Urdu’s arguably greatest writer Saadat Hasan Manto passed away 67 years ago today in Lahore, his body poisoned by alcohol, his art unrecognized by critics and his daring penalized by courts. Yet though he has come to be recognized belatedly in the 21st century by the government of the country he reluctantly adopted following the partition of India in 1947. Two biopics on his life have been made on either side of the subcontinental divide as he had no shortage of admirers among his own contemporaries. Apart from the more well-known poetic tribute to Manto titled Kon Hai Yeh Gustakh (Who Is This Audacious One) by Majeed Amjad, a lesser-known tribute to Manto was written by the Lyallpuri poet Ahmed Riaz under the title of Azeem Fankaar – Manto (Great Artist – Manto), which is included in Riaz’s lone – and sadly last – collection of poetry Mauj-e-Khoon (The Blood Wave) published in 1961. The ‘characters’ of this poem allude to the themes Manto himself wrote about.
Riaz too like Manto did not last long in independent Pakistan, passing away from tuberculosis in 1958, just three years after Manto himself. The poem can also be read as a tribute to Riaz himself since he put his poems to paper amid similar circumstances as the subject of the poem. In fact, the poem is being presented here in its original English translation not only on the death anniversary of Manto today but also as a way of commemorating Ahmed Riaz, since 2022 marks the birth centenary of this great worker-poet.
The universe, the battlefield of the people of tyranny
The guardian of dandies, friends of the city
The universe, the slave-girl of the lords of wealth
The guardian of the quarrelsome and the greedy.
A fashion of this world, the bargaining of chastities
The construction of the sanctuary from the blood of modesties
The beauty of curls, the style of bazaars
The puberty of youths, the expense of sorrow.
Life, the grave of dying desires
The tomb of stumbling hopes
Life, the autumn of defeated dreams
The black spring of bitter wishes.
In the shadow of the battlefield of this oppression
Between this world of pain and affliction
A sage in the name of life
A lunatic with the title of the world
Upon the eternal instrument of life
Kept praising the greatness of Man
Irrigated the garden with his tears
Kept brightening the portrait with hard work.
His art, the universe of the tablet and the pen
His art the beautiful reflection of the surroundings.