Pakistan American Democratic ForumPays Tributes to Manto
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

‘The Cold War and Manto’s Aesthetics of Humanism’ and ‘The Anti-Colonial and Anti-Imperialist Patterns in Urdu Literature’ were the topics of a seminar held by the Literary Circle of the Pakistan American Democratic Forum (PADF) at the Chandni Restaurant on September 29, 2012.

Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, Syed Irfan Ahmed, Ashraf Chaudhry and Dr Agha Saeed spoke about the prolific Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto whose centennial was celebrated this year. Dr Naseem Akhtar Hines of the Urdu Department of Harvard University was the keynote speaker.

Saadat Hassan Manto (May 11, 1912 – January 18, 1955), was an iconic short story writer of Urdu. He is best known for his short stories "Bu" (Odour), "Khol Do" , "Thanda Gosht" and his magnum opus, "Toba Tek Singh."

Manto was also a film and radio scriptwriter and a journalist. He published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, and two collections of personal sketches. He was tried for obscenity six times, thrice before 1947 in United India and thrice after 1947 in Pakistan, but was never convicted. Some of his work has been translated in other languages.

Dr. Agha Saeed presented a paper on the work of Manto. It was read by Lisette Poole and Ijaz Syed and focused on Manto’s letters to Uncle Sam that reflected the writer’s insight into global politics and its bearing on the lives of the people living in the Third World. He speaks through these letters and appears well informed about international affairs and critical of American policy. Manto is prophetic in some of these letters.

The background to these letters is very interesting. The backdrop was perhaps the new economic, technological and cultural power assumed by the US in the wake of the Second World War, coupled with the beginning of a relationship between the Pakistani establishment and Washington, primarily aimed at combating Soviet interests.

In 1951, the US Information Services (USIS) Lahore office, approached Manto to write a short story for publication in an Urdu journal that they used to subsidize. The United States was trying to persuade Pakistan's generals, along with artists and writers, into joining its anti-Soviet crusade. Manto was offered Rs 500 for each story but he insisted on taking less money than was offered by the Americans and then submitted, in place of the promised short story, a caustic "Letter to Uncle Sam," mocking America's claims to moral superiority over the Soviet Union. The USIS killed the letter but Manto kept writing more letters to Uncle Sam, publishing nine altogether in local periodicals from 1951 to 1954.

In his first letter , Manto begins with a note of rancor over the Partition, developments in post-colonial Pakistan and US role in these affairs: “ My name is Saadat Hasan Manto and I was born in a place that is now in India… 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… My country is poor, but is it ignorant? I am sure, Uncle, you know why – 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.”

Dr Naseem Akhtar Hines

After Dr Agha Saeed’s paper, Dr Naseem Akhtar Hines of the Urdu Department of Harvard University, presented a well researched paper on the work of Manto whose topics ranged from 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 sub-continental male.

In dealing with these topics, Manto 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 humor. In his own words, "If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth."

Manto was a great writer. The world knows this now but his work has been acknowledged late. When he was alive he was not given recognition. It is now during his centenary this year that he is being feted on such a big scale. A little before his death, in 1955, Manto had worried — it is hard to tell whether he was being sarcastic as usual — that the Pakistani government might one day “find itself pleased with me and place a medal on my coffin, which would be a great insult to my commitment to what I believe in.” In August 2012, on the occasion of Pakistan’s sixty-fifth birthday, in the year of Manto’s hundredth, the Pakistani government did just that: after years of neglect and denial, it gave in to a Manto-esque irony and awarded him the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (“Sign of Distinction”) medal. On January 18, 2005, the fiftieth anniversary of his death, Manto was commemorated on a Pakistani postage stamp.

He left behind the following epitaph for himself that he wanted to mark his grave with:
“Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie buried all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short-story writing.... Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is greater short-story writer: God or He.” ― Saadat Hasan Manto

This epitaph was later replaced by his sister with the following: Saadat Hasan Manto ki qabr ki qabr he Yahan Manto jo aaj bhi ye samajhta hay kay wo loh-e-Jahan per harf-e-mukarar nahi tha.” “(This is) the grave of Saadat Hasan Manto’s grave who still believes his name was not to be written twice on the cosmic stone).” Ironically, here again Manto had to be disagreed with even in death.

Dr Naseem Akhtar Hines gets award

At the end of the seminar, Dr. Agha Saeed, President of the PADF Literary Circle, presented the Faiz Ahmed Faiz 2012 Award to Dr Naseem Akhtar Hines in recognition of her services to Urdu literature. Dr Naseem Akhtar Hines received her PhD in Asian languages and literature from the University of Washington in Seattle. Her dissertation focus was on Bhakti Literature. She received her undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Washington in Seattle and from Hyderabad, AP India. She taught at the University of Washington in Seattle, at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri where she established a Hindi department, at University of California in Berkeley and is currently at Harvard University and lives in Cambridge.


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