Sunday, May 20, 2007

Remembering Manto

Sadaat Hasan Manto was Urdu fiction's enfante terrible. There was a time when writers like Manto, Krishan Chandar, R S Bedi, Qurrat ul ain Haider, Ismat Chugtai, Intezar Hussain, among others, made Urdu fiction rocking--they were their generation's Raymond Carvers, Guy de Maupassants, Sartres, Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquezes (Though Manto was considered more like D H Lawrence for the choice of his themes).

I grew up reading their stories and novels (some of them had just passed away by that time), and took immmense pride in their work. It took me to a world that was not known to me and made me yearn for that universe, inspiring in me the desire to become an adult and enter that world. Sometimes that world was terrible, mad: Here I am referring to the stories of partition and the pain and savagery that it brought along.

Manto, at his time, was both loved and loathed but his legacy cannot be denied. Even today, his stories are avidly read and they still evoke a sense of wonder at his literary accomplishments.

Here's a piece in Tehelka remembering his life and work:

As an artist, Manto was hugely human, a piece of work in progress. From the early days of his writing career through the years in Bombay to his last days in Lahore, he remained an enigma. He wrote some spectacularly crisp short stories and some eminently forgettable ones. His pen-portraits, nothing less than path-breaking in Urdu literature, stand witness to the sweep of his might as an observer of human nature. Circumstances made Manto what he was as much as he interpreted them. A stern father who trampled on his restless childhood; a school that failed him thrice in the matriculation examination; a social circle that consisted of rebels and spoilt outcasts; well-settled step-brothers who reminded him of his poverty; an establishment that treated him as an embarrassment; a “progressive” peer group paralysed by petty personalities; a socio-legal setup that damaged his self-respect and sent him to the lunatic asylum; a royal addiction that helped him achieve his death wish in the face of consistent rejection — Manto had everything going against him. But, as he said when confronted on his predilection for controversial topics, “If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth.”

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