stories Toba Tek Singh Khol Do, Titwal Ka Kutta, Akhri Salute, Ram Khilwan, Yazid ,Mozail, Woman in Red Rain Coat deserve special mention He has to his credit a collection of satirical sketches Siyah Hasiye. Let us read one.
‘He chose the largest of the wooden chests for himself, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t move it.
Another man, who had been unable to find anything worthwhile to take ,came up to him. ‘Do you need help?’
He said ‘yes’ and the volunteer picked up the deadweight with his strong hands and with one mighty heave placed it on his broad back.
However, the weight was so crippling that the volunteer felt, as they took to the street, that his back would break or his legs would give way. What kept him going was the expectation of reward.
The man who had spotted the chest was not in a very good physical shape; however, in order to assert his ownership, he kept one hand firmly on the prize as they slowly moved towards a safe spot.
Once they were there and the chest had been safely placed on the ground, the man who had done all the hard work said, ‘ I want to know what my share is.’

‘One-fourth,’ came the reply.
‘That’s not enough!’
‘No? But remember it was I who found it.’
‘Yes, but it was I who brought it all the way here on my back.’
‘What about fifty-fifty?’
‘That’s a deal,let’s see what is inside.’
What came out was man with a sword, with which he immediately divided the two shareholders into four.’
Now I want to mention another story which is a burning example of the tragedy of partition. It is the beginning of the year 1948. Most probably the month of March .The story is titled By the grace of Allah. Hundred of volunteers have been assigned the task of recovering abducted woman and children and restoring them to their families. They belong to Pakistan and India both. Amidst this crowd there is a strange old woman from Patiala. She is the central character of the story. She is almost mad. She is looking for her only daughter abducted during the riot. Perhaps she has died. But the old woman is not in a mind to accept the fact .In the words of one of the volunteers ‘I made many trips across the border to India and almost every time I ran into the old woman. She was no more than a bag of bones. She was only carrying her skeleton. But one thing had not changed her faith that her daughter was alive and that no one could kill such a beautiful girl.
Some people proposed that the old woman should be taken to Pakistan and put into a lunatic asylum. But the volunteer feels that it is far better to move independently in this vast asylum of this world than to get confined within the four walls of a regular one.
The last part of the story according to the volunteer goes like this:

‘The last time I met her was in Amritsar. She looked so broken that it almost brought tears to my eyes. I decided that I would make one last effort to take her to Pakistan.
‘There she stood in Farida Chowk, peering around with her half blind eyes. I was talking to a shopkeeper about an abducted Muslim girl, who , we have been informed, was being kept in the house of a Hindu moneylender.
‘After my exchange with the shopkeeper, I crossed the street, determined to persuade the old woman to come with me to Pakistan. Suddenly I noticed a couple. The woman’s face was partly covered by her white chaddar. The man was young and handsome Sikh.
‘As they went past the old woman, the man suddenly stopped. He even fell back a step or two. Nervously, he caught hold of the woman’ hand. I couldn’t see her full face, but one glimpse was enough to know that she was beautiful beyond words.
“Your mother.’ He said to her.
‘The girl looked up, but only for a second. Then, covering her face with her chaddar, she grabbed her companion’s arm and said, “ Let’s get away from here.”
They crossed the road, taking long, brisk steps.
The old woman shouted, “Bhagvari, Bhagvari.”
I rushed towards her. “What is matter?” I asked.
She was trembling. “I have seen her.. I have seen her.”
“Whom have you seen?”I asked.
“I have seen my daughter… I have seen Bhagvari.” Her eyes were like burnt-out lights.
“Your daughter is dead,” I said .
“You’re lying,”she screamed.
“I swear on God your daughter is dead.”
The old woman fell in a heap on the road.
These stories, as the poet Firaq Gorakhpuri puts it, are the weeds growing along the two banks of the river of sin. What is this sin? Abandonment and exile. Like the fate of his favourite poet Mirza Galib, all Manto characters are marginal, banished from the mainstream of the society. They are either refugees or whores or criminals or pimps. He does not glorify them. He simply portrays their characters like the sketches of Chittoprasad. Morover he stands in the same queue with the harlots and pimps, he speaks with them and unveils their life. His writings remind us of ‘The Wounds’, a series of paintings by Somnath Hore. These are the wounds of partition and the people thrashed out of the society, the wounds which are still bleeding, bleeding profusely.