Saadat Hasan Manto’s distaste for dogmas

Hirsh Sawhney in TLS:

TLS_Sawhney_414479hThe Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto wrote penetrative short stories about India’s tragic Partition in 1947, an event defined by mass murder, rape and forced migration. Though Manto was born a Muslim, these stories are distinctly nonpartisan, indicting individuals from all of South Asia’s political groups and religious communities, and also British imperialists, whose hasty flight from the subcontinent had cataclysmic consequences. Some of these tales, such as the well-known “Toba Tek Singh”, use satire to convey the political absurdity of Partition, which turned friends and neighbours into enemies overnight, whereas stories such as “Cold Meat” tackle the brutality head-on. In this latter tale, which prompted the postcolonial Pakistani government to prosecute Manto for obscenity, a Sikh man returns home after several days of looting and murdering. The sight of his voluptuous wife arouses him, and he tries to make love to her. But he can’t get an erection. His sexually frustrated wife grows suspicious that he’s been cheating, and stabs him. While the man bleeds to death, he admits to having raped a girl during the chaos, but his confession doesn’t end there: it transpires that this beautiful girl was actually a corpse and that the man inadvertently committed an act of necrophilia.

Though Manto’s stark Partition stories are his most celebrated and frequently anthologized, he wrote prolifically and worked in a variety of genres during his short life. Between his birth in undivided India in 1912 and his death in 1955 in Pakistan, he churned out hundreds of short stories, radio plays and screenplays, and translated various European authors, including Victor Hugo, into Urdu. Towards the end of his life, disillusioned with Partition and in and out of a mental asylum for his alcoholism, he wrote a series of “Letters to Uncle Sam”, farcical yet astute essays about international politics and post-war neoimperialism.

More here.