Category Archives: Opinions

My views on things happening in the world

The Quintessential Storyteller – Who is Saadat Hasan Manto ?

Saadat was born on 11 May, 1912, as an unwelcome child of an unwanted wife in a village near Ludhiana (East Punjab). Ghulam Hasan Manto was a Sub-Judge, but that didn’t authorise him to marry Sardar, a widow, against the pleasure of his large Manto clan. And, in any case, that was his second marriage. Saadat and his sister Nasira received proverbial stepbrother treatment from the offspring of their father’s first wife while Saadat was growing up in the streets of Amritsar. Things got all the more difficult after Ghulam Hasan secured an early retirement in 1918. There was little motivation for the young boy to excel in studies so that the only books he ever touched were the ones categorically forbidden by his teachers. By the time he reached college he had recognized himself as a dropout. The status was officially confirmed after he failed twice in the intermediate. The next few years were spent roaming around in the company of other delinquents who reveled in night cinema, alcohol, drugs, gambling and small-time swindling.

But he was a misfit in the small Amritsar underworld too, because he was over-sensitive. Also, he had something effeminate about him, coming through his delicate features, thin physique and soft mannerism. In vain did he try to cover it up with artificially developed aggressive tone and choice of caustic metaphors. His favorite vice was inventing rumors: he once told his friends that the Taj Mahal was going to be dismantled and shipped out to the United States, and everyone believed him!

This incident could represent the nature of his genius as truly as any of the stories he wrote later. He wasn’t going to build pleasure domes out of nothing. His imagination worked best at twisting the given facts and then topping them up with a unique brand of exquisite perversion.

Saadat did try to improve his lot after his father died in 1930 — maybe he realized the loneliness of his mother, whom he had never given a cause to hold her head high in the family. But his attempt to resume education in Aligarh was stopped short due to pleurisy. The real turning point came when he was around 21. That was when he met Bari Aligue.

Bari was a progressive activist who was known as a scholar and polemic writer among the newly budding leftist lobby of India (it was just two years before the official commencement of the Progressive Writers movement). Meeting Bari brought Saadat face to face with his own creative self for the first time: the subversive literature he had read was something to be proud of, and the values he had dishonored were hardly worth keeping. He was good. If only he knew it, he could also show it to others. Within a few months of meeting his new friend, Saadat had translated a novel by Victor Hugo into chaste Urdu as well as joining the editorial staff of Masawat. Before he was 24 he had four complete publications to his credit, including an anthology of original short stories. All these works were wrought with explicit socialist messages, and his short stories were outrageously polemical. The subtitle described the whole book as a collection of “some thought-provoking short stories.” Today they appear neither thought provoking nor much of short stories, but mainly because he himself raised the standards of Urdu fiction dramatically higher within the next few years.

In 1937, he moved to Bombay to edit Musawwir, a monthly film magazine. There at last he found himself at home in a hedonistic film industry. The incomprehensible galaxy of artists, whores and con men was all he needed to complete his study of the human nature. There was also promise of good money, something he had never really known before. The stories he wrote from Bombay spread his name, as the most original writer, when they were published in literary magazines. It was like an overnight reversal of fortune: he was a major celebrity of the largest British colony while still in his twenties! However, it took a few years before the money could start pouring in, so that when he married around 1939 he still had to take a loan even to get his haircut. His mother died soon afterwards. His stepbrothers now finally embraced him as their dear own flesh. He sadly noticed that the recognition form the family had come just when he was no longer in need of it.

Meanwhile, a lifetime of rejection and want of love had driven him alarmingly restless at heart. There was ample evidence of a chronic abnormal anxiety, something his biographers have almost completely overlooked. “As a human, I have several shortcomings,” he wrote to his friend Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. “And I am always scared lest these give birth to hatred for me in others’ hearts.” Then he explained that he didn’t just mean gambling or drinking, which he belittled as “mere physical flaws… I have spiritual shortcomings and mental flaws, of which I don’t find enough peace in my heart to give you details.” He lived under a perpetual fear that all who were close to him either hated him already or would begin to do that soon when they get to know him better. Obviously he was a difficult person, always giving and taking offence over the smallest imaginable issues, and within a few years he secured and lost several jobs with the film companies of Bombay. His brief but formative period at All India Radio, Delhi (1941 — 1942) also ended upon a quibble with the poet N. M. Rashid, the director at that time. Incidentally, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as his return to Bombay in 1942 marked the beginning of the days of his glory.

The film studios at last recognized his gift for story writing (he had already worked on several film scripts, including Apni Nagariya [1939]). Now he found himself working on such films as Aatth Din, and with like minded people like Ashok Kumar. Those were the days he later recounted nostalgically as he said, “In Bombay I earned and spent not just thousands but hundreds of thousands of rupees.” These may be exaggerated figures (he remained an unscrupulous liar till the end), but his capacity for indiscrete spending could hardly be exaggerated. An enormous intake of alcohol wasn’t the only factor. Again, it was a perpetual anxiety that compelled him to burn his money under different excuses. Alcohol and needy friends were just two of them, but if they hadn’t been there he would have probably invented others.

The trials of his stories that began from the early forties only helped increase his anxiety. He had always been something of a split personality, and often saw a difference between Saadat Hasan, the hopeless dropout, and Manto, the genius. Through this second personality he could experience everything he had missed in his earlier days: recognition, love and, above all, respect. His pride was seriously hurt when the very best samples of his craft, “Kali Shalwar,” “Dhuan” (1943) and “Bu” (1945) were tried under Section 292 of the Indian Penal Court. Ironically, these stories were some of the best that Manto had written so far. Even though he was acquitted in the end in each of these cases, he could neither forgive nor forget the humiliation of being tried in the same category as exhibitionists who showed private parts to little girls on the street. His wit became shaded with an obvious cynicism as he became even more laid back in private life, endlessly eulogizing himself as the best fiction writer of India. None of his pessimism, however, could ever find a way into his stories. Apparently his frail psyche was more immune than Kafka or Camus.

Manto had come a long way from his first anthology. He had given up hardcore communism as a literary manifesto, and his new creed was a defiance of all labeling — whether based on religion, class or ideology. “A human being is just a human being first and last,” he repeated this idea in endless variations. He was almost too reluctant even to discriminate among the good and the bad. His experimentation with sexual themes could have been in part motivated by the licentious atmosphere of the film industry, or by the new experience of his own married life, but ideologically it was also the most powerful tool to celebrate the natural humanness of the human being. “Dhuan” (Smoke), for instance could easily be seen as the coming of age in Urdu fiction. It was a unique representation of the first arousal of sexuality in a pre-teen boy and none among the contemporaries or precursors of Manto could have boasted of the same mastery over symbolism.

There were many reasons for him to identify with Ghalib, the subject of his greatest film. As the paperwork started sometime before the Partition, Manto became increasingly obsessed with the similarities between the great nineteenth century poet and himself. Like him, Ghalib too was a notorious alcoholic, gambler and spendthrift. And also, Ghalib was denied his well-deserved literary status for a long time, tried for a petty crime and sent to prison.

Manto could not see the completion of Ghalib, as he migrated to Pakistan in early 1948. A producer from Lahore had already approached him with a generous offer. One day, when Manto’s best friend Shyam (the famous music director) said to him, “Pakistan would be safer for you. Who knows if I kill you some day?” Manto just packed his luggage and boarded a steamer. The same restlessness had made him walk out of opportunities all his life. But always he had found better ones waiting ahead. Not this time. Migrating to Pakistan was his last anxious mistake, and a fatal one.

Lahore, as he now discovered, was not the same city as he remembered from the pre-independence days. The whole society was moving towards a hypocritical farce of religiosity, and some of the writings from his Pakistan period serve as the most lucid critique of that transition. A good sample can be found in the anthologyTalkh, Tursh Aur Shirin. What affected him in the most direct manner was the death of the Lahore film industry. The offer he had received earlier turned out to be a little more than a hoax. On the other hand, in India, his film Ghalib(1948) turned out a commercial blockbuster and even grabbed the first National Award. Independent India was opening up to vast opportunities in the film industry. Sadly, Manto had just left it at the wrong moment. Back here in Pakistan, the money he had brought from Bombay was all gone within a few months.

That was the beginning of the end. Manto now turned to fiction writing as the only means of livelihood. The Pakistan years of Manto were productive in the sense that he wrote a lot of stories, including more masterpieces than before. Also, in him the Pakistani society found the best chronicler of its early years. But the experiment of migration was a disaster for Manto in all other ways.

The first story he wrote after a long time was “Tthanda Ghosht”, arguably the best piece of imaginative prose written about the communal violence of 1947. It is comparable only with Manto’s own anthology Siyah Hashiyay, a light veined treatment of the psychology of communal violence through a series of small anecdotes. “Tthanda Gosht” was published in a literary magazine in March 1949, and the magazine was immediately banned. This time the District Court sentenced him to three months of rigorous imprisonment and a penalty of Rs.300. The High Court revoked the sentence of imprisonment but retained penalty.

Two other stories of Manto were also charged for obscenity by the federal government, namely “Khol Do,” a masterpiece on violence against women, and “Ooper, Neechay Aur Darmian,” a minor farcical essay about married couples’ attitude towards sex. That brought the total of Manto’s condemned stories to six, bringing him a name as a writer on sexuality. In the end it has hampered a comprehensive appreciation of his work both by his opponents and his supporters, as both sides keep their focus on proving or disproving the charges of obscenity. The truth is that the collected works of Manto capture a far wider range of issues, and sexuality is just one of them. The major concern of Manto is the spark of life in the human being, the creative force of individuality that urges all kind of people to break free of the exterior constraints at least once and respond to the unique inner voices of their souls. “It doesn’t touch my heart at all if a woman among my neighbors gets beaten by her husband everyday and still polishes his shoes,” he once said. “But when a woman in the neighborhood quarrels with her husband, threatens him that she will commit suicide, and then goes out to watch a movie while I see her husband writhing in mental agony for two hours, then that is what makes me sympathetic to both of them.”

But he could not be equally sympathetic to himself. The twenty-five rupees he charged his publishers for each story were not a poor amount in those days, given the prolific talent of Manto (he could write a story almost every day!). But his lifelong anxiety now flashed out to possess him completely until he began to find a masochistic pleasure in degrading himself. He would spend almost his entire daily income on alcohol and then borrow money form friends to buy more liquor. Of course, such loans were never returned. Safia, his wife, made a desperate attempt to get him off the intoxication. The treatment was available only in mental hospital, or madhouse, and being sent there by his own wife was felt by Manto as the cruelest blow the fate had ever dealt him. Of course, it provided him material for the story that is now regarded by many as his magnum opus: “Toba Tek Singh.” The story is set in a mental hospital where some patients believe themselves to be famous political leaders of the day. Some of the passages truly read like an early experiment in magical realism.

The treatment didn’t help him in any other way. All changes in his personal habits were towards the worse. He still had little to spare for his family (which included three daughters since his firstborn son died in infancy in 1941), and eventually he had to rely on the permanent support of his in-laws. By that time he had become a complete emotional wreck, whose standard autographs were his own obituaries, usually reading something like, “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto, buried under tons of mud and still wondering whether he is a greater storywriter or God?” Ghalib had also anticipated his own death by writing his own epitaphs, although that was in his old age. And just like Ghalib, Manto too remained a prophet of hope right up to his death. If he was suffering at the hands of outrageous fortune it was his own problem. He hated to expand it into a question of universal import. The despair was his own, to be suffered by him, and not to be passed on to the posterity. For the latter, he only left his faith in the nobility of the human being, a faith he preserved and passed on even after losing all faith in his own self.

On the fine winter morning of 18 January 1955, Saadat Hasan Manto found himself bleeding through the nose. An ambulance was called to take him to the emergency. The onlookers later narrated that he asked for a drop of liquor just before his stretcher was loaded onto the van.

Maybe he didn’t, but in any case it was difficult for others to believe that he could die without making that his last wish. The doctor who greeted him at the hospital turned to his companions and said, “You have brought him to the wrong place. You should have taken him to the graveyard.” Establishing the cause of death wasn’t a matter of medical expertise but simple common sense. Someone living on more than a full bottle of undiluted bootleg liquor and two slices of bread everyday for many years could hardly expire of anything but liver cirrhosis, or swelling.

He was not even 43 when he died and yet by his own standard the moment had arrived rather too late. He had seen everything there was to be seen in the world — and told others as well, in a manner that made him the greatest storyteller ever born in South Asia. Moreover, he had seen things he was hardly willing to share with anyone — unsurpassed popularity, unmatched hatred, undeserved humiliation, and a household lately turned into a living hell. When he raced forward to preempt his own death nobody was certain where to place him in respect to that delicate cutting line that always exists between suicide and martyrdom. He had suffered too much, and too gracefully, to be denied the status of a martyr.


The Documentary on Manto by Geo TV – ( 3 parts )

Manto ki Duniya – 1

Manto ki Duniya – 2

Manto ki Duniya – 3


Sources –

The Republic of Rumi by Khurram Ali Shafique

Geo TV Pakistan.

Dawn News Pakistan

White star Photography


Letters to Uncle Sam – Saadat Hasan Manto

Between 1951 and 1954, Saadat Hasan Manto wrote nine letters to Uncle Sam (America).  Only the first letter was written in 1951. The rest all seem to have been written in 1954. I say ‘seem to have been written’ because three of them bear no date. The last one is dated 26 April 1954. These letters not only tell us a good deal about Manto and his concerns but even more about his political views. The man who speaks through these letters is well informed about international affairs and critical of American policy. We also see Manto’s lighter side at play, enlivened by his caustic, at times savage, wit. We also learn a good deal about his friends and foes. He makes fun of Pakistani communists whom he always considered somewhat fake because they looked for a signal from their political gurus abroad before taking a position on any issue. A man with the independent temperament of Manto found such conduct pathetic and made no bones about it.

Why did Manto write the letters ?

It was a Satan’s self-declared disciple Uncle Sam wanted to recruit. The US interest in Manto has a background. Manto once ridiculed the USSR. This invoked US interest in Manto. The Americans must have thought they could recruit Manto on their side in the cultural Cold War.

It all took place in 1951. The United States, in a bid to increase its influence in Pakistan after the refusal by Pakistan to send troops to Korea, had begun to find sympathisers in Pakistan’s political, social and literary circles. An air-conditioned USIS (United States Information Service) library was set up on Lahore’s The Mall.

An US official, Mr. Smith, along with a Pakistani USIS staffer, arrived at Manto’s flat one day. Smith requested Manto to write something for the USIS. Manto replied that he was an Urdu writer and did not write in English. Smith said the articles would be published in Urdu. Manto replied he would only write what he wished to write. Smith had no problem with that. On the question of money, Smith said the USIS would pay Rs 500 per piece. Manto refused point-blank, insisting he would take no more than Rs 200. In the end, a compromise was struck at Rs 300.

A few days later, Manto made a lively entry at the USIS. He handed down an envelope. It was passed on to Mr. Withus, the senior officer at the USIS. Withus was flabbergasted. The envelope had Manto’s ‘First letter to Uncle Sam’. In his first letter, Manto begins with a note of rancour over the absurdity of the Partition, (de-)development in post-colonial Pakistan and US role in these affairs:


First Letter to Uncle Sam

31 Laxmi Mansions,
Hall Road,

16 December 1951

Dear Uncle,


This letter comes to you from your Pakistani nephew whom you do not know, nor does anyone else in your land of seven freedoms.

You should know why my country, sliced away from India, came into being and gained independence, which is why I am taking the liberty of writing to you. Like my country, I too have become independent and in exactly the same way. Uncle, I will not labour the point since an all-knowing seer like you can well imagine the freedom a bird whose wings have been clipped can enjoy.

My name is Saadat Hasan Manto and I was born in a place that is now in India. My mother is buried there. My father is buried there. My first-born is also resting in that bit of earth. However, that place is no longer my country. My country now is Pakistan which I had only seen five or six times before as a British subject.

I used to be the All India’s Great Short Story Writer. Now I am Pakistan’s Great Short Story Writer. Several collections of my stories have been published and the people respect me. In undivided India, I was tried thrice, in Pakistan so far once. But then Pakistan is still young.1

The government of the British considered my writings pornographic. My own government has the same opinion. The government of the British let me off but I do not expect my own government to do so. A lower court sentenced me to three months hard labour and a Rs 300 fine. My appeal to the higher court won me an acquittal but my government believes that justice has not been done and so it has now filed an appeal in the High Court, praying that the judgment acquitting me be quashed and I be punished. We will have to see what the High Court decides.

My country is not your country which I regret. If the High Court were to punish me, there is no newspaper in my country that would print my picture or the details of all my trial.

My country is poor. It has no art paper, nor proper printing presses. I am living evidence of this poverty. You will not believe it, uncle, but despite being the author of twenty-two books, I do not have my own house to live in. And you will be astonished to know that I have no means of getting myself from one place to the other. I neither have a Packard nor a Dodge; I do not even have a used car.

If I need to go somewhere, I rent a bike. If a piece of mine appears in a newspaper and I earn twenty to twenty-five rupees at the rate of seven rupees a column, I hire a tonga and go buy locally distilled whiskey. Had this whiskey been distilled in your country, you would have destroyed that distillery with an atom bomb because it is the sort of stuff guaranteed to send its user to kingdom come within one year.

But I am digressing. All I really wanted to do was to convey my good wishes to brother Erskine Caldwell. You will no doubt recall that you tried him for his novel ‘God’s Little Acre’ on the same charge that I have faced here: pornography.

Believe me, uncle, when I heard that this novel was tried on an obscenity charge in the land of seven freedoms, I was extremely surprised. In your country, after all, everything is divested of its outer covering so that it can be displayed in the show window, be it fresh fruit or woman, machine or animal, book or calendar. You are the king of bare things so I am at a loss to understand, uncle, why you tried brother Erskine Caldwell.

Had it not been for my quick reading of the court judgment I would have drunk myself to death by downing large quantities of our locally distilled whiskey because of the shock I received when I came to know of the Caldwell case. In a way, it was unfortunate that my country missed an opportunity to rid itself of a man like me, but then had I croaked, I would not have been writing to you, uncle. I am dutiful by nature. I love my country. In a few days, by the Grace of God I will die and if I do not kill myself, I will die anyway because where flour sells at the price at which it sells here, only a shamefaced person can complete his ordained time on earth.

So, I read the Caldwell judgment and decided not to drink myself to death with large quantities of the local hooch. Uncle, out there in your country, everything has an artificial façade but the judge who acquitted brother Erskine was certainly without such a façade. If this judge – I’m sorry I don’t know his name – is alive, kindly convey my respectful regards to him.

The last lines of his judgment point to the intellectual reach of his mind. He writes: “I personally feel that if such books were suppressed, it would create an unnecessary sense of curiosity among people which could induce them to seek salaciousness, though that is not the purpose of this book. I am absolutely certain that the author has chosen to write truthfully about a certain segment of American society. It is my opinion that truth is always consistent with literature and should be so declared.”

That is what I told the court that sentenced me, but it went ahead anyway and gave me three months in prison with hard labour and a fine of three hundred rupees. My judge thought that truth and literature should be kept far apart. Everyone has his opinion.

I am ready to serve my three-month term but this fine of three hundred rupees I am unable to pay. Uncle, you do not know that I am poor. Hard work I am used to, but money I am unused to. I am about thirty-nine and all my life I have worked hard. Just think about it. Despite being such a famous writer, I have no Packard.

I am poor because my country is poor. Two meals a day I can somehow manage but many of my brothers are not so fortunate.

My country is poor, but why is it ignorant? I am sure, uncle, you know why because you and your brother John Bull together are a subject I do not want to touch because it will not be exactly music to your ears. Since I write to you as a respectful youngster, I should remain that way from start to finish.

You will certainly ask me out of astonishment why my country is poor when it boasts of so many Packards, Buicks and Max Factor cosmetics. That is indeed so, uncle, but I will not answer your question because if you look into your heart, you will find the answer there (unless you have had your heart taken out by one of your brilliant surgeons).

That section of my country’s population which rides in Packards and Buicks is really not of my country. Where poor people like me and those even poorer live, that is my country.

These are bitter things, but there is a shortage of sugar here otherwise I would have coated my words appropriately. But what of it! Recently, I read Evelyn Waugh’s book ‘The Loved One’. He of course comes from the country of your friends. Believe me, I was so impressed by that book that I sat down to write to you.

I was always convinced of the individual genius found in your part of the world but after reading this book, I have become a fan of his for life. What a performance, I say! Some truly vibrant people do indeed live out there.

Evelyn Waugh tells us that in your California, the dead can be beautified and there are large organisations that undertake the task. No matter how unattractive the dear departed in life, after death he can be given the look desired. There are forms you fill where you are asked to indicate your preference. The excellence of the finished product is guaranteed. The dead can be beautified to the extent desired, as long as you pay the price. There are experts who can perform this delicate task to perfection. The jaw of the loved one can be operated upon and a beatific smile implanted on the face. The eyes can be lit up and the forehead can be made to appear luminous. And all this work is done so marvellously that it can befool the two angels who are assigned to do a reckoning once a person is in the grave.

Uncle, by God you people are matchless.

One had heard of the living being operated on and beautified with the help of plastic surgery – there was much talk of it here – but one had not heard that the dead can be beautified as well.

Recently one of your citizens was here and some friends introduced me to him. By then I had read brother Evelyn Waugh’s book and I read an Urdu couplet to your countryman that he did not follow. However, the fact is, uncle, that we have so distorted our faces that they have become unrecognisable, even to us. And there we have you who can even make the dead look more beautiful than they ever were in life. The truth is that only you have a right to live on this earth: the rest of us are wasting our time.

Our great Urdu poet Ghalib wrote about a hundred years ago:

If disgrace after death was to be my fate,

I should have met my end through drowning

It would have spared me a funeral and no headstone would have marked my last resting place

Ghalib was not afraid of being disgraced while he was alive because from beginning to end that remained his lot. What he feared was disgrace after death. He was a graceful man and not only was he afraid of what would happen after he died, he was certain what would happen to him after he was gone. And that is why he expressed a wish to meet his end through drowning so that he should neither have funeral nor grave.

How I wish he had been born in your country. He would have been carried to his grave with great fanfare and over his resting place a skyscraper would have been built. Or were his own wish to be granted, his dead body would have been placed in a pool of glass and people would have gone to view it as they go to a zoo.

Brother Evelyn Waugh writes that not only are there in your country establishments that can beautify dead humans but dead animals as well. If a dog loses its tail in an accident, he can have a new one.

Whatever physical defects the dead one had in life are duly repaired after death. He is then buried ceremoniously and floral wreaths are placed on his grave. Every year on the pet’s death anniversary, a card is sent to the owner with an inscription that reads something like this: In paradise, your Tammy (or Jeffie) is wagging his tail (or his ears) while thinking of you.

What it adds up to is that your dogs are better off than us. Die here today, you are forgotten tomorrow. If someone in the family dies, it is a disaster for those left behind who often can be heard wailing, “Why did this wretch die? I should’ve gone instead.” The truth is, uncle, that we neither know how to live nor how to die.

I heard of one of your citizens who wasn’t sure what sort of a funeral he would be given, so he staged a grand “funeral” for himself while he was very much alive. He deserved that certainly because he had lived a stylish and opulent life where nothing happened unless he wished it to. He wanted to rule out the possibility of things not being done right at his funeral; as such, he was justified in personally observing his last rites while alive. What happens after death is neither here nor there.

I have just seen the new issue of ‘Life’ (5 November 1951, international edition) and learnt of a most instructive facet of American life. Spread across two pages is an account of the funeral of the greatest gangster of your country. I saw a picture of Willie Moretti (may his soul rest in peace) and his magnificent home which he had recently sold for $55,000. I also viewed his five-acre estate where he wanted to live in peace, away from the distractions of the world. There was also a picture of his, eyes closed, lying in his bed, quite dead. There were also pictures of his $5,000 casket and his funeral procession made up of seventy-five cars. God is my witness, it brought tears to my eyes.

May there be dust in my mouth, but in case you were to die, may you have a grander farewell than Willie Morrity. This is the ardent prayer of a poor Pakistani writer who doesn’t even have a cycle to ride on. May I beg you that like the more farsighted ones in your country, you should make arrangements to witness your funeral while you are alive. You can’t leave it to others; they can always make mistakes, being fallible. It is possible that your physical appearance may not receive the attention it deserves after you have passed away. It is also possible that you may already have witnessed your funeral by the time this letter reaches you. I say this because you are not only wiser, you are also my uncle.

Convey my good wishes to brother Erskine Caldwell and to the judge who acquitted him of the pornography charge. If I have caused you offense, I beg your forgiveness. With the utmost respect,

Your poor nephew

Saadat Hasan Manto,

Resident of Pakistan


Manto dropped in a few days later and asked if he should bring another article. He was told by the USIS staff to allow time for the first one to appear. He never asked for money, nor did he enquire about the first article.

Sources –

The letter has been translated from Urdu by – Khalid Hasan ( Letters to Uncle Sam by Saadat Hasan Manto, Alhamra, Islamabad, ISBN969-516-047-6 )

Letters to Uncle Sam – Saadat Hasan Manto

In a series of Open Letters to Uncle Sam (America) he marked his displeasure at the state of world politics and Pakistan’s Security Pact with the US. He displayed a remarkable prescience as expressed in this extract from his ‘Third Letter to uncle Sam’, written shortly before his death:

”Another thing I would want from you would be a tiny, teeny weeny atom bomb because for long I have wished to perform a certain good deed. You will naturally want to know what.

You have done many good deeds yourself and continue to do them. You decimated Hiroshima, you turned Nagasaki into smoke and dust and you caused several thousand children to be born in Japan. Each to his own. All I want you to do is to dispatch me some dry cleaners. It is like this. Out there, many Mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the after-drops of urine as they resume their walk. This they do in full public view. All I want is that the moment such a person appears, I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the Mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding.

As for your military pact with us, it is remarkable and should be maintained. You should sign something similar with India. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us, the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is a Kashmiri, so you should send him a gun which should go off when it is placed in the sun. I am a Kashmiri too, but a Muslim which is why I have asked for a tiny atom bomb for myself.

One more thing. We can’t seem able to draft a constitution. Do kindly ship us some experts because while a nation can manage without a national anthem, it cannot do without a constitution, unless such is your wish.

One more thing. As soon as you get this letter, send me a shipload of American matchsticks. The matchsticks manufactured here have to be lit with the help of Iranian-made matchsticks. And after you have used half the box, the rest are unusable unless you take help from matches made in Russia which behave more like firecrackers than matches.”

More on Manto –

– Hindi and Urdu by Saadat Hasan Manto

– What is Manto?

Sources –

Manto and ‘1947’ by Tariq Ali

Khalid Hasan, ‘Sadat Hasan Manto: Not of Blessed Memory’, Annual of Urdu Studies, 4, 1984, P.85

Hindi and Urdu by Saadat Hasan Manto

The Hindi-Urdu dispute has been raging for some time now. Maulvi Abdul Haq Sahib, Dr. Tara Singh, and Mahatma Gandhi know what there is to know about this dispute. For me, though, it has so far remained incomprehensible. Try as hard as I might, I just haven’t been able to understand. Why are Hindus wasting their time supporting Hindi, and why are Muslims so beside themselves over the preservation of Urdu? A language is not made, it makes itself. And no amount of human effort can ever kill a language. When I tried to write something about this current hot issue, I ended up with the following conversation:

Munshi Narain Parshad: Iqbal Sahib, are you going to drink this soda water?

Mirza Muhammad Iqbal: Yes, I am.

Munshi: Why don’t you drink lemon?

Iqbal: No particular reason. I just like soda water. At our house, everyone likes to drink it.

Munshi: In other words, you hate lemon.

Iqbal: Oh, not at all. Why would I hate it, Munshi Narain Parshad? Since everyone at home drinks soda water, Iíve sort of grown accustomed to it. That’s all. But if you ask me, actually lemon tastes better than plain soda.

Munshi: That’s precisely why I was surprised that you would prefer something salty over something sweet. And lemon isn’t just sweet, it has a nice flavor. What do you think?

Iqbal: You ire absolutely right. But

Munshi: But what?

Iqbal: Nothing. I was just going to say that I’ll take soda.

Munshi: Same nonsense again. I’m not forcing you to drink poison, am I? Brother, what’s the difference between the two? Both bottles are made in the same factory after all. The same machine has poured water into them. If you take the sweetness and flavor out of the lemon, what’s left?

Iqbal: Just soda a kind of salty water

Munshi: Then, what’s the harm in drinking the lemon?

Iqbal: No harm at all.

Munshi: Then drink!

Iqbal: And what will you drink?

Munshi: I’ll send for another bottle.

Iqbal: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking plain soda?

Munshi: No … no…No harm.

Iqbal: So then, here, drink the soda water.

Munshi: And what will you drink?

Iqbal: I’ll get another bottle.

Munshi: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking lemon?

Iqbal: No … no…No harm. And what’s the harm in drinking soda?

Munshi: None at all.

Iqbal: The fact is, soda is rather good.

Munshi: But I think that lemon is rather good.

Iqbal: Perhaps, if you say so. Although I’ve heard all along from my elders that soda is rather good.

Munshi: Now what’s a person to make of this: I’ve heard all along from my elders that lemon is rather good.

Iqbal: But what’s your own opinion?

Munshi: And what’s yours?

Iqbal: My opinions … hum ….my opinion. My opinion is just this…. but why don’t you tell me your opinion?

Munshi: My opinions … hum…. my opinion is just this…. but why should I tell it first.

Iqbal: I don’t think we’ll get anywhere this way. Look, just put a lid on your glass. I’ll do the same. Then we’ll discuss the matter leisurely.

Munshi: No, we can’t do that. We’ve already popped the caps off the bottles. We’ll just have to drink. Come on; make up your mind, before all the fizz is gone. These drinks are worthless without the fizz.

Iqbal: I agree. And at least you do agree that there’s no real difference between lemon and soda.

Munshi: When did I ever say that? There’s plenty of difference. They’re as different as night and day. Lemon is sweet, flavorful, tart, three things more than soda. Soda only has fizz, and that’s so strong it just barges into the nose. By comparison, lemon is very tasty. One bottle and you feel fresh for hours. Generally soda water is for sick people. Besides, you’ve just admitted yourself that lemon tends to be tastier than soda.

Iqbal: Well that I did. But I never said that lemon is better than soda. Tasty doesn’t mean that a thing is also beneficial. Take achaar, its very tasty, but you already know about its harmful effects. The presence of sweetness and tartness doesn’t prove that something is good. If you consulted a doctor he would tell you the harm lemon does to the stomach. But soda, that’s something else. The thing is, it helps digestion.

Munshi: Look, we can settle the matter by mixing the two.

Iqbal: I have no objection to that.

Munshi: Well then, fill this glass halfway with soda.

Iqbal: Why don’t you fill half the glass with your lemon? I’ll pour my soda after that.

Munshi: Makes no sense. Why don’t you pour your soda first?

Iqbal: Because I want to drink soda-lemon mixed.

Munshi: And I want lemon-soda mixed.

Story- Saadat Hasan Manto                                  Translated by Muhammad Umar Memon


Sources –

Hindi aur Urdu – Manto-Numaa (Lahore: Sang-e-Mil Publications, 1990)

The Annual of Urdu Studies, No. 25

What is Manto?

Many years ago, as I was establishing my own literary credentials, a friend from my high school days asked me a rather puzzling question, as we stood eating ḥalīm with naans near the Punjab Universityís New Campus: Yaar, yeh Manto ka dakhla kyun band hai sharif gharon mein? (Dude, why is Mantoís entry blocked from the homes of decent folks?). Speechless, I tried to give him some probable reasons. The bottom line was that the decent folks he meant were hypocrites and Manto took it upon himself to denude the hypocrisy of our society and so on.

Over the years, from time to time, my friends words have haunted me as they have reverberated in my mind. Just as his question was inadequate, so did my answer fail to do justice to the idea of Manto.

Saadat Hasan Manto

What was Manto? An artiste? Simply a good writer? A postcolonial writer? A thinker? A rebel? An iconoclast? A cry in the wilderness? Our collective conscience? A troublemaker? Drunkard? Stylist? Visionary? An idea? A concept? A vision?

I am sure readers can add a few more appellations to the list above. We know he had nothing to show for academic achievements, but he managed to self-teach himself a few foreign languages and translate important literary texts from French and Russian.In his fiction he could be irreverent towards figures such as Gandhi, and in his nonfiction sketches towards Jinnah and his sister. Although the madness of Partition that he captured in his stories after 1947 has overshadowed his earlier output, serious readers know the wide scope of his writing and its quality.

He worked for literary and film magazines; he wrote plays for radio and stage; he wrote screenplays and was involved with the Bombay film scene; he rubbed shoulders with literary luminaries and had actors such as Ashok Kumar as friends; he could be sarcastic towards Nehru in his letter and get away with slighting Noor Jehan. He wrote long stories in pure realism in which character development is essential, as in Kali Shalvari he wrote short, short stories only a paragraph long, such as those included in Siyaah Haashiye; he wrote stories which are first rate satire, such as Toba Tek Singh; he wrote stories where the central character is a dog. He was accused of obscenity and tried in court before and after Partition, though each time he was acquitted. But the real point is this: At his anniversary it is important to ask, why does Manto matter? And if he does, at all, then which Manto? In order to be able to answer that we may perhaps look at the present state of our country, and how it got there. There is no doubt that our subservience to the U.S. interest in fighting Communism has cost pretty much everything. The visionary in Manto was able to see what no other writer could: the inevitable, logical alliance between the U.S. and the Muslim clergy. He clearly states in his quintessential Letters to Uncle Sam, (as mentioned in one of Ayesha Jalalís essays):

Regardless of the storm India is kicking up, you must sign a military agreement with Pakistan since you are seriously concerned about the stability of the world’s largest Islamic state. And why not. Our mullah is the best counter to Russian communism. Once military aid starts flowing, these mullahs are the first people you should arm. They would need American made rosaries and prayer-mats  Cutthroat razors and scissors should beat the top of the list, and also American hair coloring formulas. That will keep these chaps happily in toe [sic]. I think the only purpose of military aid is to arm these mullahs. I am your Pakistani nephew and can see through all your moves. Anyone can now become too clever by half, thanks to your style of politics. […] Once these mullahs are armed with American weapons […] the Soviet Union with its communist propaganda will have to close shop in this country. […] Mullahs, their hair trimmed with There is no evidence that Manto knew either French or Russian; most likely he translated these texts from American scissors, wearing pajamas stitched with American machines in conformity with the Sharia and possessing American made prayer mats too. Everyone would then quickly fall into line and read only your name on their rosaries.

Just as the Partition resulted from Britains systematic colonial policies of divide and rule, and the desire to create an Islamic buffer to counter a Soviet advance, Manto saw through the imperial policies of the U.S., which viewed Islamic radicalism as a trusted weapon to fight Communism without any regard for the future of the people who would be crushed by such an alliance. If our military leadership had developed any relationship with our indigenous literary culture and respected our own writers and intellectuals, as opposed to what the Westerners advised them, we might have been a different country. In other words, Manto saw through the smoke screen of the Marshall Plan where others failed.

The fact that the madness of Partition broke Manto’s heart is to reduce his fiction to the literal level. When he wrote about prostitutes and pimps and engaged with issues of greed, lust and hatred, he was almost always aware of the socio-economic dynamic. He understood that economic inequity caused misery and tragedy for people. What was it that made him fearless in his critique of his society, his country, and his compatriots? It’s
perhaps better that he drank himself to death because, if the state machinery did not get rid of him, the mullah madness would have put a bullet through his head. But even after his death so many decades ago, he refuses to die.

What makes him live on? His art? His empathy for the downtrodden? His hatred for mullahs and imperialism in his stories? The tenor of his craft? The register of his prose? I am tempted to say that more than anything else, his courage in seeing what it is necessary for a writer to see in the society he lives in and write it down in whatever form suits him. His intellect and moral clarity with regards to where he positions himself. Though the noted Hindi writer Rajendra Yadav has claimed that no other twentieth-century writer comes close to Manto when it comes to writing about marginal people, the best reason, perhaps, why Manto refuses to die is that he is not just a writer who wrote stories and satires, he had a vision that we overlooked at our own peril. Maybe we can still atone for our negligence!

Written by Moazzam Sheikh in the Annual of Urdu Studies Volume – 26.

Sources –

Letter to India: In Mantoís Spirit,î Economic and Political Weekly 37(44/45)
(2–15 Nov. 2002):4526–29 []. óEditor.Columns • 357

[Gratefully reproduced from The News International (Karachi) (Internet
Edition, Literati Section) 23 January 2011. Edited for the AUS.]

The above article was published in the The Annual of Urdu Studies, No. 26

Not by Mirza Ghalib – Few Couplets

Over the course of time, this ghazal has had attached to it an extremely well-known and popular apocryphal verse. I’m not sure how old the verse is, but the minimum figure is several decades. Here’s the verse:

“khudaa ke vaaste parda na kabah se uthaa vaaiz ( zaalim ) // kahiin aisaa na ho yaan bhii wohi kaafir sanam nikle ”

[ for the Lord’s sake, don’t lift the curtain from the Ka’bah, Preacher! // may it not somehow be that here too that same infidel idol would emerge]

In a letter written in 1858 to his friend who was given the responsibility of printing his Divan –

[ Brother Shihab ud-Din Khan, for the Lord’s sake, what have you and Hakim Ghulam Najaf Khan done to my divan?! These verses that you’ve sent– the Lord knows what son of a bitch [vald al-zanaa] has inserted them! The divan has been printed. If these verses are in the text, then they’re mine; and if they’re in the margins, then they’re not mine. In short, even if these verses would be found in the text, then consider that some accursed prostitutor-of-his-wife [zan-jalab] has scratched out the real poetry and and written in this trash. In short, whatever scoundrel is the author of these verses, curses on his father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather, back to the seventh generation of the bastards [vald al-haraam]! More than this, what can I write? ]

One more letter written in 1859 to his friend ( extracts )

I used the pen-name of Asad, otherwise I’ve been using only ‘Ghalib’. And don’t you look also at the style of the writing [tarz-e tahriir], and the path of the thought [ravish-e fikr]? My poetry– and so ‘ornamented, varnished, deceitful’ [muzakhraf]! This story is at an end.

Please note: this verse ( as written above ) is NOT by Ghalib. Even if you have heard it recited as such, even if in your heart you think it is, it’s just not. Ghalib published his own divan four times, and we do know what he composed, and this verse is not his. .

In fact I think Ghalib would have shuddered at the thought of having this verse attached to his name; see the two letters above in which he fiercely repudiates other second-rate verses that had been wrongly attributed to him. In the first letter he descends to obscene personal abuse of the offender who tampered with his poetry; in the second letter he reproachfully asks his friend Aram to look, in making such judgments, at the ‘style of the writing’ and the ‘path of the thought’.

Nevertheless, many people do think the verse is Ghalib’s, and they like it, and they want it to be his. People sometimes give me suspicious stares, or even quite dirty looks, if I say it’s not. Jagjit Singh included it in his sung versions for ‘Mirza Ghalib’ by Gulzar. One modern commentator, Yusuf Salim Chishti, not only inserts it into the ghazal (as the penultimate verse) without question, but actually discusses it at unusual length and considers it ‘the high point of the ghazal and one of Ghalib’s best verses’

Just for the record, here’s that one deliberately-omitted verse, which originally appeared in the manuscript version as an extra opening-verse preceding the present –

Ghalib did compose but chose not to publish in his divan –

” zaraa kar zor siine par kih tiir-e pur-sitam nikle // jo vuh nikle to dil nikle jo dil nikle to dam nikle ”

[please just put a bit of pressure on my breast, so that the tyranny-filled arrow would emerge // if that would emerge, then the heart would emerge; if the heart would emerge, then the breath/life would emerge].

I don’t blame Ghalib for omitting it; some of his unpublished verses are masterful, but this isn’t one of them.

Anyway, let’s take a moment to return to the implications of the Case of the Apocryphal Verse. There’s one more such widely quoted apocryphal verse that I know of: for discussion of it, see . And here’s a related, though more minor, instance: a Pakistani stamp that misquotes a verse – issued on Ghalib’s death anniversary in 1969, that includes this verse –  ” manzar ik bulandii par aur hum banaa sakte // arsh se idhar hotaa kaash-ke makaan apnaa”

By reading arsh se pare hotaa , the stamp destroys all the delights of idhar versus udhar . It also uses the ordinary spelling of kaash ki , so that the verse won’t readily scan; but that’s nothing compared to the loss of the meaning-creation that’s the chief charm of the verse.

Another famous verse which is attached to Ghalib –

Many people nowadays apparently attach to this ghazal another, apocryphal verse:

”chand tasviir-e butaan chand hasiinon ke kutuut // baad marne ke mere ghar se ye saamaan niklaa”

[some pictures of idols, some letters of beautiful ones // after dying, from my house this equipment/material emerged]

Please note that this verse is NOT by Ghalib. (I will refrain from going into a long tirade about how it doesn’t even sound like his, but still it certainly doesn’t.)

In all these cases, people obviously trusted their memory, and their knowledge of the verses through oral circulation, so implicitly that they felt no need to check the verses in a divan. One could certainly call this carelessness or sloppiness. But if we look at it more thoughtfully, isn’t it also kind of a perverse compliment to Ghalib, that people are so sure they know his poetry by heart– even when they don’t? They feel possessive about him, as English speakers do about Shakespeare– even when, in both cases, they mostly don’t read him very much, or very carefully. Ghalib might even be somewhat pleased by this admiring cultural embrace.

But if it’s an embrace that’s merely warm and fuzzy, and doesn’t include serious attention to the poetry on which he so prided himself, how deep would his pleasure be?

Really Ghalib has left us nothing except his poetry and his letters. To be represented primarily by his poetry, and secondarily by his letters, is a fate that he would gladly accept. But he would certainly demand to be represented only by his OWN poetry, and he would HATE to have the second-rate verses of others foisted upon him.

Sources -Frances W. Pritchett , S. R. Faruqi, Ralph Russell( The Oxford Ghalib), Anniual of Urdu Studies started by C. M. Naim, Shah Jemal Alam. All these are eminent scholars of Urdu language and poetry and they have spent their life time studying great poets like Mir and Ghalib.

The above opionion is not mine (though I have added a few things which I found suitable), but of those whom I have named, I have just collected the information and presented it to you.  There are many verses and examples, when I some time and if situation demands, I’ll post one more blog with more information.

I hope this has helped.  If you have any questions or would like to share your opinions, please comment below and I’ll try my best to answer.

Thank you.

Ali Muhammad Ali. @AliPoetry

Who is “The Best Lyricists” of all time?