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October 1, 2012

Life & work of Saadat Hasan Manto

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

I still remember the January 1955 issue of the then a leading Urdu newspaper published from Rawalpindi – the daily Taameer – which carried a sketch of Saadat Hassan Manto’s grave with a tombstone saying: "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful - Here lies Saadat 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 greater short-story writer: God or He.” ---- Saadat Hassan Manto.”Manto-1

This epitaph was later replaced by his sister with the following: Saadat Hasan Manto ki qabr ki qabr he Yahan Manto jo aaj bhi ye samajhta hay kay wo loh-e-Jahan per harf-e-mukarar nahi tha.” “(This is) the grave of Saadat Hasan Manto’s grave who still believes his name was not to be written twice on the cosmic stone).”

Saadat Hassan Manto, (May 11, 1912 – January 18, 1955), was an iconic short story writer of Urdu. 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 a journalist. He published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, and two collections of personal sketches. Manto was tried for obscenity six times, thrice before 1947 in United India and thrice after 1947 in Pakistan, but never convicted. Some of his works have been translated in other languages.

He also wrote nine “Letters to Uncle Sam” that reflected Minto’s insight into the global politics and its bearing over the lives of the people living in the Third World. He speaks through these letters that he is well informed about international affairs and critical of American policy.

The background to these letters is very interesting. The English translator of his letters, Khalid Hasan, relates:

“[this firsthand account] comes from Manto’s “young local”, the well-known Lahore journalist Khalid Latif. From here on, it is Khalid Latif’s account, though it is abbreviated in my translation.

“The year was 1951. I had left Nawai Waqt for Afaq and ended up in USIS [United States Information Service]. The United States, in a bid to increase its influence in Pakistan after the refusal by Liaquat Ali Khan to send troops to Korea, had begun to make forays into Pakistan’s political, social and literary circles. An air-conditioned library had been set up on the Mall (Lahore) where entry was free. Attempts were also on hand to produce material in Urdu and Bengali, including articles by Pakistani writers in favour of America. The articles did not have to be a hundred percent for America as long as they were critical of communism and Soviet expansionism.

“US interest in Manto developed after he ridiculed a Soviet disarmament proposal that the left in Pakistan was making much of. The Americans must have thought they could recruit Manto on their side in the Cold War, but had they known the first thing about Manto, they would have stayed away. In the first week of December, a gentleman whose name was probably Smith arrived from Washington to give practical shape to America’s new drive. He asked Kazim Hussain Raz, head of the USIS press section, to arrange for him to meet Saadat Hasan Manto. Raz did not know Manto but I did.

“Mr Smith and I arrived at Laxami Mansion where Manto lived and were welcomed by him and taken inside. After a few minutes, his nephew Hamid Jalal, who was news editor at Radio Pakistan, dropped in. Tea was served while we chatted. Smith told Manto the reason for his visit and requested him to write something for USIS. Manto replied that he was an Urdu writer and did not write in English. Smith said the articles would be published in Urdu and translated, if needed, into English for publication in other countries. Manto said he would only write what he wished to write. Smith replied that he had no problem with that. When it came to the question of money, Smith said the USIS would pay Rs 500 per piece. We were sure this would please Manto, but he refused point-blank, insisting that he would take no more than Rs 200. In the end, a compromise was struck at Rs 300. We drank down our tea and left. Next morning Smith and I reappeared at Laxami Mansion and gave Manto an advance of Rs 300. He said his piece would be on its way soon.

“Smith was thrilled because he had persuaded Pakistan’s greatest writer to write in favour of America. The next day he returned to Washington. A few days later, Manto made a jaunty entry at the USIS and handed me an envelope, which I passed on to Raz without opening it. Before leaving, Manto said that if more articles were required, payment would need to be made in advance. Raz took the envelope to Mr Withus, the senior officer in charge, but when he came out of the boss’s room, he looked distraught. When I asked why, he answered, “Manto has taken us for a ride.” He told me that Manto’s article was a most hilarious letter to Uncle Sam which I asked if it would be sent to a newspaper. “Forget it,” Raz replied, “no chance of that.” Raz had read out Manto’s piece line by line to Withus, translating it into English. Withus was flabbergasted. While we were talking, he emerged from his room, Manto’s article in hand and told Raz to have it translated, which was done the same day and copies sent to Karachi and Washington. Manto dropped in a few days later and asked if he should bring another article. We told him to allow time for the first one to appear. He never asked for money, nor did he inquire about the first article.” [1]

Continued on page 2 of 4 pages