Ayesha Jalal on her new book on Manto and Partition


“The pity of partition was not that the country had been divided into two, Independent India and Independent Pakistan; but it was that people had become slaves to bigotry, religious passions and barbarity,” says Ayesha Jalal, Professor of History at Tufts University, and grandniece of writer Saadat Hassan Manto. The Pakistani-American historian, who was in Mumbai last week, talks about her book, The Pity of Partition — Manto’s Life, Times and Work Across the India-Pakistan Divide, and other things in an interview with Sukhada Tatke.

Jalal: Manto has a vast corpus and it is difficult to identify one piece, whether a short story, a personality sketch, a radio drama or an essay, as my favourite. I have favourites in each of the different genres in which he wrote. In his short stories, my favourites among his pre-partition stories include  “Nya Qanun” “Hathak”, “Kali Shalwar” and “Babu Gopinath”. Among his partition stories, “Thanda Goosht”, “Sakina”, “Parihya Kalma”, and “Toba Tek Singh” stand out. My personal favourite among his personality sketches is “Murli ki Dhaun” on Shyam. I am an avid reader of his non-fiction, namely his essays, most of which are not translated into English. But one that has been a great personal favourite is his “Letters to Uncle Sam”. What I most enjoy about Manto’s writing is his extraordinary perceptiveness, uncanny ability to foresee the future and his uncompromising attitude towards social hypocrisy. Many of his characters are unforgettable precisely because of his amazing ability to probe the inner depths of the human psyche without being judgmental.

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