Manto for yet another generation

Manto for yet another generation

A selection of his works, and translations

Saadat Hasan Manto speaks for himself even today, more than 60 years after his death. The simplicity of his plots, the ordinariness of his characters, and the way he strips every sentence of ornament or artifice makes explanations of his stories redundant. It is for this reason that each successive generation in India and Pakistan has discovered Manto for itself, and discovered him, for most part, directly from his own text or a direct translation of it.

Manto’s stories can be read in any order, but a look at the times he wrote them in will enrich readers. Those times are told most authoritatively in his niece Ayesha Jalal’s biography, The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work Across the India-Pakistan Divide. Equally important context is provided in Rakhshanda Jalil’s Liking Progress, Loving Change: A Literary History Of The Progressive Writers’ Movement in Urdu. And a delightful description of Manto himself comes from those who knew him personally (Manto Saheb: Friends and Enemies on the Great Maverick, translated by Vibha Chauhan and Khalid Alvi).

Nandita Das’s new film Manto, and the book Manto: Fifteen Stories, a collection put together by Das, will no doubt spur members of yet another generation to read Manto. Das is among the many contemporary writers who have offered the world their own selection and translation of his works on various subjects: Bombay (Bombay Stories, Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad), women (My name is Radha, Muhammad Umar Memon), the film world (Stars from Another Sky, Khalid Hasan), the brutality of Partition (Toba Tek Singh, The Black ShalwarMottled Dawn), and the hypocrisy of politics (Save India from Its LeadersLetter to Uncle Sam), among others. Translations by Aatish Taseer and Jalil have made their mark as well. Aakar Patel’s Why I Write and Khalid Hasan’s The Armchair Revolutionary and Other Sketches are translations of Manto’s non-fiction work.

Manto’s writing was meant to provoke, even if the reaction was the awkward silence that follows a home truth. In his own words, Manto refers to himself as a “pickpocket” (Why I Write, from the collection of essays, Upar Neeche Aur Darmiyaan) who “picks his own pocket and then hands over its contents to you [the reader]”. It is that personal and direct relationship that Manto’s reader is always aware of. As one reads Manto, one is also aware that one is being read and judged by Manto.

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