On Manto’s selected short stories

A writer beyond boundaries of race, class or gender

Saadat Hassan Manto was a renowned Urdu language writer born in British India, whose name, even in the contemporary times, won’t require an exaggerated introduction, for such has been his legacy as a writer who tried his hands, and quite successfully, at almost all genres, be it drama writing, film writing, essay writing or short-story writing, the latter being his most admired skill.

Manto had a far-fetched vision. He thought way ahead of his time and it was for his daring ability to talk about taboo subjects that he faced court cases, which would often call for an explanation on the ‘obscenity and pornographic content’ present in his writings.

Toba Tek Singh is considered as one of his best works as a short-story writer, in which he describes the plight of a lunatic who is trapped in no-man’s-land between India and Pakistan, chronicling the insanity which had seized the nation at the time of what is usually referred to as ‘independence’.

While Toba Tek Singh happens to be just one of Manto’s countless works on the partition of the subcontinent, his in-depth understanding of sexual psychology is also something that cannot be eschewed. Manto addresses the natural sexual instincts that men and women share, without feeling shy or embarrassed, an example being his story Blouse which is explicit and dares to transgress the conservatism of those times.

It is in the post-independence era of the 1900s that Manto’s stories find their setting. As he talks of puberty and the changes it brings forth in a young adolescent, the reader is amazed at the bold and fearless account Manto puts forward. In those times, when sexual desires were hidden and repressed and were not talked of openly, Manto turned out courageous enough to refute the social norms, paving the way forward for a more accommodating and tolerant society.

The female characters Manto paints are perhaps the most alive and charming ones to exist in Urdu literature. Nesti from ‘License’ and Sarita from ‘Ten Rupees’, both are characters right out of real life. Whereas Nesti chooses love over comfort, Sarita too chooses a frivolous life over the grave issues life more often doles out. However, at the crux of both the characters lies the brutality and sexual desires of men who see women only as objects of affection, as these lines from ‘License’ elucidate.

“Go to the bazaar and find yourself a spot. You’re sure to make more money that way.”

And so, “She was given the license to sell her body.”

Manto gives his characters emotions and feelings so strong that they are hardly ever in control of their life’s situations.

To conclude, Manto was a prolific Indo-Pakistani writer who published 22 collections of short stories and numerous other writings during his career. He often wrote about societal issues that he felt hindered humanity.

A writer that everyone must read, Manto’s stories know no bounds of age or class. They are universal, authentic, and real.

Beenish Mahmood has a double Master's in English Literature with almost a decade of experience in magazine journalism. She is passionate about South Asian Fiction and environmental issues. She can be reached through email at address-beenishmhmd@gmail.com.

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