I am trying to attempt to write about a writer, it is his birthday today…. there are caveats because I know very little of the writer, Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-55) one, and I want to write something as I’m so influenced by the little I have read and heard of him that I cannot keep my mouth shut and partly because I come from a different part of the country where Partition was summed up in a line in a history textbook. Therefore the urgency to tell the world something, as a tribute. However, do not categorize him as a writer who writer about Partition alone. His works are strewn with these details, but he began his writing career in the 1930s, what he writes is about society in general, what we do no want to talk about, what is out there in its bare nakedness…. Take for instance, his most anthologized short story Toba Tek Singh Toba Tek Singh and other Stories, the book, is available here if you want to own a copy that is
…. May be I could tell you a story he wrote, that will tell you more about him… below the post, there are links to some short stories in translation and some articles…
The short story is titled “Khol do!” When in English, it reads as “Open it!” Hardly four sides long…it narrates an episode in the life of a father Sirajuddin in search of his only daughter Sakina at a time when British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan.
Khol do! is set in a camp of migrants who were forced to move from their homes to the newly divided part of the erstwhile colony depending on their religious status. For instance, Hindus in Lahore moved to India, while the Muslims in Punjab moved to Pakistan. It was never an easy movement, millions have died, died homeless, died on the roads, died abused, died jumping into wells to save their honour, died as part of the family’s need to protect their honour…. many led and still lead a dead life smitten by the violence of this historical hour called the Partition.
It is the other, unacknowledged, silenced side of the Indian Independence of 1947. What Independence one may ask, when on the other side, millions lost homes and lives in very violent ways. If we notice, particularly as we live in a patriarchal society, history is majorly populated by MEN. WOMEN hardly seem to have a past or a say in that matter. Their suffering is never acknowledged. I would be bracketing off the everyday common if I say MEN. The everyday commoner’s experience is also not officially acknowledged.
Again, Partition is that part of our history that has no commemoration, it has no official voices, no monuments; it is one event in our history that we would love to forget, not to talk about although it has shaped and broken the lives of those who were part of it. The South of India has very little to do about it for instance, for us Partition is just that one line…. in 1947, that one Radcliffe line that is the cause of many of the tensions we face today!
Reading Manto is an experience….Flikart has a copy of Naked Voices: Stories & Sketches
Khol do! is about one such event were the divide between boundaries are blurred. No! not in the positive, in the negative. Read the story in Hindi/Urdu if you know the language. For the non-Hindi speakers here’s the link to the English translation Open it! I’m paraphrasing the story here…
… Sirajuddin searches for his Sakina in the camp for days, but he cannot remember where he lost his daughter in the crowd. That’s when the young volunteers arrived. They gave him some hope. He described her features to them, told them she looks like her mother, a mole on her chin and very beautiful…. they promised they would bring her if they find her….. On their way to Amritsar, they found a girl, she was beautiful, she had mole on the chin…. she was Sirajuddin’s daughter… they fed her, gave her milk and helped her on to the lorry….
Towards the end …. there is a stir in the camp when Sirajuddin goes to the hospital one day…. there was a limp body of a girl on a stretcher….
A light was switched on. It was a young woman with a mole on her left cheek.
“Sakina,” Sirajuddin screamed.
The doctor, who had switched on the light, stared at Sirajuddin.
“Who are you”
“I…. I’m …. I’m her father,” he stammered.
The doctor looked at the prostrate body and felt for the pulse.
Gesturing to the window, he said to the old man: “Open it (Khol Do)”
The lifeless body on the stretcher moved slightly.
Her hands groped for the cord which kept her salwar tied around her waist.
With painful slowness, she unfastened it, pulled the garment down.
“She is alive. My daughter is alive,” Sirajuddin shouted with joy.
The doctor broke into a cold sweat.
(Source: The Reluctant Feudalist| I’ve made a couple of additions and deletions to the text above). Black Margins is a collection of Manto’s short stories of which Khol do! is a part. Black Margins is also available at Flipkart
I remember another story, a 4 liner…. During the partition, an assassin killed a man on the road and cut open the pyjamma chords and he gasped. (paraphrased)
If he were alive, Manto would have been 100 today. His writing does not have any garbs of the society, he presents the naked truth, the reality and experiences of the everyday commoner…. whose voices we often miss in a book of official history.
Happy Birthday sir, wonder whether he would shut his door on me, if I called him Sir….
- A Hundred Years of Manto (kafila.org)
- Ajoka Celebrating 100 years of Saadat Hassan Manto (May 1912-2012) [Event] (haseebakmal.wordpress.com)
- Stranger Than Fiction: In Freedom’s Shade by Anis Kidwai (acrazymindseye.wordpress.com)
- THANDA GOSHT by Saadat Hasan Manto (zjeddy.wordpress.com)
- Who is the greater writer, God or he? (dawn.com)
- Rabbani suggests highest civil award for Manto (dawn.com)
- Pundit Manto’s First Letter to Pundit Nehru (namakparay.wordpress.com)
- A moment for Manto (thehindu.com)
- Manto stands out (thehindu.com)
- Saadat Hassan Manto-A writer of fierce candour (indologygoa.wordpress.com)
- Manto: Curator of a hollowed conscience (3quarksdaily.com)