Life & work of Saadat Hasan Manto - II
Manto’s letters to Uncle Sam
Between 1951 and 1954 Saadat Hasan Manto wrote nine letters to Uncle Sam, through these letters Manto comments on the strangeness of his new country Pakistan, as well as on the surreal aspects of American life as discerned from magazines and newspapers. Here he not only discusses the subcontinent’s condition but skillfully contrasts the situation with the riches of the US. He was unable to send these letters as he lacked money for postage, according to his statement.
Manto begins the first letter with a note of rancor over the Partition, which led to his displacement from his film-writing career in Bombay and his resentment at the recurring obscenity trials:
“My name is Saadat Hasan Manto and I was born in a place that is now in India. My mother is buried there. My father is buried there. My first-born is also resting in that bit of earth. However, that place is no longer my country. My country now is Pakistan which I had only seen five or six times before as a British subject. I used to be the All India’s Great Short Story Writer. Now I am Pakistan’s Great Short Story Writer. Several collections of my stories have been published and the people respect me. In undivided India, I was tried thrice, in Pakistan so far once. But then Pakistan is still young.”
In his second letter, Manto describes the process of how and why he wrote these letters. In this letter Manto refers to his encounter with the USIS official: “This gentleman who asked me for the story wanted to know how much I would charge for it. Uncle, it is possible that you lie and you actually do — having turned it into an art — but I do not know how to. That day however I did lie. “I will charge two hundred rupees for my story”. The truth is that most publishers here pay me forty or fifty rupees a story”. He then went on to say:
“It has been a while since I wrote to you but whereas there has been no acknowledgment from you, some days earlier, a gentleman from your embassy whose name I do not recall, dropped in to see me in the company of a young local. A brief résumé of my conversation with these gentlemen follows. We introduced ourselves in English. I was surprised that he spoke English, not American, a language I have been unable to follow my entire life. We spoke for nearly three-quarters of an hour. He was pleased to meet me, as every American is pleased to meet a Pakistani or an Indian. I too gave him the impression that I was pleased to meet him, when the fact is that I do not derive any pleasure from meeting white Americans… I wanted to tell you that the gentleman who came to see me belonged to your consulate here. He wanted me to write a story for him. That threw me because I do not know how to write in English, so I said to him, ‘Sir, I am an Urdu writer. I do not know how to write in English.’ His reply was, ‘We need a story in Urdu because we have a journal that is published in the Urdu language.’ I did not want to probe any further, so I said, ‘I am willing.’ God is my witness, I did not know that he had come to see me at your bidding. Perhaps you made him read the letter I sent you.”
In the third letter to Uncle Sam, in part he writes:
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 …
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…
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.”
The fourth letter was perhaps a forewarning for what is now called “war on terror.” In this letter written on February 21,1954, Manto says:
“I wrote to you only a few days ago and here I am writing again. My admiration and respect for you are going up at about the same rate as your progress towards a decision to grant military aid to Pakistan. I tell you I feel like writing a letter a day to you.
“Regardless of India and the fuss it is making, you must sign a military pact with Pakistan because you are seriously concerned about the stability of the world’s largest Islamic state since our mullah is the best antidote to Russian communism. Once military aid starts flowing, the first people you should arm are these mullahs. They would also need American-made rosaries and prayer-mats, not to forget small stones that they used to soak up the after-drops following a call of nature. Cut-throat razors and scissors should be top of the list, as well as American hair-colour lotions. That should keep these fellows happy and in business…
“I think the only purpose of military aid is to arm these mullahs. I am your Pakistani nephew and I know your moves. Everyone can now become a smart ass, thanks to your style of playing politics.
“If this gang of mullahs is armed in the American style, the Soviet Union that hawks communism and socialism in our country will have to shut shop. I can visualize the mullahs, their hair trimmed with American scissors and their pajamas stitched by American machines in strict conformity with the Sharia. The stones they use for their after-drops of you-know-what will be American, untouched by human hand, and their prayer-mats would be American, too. Everyone will then become your camp follower, owing allegiance to you and no one else…”
In his fifth letter, Minto gibes at America’s wars-for-peace. What he wrote in the early 1950s may equally apply in the 1990s Balkan wars and 21st century US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“While only God knows what lies in the future, I for one have faith in you because I have eaten your wheat. Additionally, I am your nephew… For this lasting peace to be established, how many countries will need to be removed from the face of the earth? That’s all I want to know. My niece who is at school wanted me to draw her a map of the world yesterday but I told her she would have to wait because I first had to talk to my Uncle to find out the names of the countries that were going to survive.”
In the seventh letter, while intimating his Uncle about growing communist appeal in Pakistan, Manto points out inter-imperial rivalries and changing configuration in the imperial camp:
What is not secret is that communism is spreading fast in my country, Pakistan. I tell you sometimes I also want to stick a red feather in my cap and go Red. Is that not a dangerous wish? … Why don’t you get Bevan of Britain to shut his mouth? He is your creature yet he shows you his fangs. The ass is spitting poison against you. Of your Mr.
Dulles he says the man is unaware of modern ideas, trying as he is to browbeat the world into submission with the hydrogen bomb. What a fool! Uncle I really get angry, when some British joker thumbs his nose at you. If you were to take my advice, Britain should be wiped off the face of the earth. If you don’t do that, then at least fill in the twenty-mile-wide channel that separates it from Europe. God bless Napoleon Bonaparte and Hitler, both of whom hated this country…In the last war, Germany allied with Italy and gained nothing from it. You should learn a lesson from that. Just follow your old principle: cash and carry.
In the eighth letter, he invites Uncle Sam to embrace Islam through the instance of Saudi royals:
“We are playing host to one Prince after another…currently we have Shah Saud, the King of Saudi Arabia. Let me give you an eye-witness account of his visit. He arrived by air at Karachi with twenty-five of his Princes in tow. He was received with full honours. He has fathered many other Princes besides, so it is anybody’s guess why they are not accompanying him. Perhaps that would have needed two or three additional aircrafts. Or maybe they are too young and would rather be in their mothers’ laps than in an aircraft… Uncle, just think of it. Shah Saud has come with twenty-five sons. Only God knows how many daughters he has. May God protect them and him. Do you have anyone in your land of seven freedoms who could boat off so many children? Uncle, this is one of the blessings of our religion of Islam and it’s God’s bounty. In my humble opinion, you should immediately declare Islam as your state religion. This will result in many benefits. Every married man will be able to take four wives and if, after the exercise of utmost care, one woman gives birth to four children, each family will produce sixteen children as living proof of a husband’s virility and a wife’s fertility. Just think of the difference these numbers could make at the time of war…I would say even you should take four wives. If Auntie is alive, then take three wives.”
Not surprisingly, on Letters to Uncle Sam, Indian author, Pankaj Mishra, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine’s Sept/Oct 2011 issue:
“American cultural cold warriors, then clustered at U.S. Information Services (USIS) offices, had approached Manto with a lucrative commission -- write a short story for publication in an Urdu journal they subsidized -- after he publicly ridiculed Pakistani camp followers of Stalin. Spurned by nonaligned India, the United States was trying to persuade Pakistan's generals, along with artists and writers, into joining its anti-Soviet crusade. The famously mercurial Manto insisted on taking less money than was offered by the Americans and then submitted, in place of the promised short story, a caustic "Letter to Uncle Sam," mocking America's claims to moral superiority over the Soviet Union.
“His red-faced editors at Lahore's USIS office killed the letter and banned Manto from their pages. But Manto kept writing more letters to Uncle Sam, publishing nine altogether in local periodicals from 1951 to 1954. Today, they seem to have brilliantly foreshadowed not only the fraught triangular relationship between the United States, Pakistan, and India, but also its consequences: vicious wars, the rise of ruthless ideologies on the subcontinent, the proliferation of Indian and Pakistani versions of the Ugly American. The letters also appear to have anticipated the profound distrust of America to take hold in Pakistan in the decade since the 9/11 attacks, even as India moved in the opposite direction to an easy, even eager, accommodation with Pax Americana. 
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