Saadat Hasan Manto has a good claim to be considered the greatest South Asian writer of the 20th century. In his work, written in Urdu, he incarnated the exuberance, the madness, the alcoholic delirium of his time, when the country he loved cleaved into two and set upon each other, brothers of all religions murdering their infant nephews and raping their sisters-in-law.
Ayesha Jalal on Manto:
What do you make of the resurgence of Manto’s popularity over the last year?
I don’t know whether ‘resurgence’ is the word for those of us who have seen a steady interest in Manto. Of course, the last year was important because it was the centenary and that may have brought in a new set of youngsters previously unexposed to him, but I do think he has caught the imagination of the youth over the years. What’s beautiful about Manto is that he hasn’t received state sponsorship in either India or Pakistan, but youngsters have independently found in him the attraction of him as a rebel writer, a contrarian. The more we are surrounded by hypocrisy, the more Manto becomes relevant. The hypocrisy of society really used to get to him.
The Pity of Partition
265 pp; Rs 599
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In the south of Pakistan, where Hindus have lately been kidnapped for ransom and their daughters forcibly converted to Islam, Hindu families have started fleeing to India in trains. As they waved to their relatives from train windows, possibly for the last time, many Hindu girls contorted their faces and wept. To the north, near an industrial city, policemen poured paint over Koranic verses inscribed on Ahmadi graves. This is because Ahmadis have no right to Koranic verses in Pakistan: the law classifies them as non-Muslims and the media regularly portrays them as treacherous deviants from the faith. Still higher up, in a scenic mountain valley, Shias were pulled out of buses, lined up and shot dead by gunmen who may or may not belong to one of Pakistan’s many banned sectarian outfits. And just two weeks ago, not far from the pristine capital, a mob of a hundred and fifty Muslims ran after a mentally handicapped, low-caste Christian girl, wanting to burn her alive for having held in her hand—this was the rumor in her neighborhood—a singed Islamic manual.
In the rest of the country, the end of Ramadan was celebrated with the usual fanfare, show of color, and generosity of spirit.