Saadat Hasan Manto

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

Saadat Hasan Manto was a storyteller who took risks. Born on May 11, 1912, in Samrala, India, Manto was the son of Ghulam Hasan Manto, a judge, and Sardar, a widow. He wrote in the Urdu language, the primary language of Muslims in Pakistan and northern India and now the official language of Pakistan, but many of his works have been translated into other languages, including English. He wrote in many genres but is best known for his short stories. He chose controversial topics and was often on the receiving end of public disapproval. Two of his stories, ‘‘Colder than Ice’’ and ‘‘The Return,’’ were deemed indecent by Pakistani censors. He was twice prosecuted for obscenity, once in the early 1940s and again in 1948.

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Growing up, Manto was not a dedicated student; he later dropped out of college. When Manto was about twenty-one, his mentor, Bari Aligue, a writer who advocated socialism in India, introduced him to the editorial staff of Masawat, a weekly film publication. In 1937, Manto became an editor of the monthly film magazine Mysawwir.

Manto became part of the Progressive Writers’ Movement in Urdu literature. This movement began in 1935 with Indian students who were urging political and social revolution. Manto used a matterof- fact style to portray the problems of what he considered to be a materialistic world. Studying the works of nineteenth-century French and Russian realists, Manto portrayed the lower class as having sterling qualities that others lacked. One issue that appears in many of his stories is the mistreatment of women by men who are nevertheless thought of as respectable members of society.

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Another frequent topic in Manto’s writing is the suffering caused in 1947, when India was partitioned into India and Pakistan. ‘‘The Dog of Tithwal’’ is one of many of Manto’s stories that revolve around the partition and its aftermath. Manto knew something of the pain of partition himself. He was living in Bombay at the time, a city he loved. As a well-known Muslim, however, he was increasingly unhappy and uncomfortable in Hindu India and moved to Pakistan in 1948. He never felt at home in Pakistan and missed India, especially Bombay.

Some of Manto’s works include Aao, a collection of satirical plays; Manto ke Numainda Asfane, short stories translated as Kingdom’s End; and Manto Ke Mazameen, nonfiction writings. For most of his life, Manto found that earning money was difficult. A prolific writer, he sold individual stories to various publications. Some of these later became well known, such as ‘‘Toba Tek Singh,’’ a story about inmates in an insane asylum, and ‘‘Thanda Ghosht,’’ about the violence of 1947.

In addition to plays, radio scripts, and more than two hundred fifty short stories, Manto wrote film scripts. Among his prominent films were Eight Days, Chal Chal Re Naujawan and Mirza Ghalib. Manto also was known for his profiles of Indo- Pakistani film and music personalities.

Manto was married and had three daughters as well as a son who died as an infant. Manto himself died on January 18, 1955, when he was not yet forty-three years of age. The cause was diagnosed as cirrhosis of the liver. Manto was widely said to have knowingly drunk himself to death, and he wrote his obituary a year before his death.

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