Prozac for Manto?
By A.H. Cemendtaur
Fifty-seven years after Saadat Hasan Manto’s youthful death, it is hard to do a psychiatric evaluation of the writer, but it won’t be a far-fetched guess that Manto had a hard time dealing with the demons inside him, and in fighting them he used the drug most easily and inexpensively available to him — alcohol -- but that drug was not the right medicine.
What if modern medicine was available to him? Could a Manto on Prozac still produce ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and ‘Khol Do’? It was hard not to think along those lines listening to the life events and works of Saadat Hasan Manto in a literary program arranged by the Pakistan American Democratic Forum (PADF) on Saturday, April 28, at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark. This year marks the centenary birthday of Manto.
Dr. Agha Saeed is the chief organizer of PADF’s literary events. The program on Manto was emceed by Dr. Ashraf Chaudhary; Ms. Sabahat Rafiq Sherwani, Ashraf Chaudhary, Dr. Abdul Jabbar, and Dr. Melanie Tanielian read scholarly papers on Manto and his writings.
In her speech Sabahat Rafiq said, “While Manto’s childhood was relatively normal, three aspects thereof remained ineradicably part of his persona, creating in him the rebel, the revolutionary, and the consummate attention and ovation seeker. Overachievement of his elder step-brother continued to overshadow him making him an instinctive attention seeker. Latent rebel in him was enthused by the great agitation following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. And the socialist-revolutionary facet of Manto’s personality was inspired by Bhagat Singh.”
Mr. Ashraf Chaudhary said, “The amazing thing about Manto is the process of graphically recording the dark side of human beings while artfully maintaining a neutral position. Manto does not pass judgment on his characters as he puts them to shame and lets them speak for themselves.”
Before discussing the short story ‘Khol Do’, Dr. Abdul Jabbar, read a comment Manto made about political leaders of his time.
“These (political) leaders are bugs which have slipped inside the joints of the charpoi of the nation. They should be removed with the boiling water of hatred. Young men in torn shirts must rise up, and with anger and determination in their broad chests throw down these leaders, in name only, who have climbed to the high places without our permission.”
Dr. Melanie Tanielian read her commentary on Manto’s short story, ‘Tithwal ka kutta’ (The dog of Tithwal). The story is about a dog that ends up in an Indian military camp close to the control line in Kashmir. The dog is given a tag and made an ‘Indian.’ But then later, the dog goes to the Pakistani camp, where he is declared to be a ‘Pakistani.’ At the end of the story the dog, running at the control line, gets killed by both the Pakistani and the Indian soldiers — the dog becomes a martyr. Tanielian said, “It is not the story of an indecisive dog. It is the story of the Kashmiri people who are living under the military occupation of two nations. Struck by the absurdity of human greed for conquest and possession, Manto (in his story) exposes the irrationality of conflict and violence by displaying the unnecessary sufferings of a dog.”
Listen to the audio of the program here: