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Saadat Hasan Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto (May 11, 1912 - January 18, 1955) was a South Asian Urdu short story writer, most known for his Urdu short stories , 'Bu' (Odor), 'Khol Do' (Open It), 'Thanda Gosht' (Cold Meat), and his magnum opus, Toba Tek Singh'.
He was also a film and radio scriptwriter, and journalist. In his short life, he published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches.

He was tried for obscenity half-a-dozen times, thrice before and thrice after independence in Pakistan, but never convicted. Some of his works have been translated in other languages.

The writing of Manto

Combining psychoanalysis with human behaviour, he was arguably one of the best short story tellers of the 20th century, and one of the most controversial as well. When it comes to chronicling the collective madness that prevailed in the Indian subcontinent, during and post the Partition of India in 1947, no other writer comes close to the oeuvre of Saadat Hasan Manto . Since he started his literary career translating works of literary giants, like Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde and many Russian masters like Chekov and Gorky, their collective influence made him search for his own moorings, and this resulted in his first story, Tamasha, based on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar . Though he earlier works, showed a marked leftist and socialist leanings, influenced by the progressive writers of his times, his later work progressively became stark in portraying the darkness of human pscyhe, as humanist values progressively declined around the Partition. So much so that his final works that came out in the dismal social climate of post-partition Indian subcontinent, and his own financial struggles reflected an innate sense of human impotency towards darkeness that prevailed in the larger society, cultimating in satirism that verged on the dark comedy, as seen in his final great work, Toba Tek Singh , that not just showed a direct influence of his own stay in a veritable mental asylum, but also a reflection of collective madness that he saw in the insuing decade of his life. To add to it, his numerous court cases and societal rebukes, ragged him to no end, making him deepen his cyncistic stance and macbre view of the society, from which he felt ever so isolated No part of human existence remain untouched or a taboo for him, he sincerely brought out stories of prostitutes and pimps alike, just as he highlighted the subversive sexual slavery of women of his times . To many contemporary women writers, his language far from being obscene brought out the women of times in realism, seen never before, and provided them with the human dignity they long deserved . Unlike his fellow luminaries, he never indulged in didacticism or romaticized his character, also he never offered any judgement on any of his charcters, no matter how macbre or immoral they might seem, he simply presented them in their true light, and left the judgment on to the reading eyes. This allows his works to be interpreted in a myriad ways, depending on the viewpoint of the reader, they might appear sensationalist or prurient to one, while exceedingly human to another. Yet it was this very non-judgemental rather unhindered truism of his pen that got him at loggers' head with the media censors, social prejudices and the legal system of his times, so much so that he remained banned for many years and lost out on many opportunities to earn a healthy living, when things became dire for him. Nevertheless, throughout the Indian subcontinent, he is still known for his scathing insight into the human behaviour as well as revelation of the macbre animalistic nature of an enraged subcontinent, stands out amidst the brevity of his prose .

He is often compared with D. H. Lawrence, and like Lawrence he also wrote about the topics considered social taboos in Indo-Pakistani Society. His topics range from the socio-economic injustice prevailing in pre- and post- colonial subcontinent, to the more controversial topics of love, sex, incest, prostitution and the typical hypocrisy of a traditional subcontinental male. In dealing with these topics, he doesn't take any pains to conceal the true state of the affair - although his short stories are often intricately structured, with vivid satire and a good sense of humour. In chroncling the lives and tribulations of the people living in lower depths of the human existence, no writer of 20th century, came close to Manto . His concerns on the socio-political issues, from local to global level are revealed in his series, Letters to Uncle Sam, and those to Pandit Nehru



 

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