Manto’s kahani lives hundred years on
LAHORE: “If you were alive today, Manto Sahab, you would be writing about the Ahmadis, those who are being killed in the name of religion and women who are being terrorised in the name of culture and honour.”
And your stories would revolve around the lives of those who are affected by…groups of fanatics. Kishwar Naheed’s voice became ragged as she openly yearned for a man who had died several years ago, perhaps at the epitome of existential pain, a mind like his and a bravery like his never replaced down the line in the writers of Pakistani fiction.
As the feminist poet carried on about Manto’s great themes, from which he never deterred, Alhamra’s Hall 2, chock-full of people, listened with rapt attention bursting into a clapping sequence only after she climbed down the stage.
“He never portrayed women to be coward or helpless,” said Kishwar Naheed, highlighting the progressive aspects of his works. “Today a woman who has been slapped is repeatedly shown on TV, as if it’s a symbol of pride. We don’t want to see intelligent women anywhere.” She ended her speech concluding “Manto Zinda Hai.”
The three-hour event was held celebrating the centennial of Saadat Hasan Manto. As it unfolded into the evening more and more people hurried in, some sitting on steps because all of the seats were taken.
Born in 1912, Manto’s life was always full of dilemma. Perhaps this is true for most writers who tend to observe and live through the dark gray and even black phases of life sometimes never being able to fully process some incidents. But despite everything that Manto went through, including losing publishing rights to many copies of his books, living in poverty, ill health, weakness, and loneliness, he is today one of the greatest writers not just in Pakistan, but even internationally where the Hindi or Urdu language can be understood.
Speaking at the launch of a bilingual book by Sang-i-Meel, keynote speaker Ayesha Jalal said Manto was often accused of being crude and vulgar. “But how could he not be,” she asked. She said he was vulgar because what he saw around himself was vulgar to him; it was that environment that led him to see that degree of vulgarity. His work was not just relevant for his time but would always be relevant – a classic literature, she said.
The works have been translated by his daughters in English so that they could be spread over a wider literary territory.
Actress and activist Sumya Mumtaz then followed up with her reading out of Manto’s short story where a woman dialogues with herself about her emotional quandary with having an illicit child after her lover leaves her. The story titled ‘Sarak Kay Kinary’ depicted the world as a roadside. Mumtaz’s reading was immensely powerful, affective and moving, and did justice to Manto’s text. The actress earned
herself accolade after the reading session.
Asghar Nadeem Syed read out his light-hearted essay titled “Manto Sahab Ki Kahani”, where he paralleled Manto’s own life story along with his story construction and inspirations. “The short story and Manto very soon had become one,” was the writer’s observation. “For me he is himself a detailed short story: detailed because he was a complex character, and a short story for his audience.”
Asghar Nadeem started off by explaining how he had met Manto. He had seen his degree in the hands of a common friend A. Hameed. The degree said: “third division”. “Perhaps this was how I understood him in the first place…if getting first division meant that the student learnt the craftiness and opportunism that is taught in our education system then it is good that Manto received third division. His innocence and purity of heart and soul could not be taken over…and perhaps if he had not, then he probably would not have turned out to be a writer.”
Asghar Nadeem said Manto did not look at life through rose-coloured glasses and that was what was unique about him. He tussled, played with, glared at and pounced upon his short story like a kitten on a ball of wool.
“Partition was one of Manto’s biggest dilemmas,” he said. “He never believed in it, but was never caught in a state of denial. He always however used the word ‘batwara’, never partition. He believed it was a ripping apart of one nation. At the same time he was always trying to fight off publishers who used his work and reprinted it without getting rights and permission from him. This was especially true in India after partition.”
According to Asghar, Manto had once said, “I brought money from Bombay and its narrow winding lanes, to Karachi, where it got absorbed in the Clifton bar…that is how I landed in Lahore.”
The event concluded with an inspiring read by thespian Salman Shahid who dramatised the narrator in ‘Shaheed Saaz’, much to the audience’s amusement. By the end of the show, those who were miserable at the loose ends Manto left behind, never being succeeded by anyone with almost equal strength and bravery, they left with wide open smiles and cheery countenances remembering a gleeful side of the great writer.
Manto’s family was also present.