A prized addition to the studies on the celebrated writer
Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-55) is an icon of Urdu fiction. Urdu short story owes its worldwide recognition to him. The book in hand comprises an authentic collection of all of Manto’s works, duly edited and annotated by the compiler who is an eminent researcher and scholar associated with the Urdu department of Jamia Millia, New Delhi.
Manto was a victim of some kind of social ambivalence that converged on self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and mental obtuseness. His detractors branded him as vulgar and obscene and implicated him into a long-drawn legal battle questioning the moral validity of his writings. Without being deterred by their negative tactics, he remained firm in his commitment to exploring the stark realities of life offensive to the conservative taste of some self-styled purists. In the line of Freud, he sought to unravel the mysteries of sex not in an abstract, non-earthly manner but in a palpable, fleshy permutation signifying his deep concern for the socially disabled and depressed classes of society like petty wage-earners, pimps, and prostitutes.
For Manto man is neither an angel nor a devil, but a mix of both. His middle and lower middle class characters think, feel and act like human beings. Without feigning virtuosity, he was able to strike a rapport with his readers on some of the most vital socio-moral issues concerning them. As a realist, he was fully conscious of the yawning gap between appearance and reality; in fact, nothing vexed him more than a demonstrable duality in human behaviour at different levels of the social hierarchy.
He had an unjaundiced view of man’s faults and follies. As a literary artist, he treated vulgarity discreetly – without ever sounding vulgar in the process. Like James Joyce (Ulysses), D.H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterley’s Lover), and Erskine Caldwell (God’s Little Acre), in Manto’s work too, men and women of the age find their own restlessness accurately mirrored. And like them, Manto was also ‘raised above his own self by his sombre enthusiasm’.
Short story has a relatively constricted canvas of operation; with its unifocal plot nonetheless, it seeks to explore the abysses of human experience with utmost concentration. Hence it has gradually evolved into a vehicle of social criticism, as also of artistic expression. Complex psycho-social situations are tackled on its canvas with supreme excellence, by masters of the art globally. Manto’s short stories deal with the macabre dilemma of human existence. Defending the charge of pornography in a court of law once, he affirmed that the artist in him would not exult in portraying the carnal for its own sake, instead he (the artist) would subject the inanities of sex to a minute post-mortem with a view to spotlighting the curse and leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination because in his view the artist was neither a reformer nor a preacher.
Many of Manto’s characters are archetypes of human frailties. Readers are not unfamiliar with them either. The denouement in his short stories usually rests on a deviational curve conjoining the baser instincts of the characters and their innate yearning for regeneration.
Anis Nagi, in his book on Saadat Hassan Manto, opines that Manto discovered the contradictions leading to a cultural crisis in the life of the newly-emerging industrial towns, and that his realism rested on symbolism. Although Manto was not a formal Marxist yet he did recognize the class struggle which formed the nucleus of the Marxist theory. Thus he (Manto) was a true progressive.
The instant book is, as it were, a Mantorama of the celebrated writer’s fiction, drama, and other scattered prose writings. The prologue carries a detailed justification for the present work. Its lay out incorporates the original manuscript of a book, published in Manto’s life time or the one published posthumously but with the permission of its late author’s spouse Ms. Safia Manto, in a chronological or generic order.
The contents of the relevant books are in the same order as in the original manuscript with subsequent modifications by the author himself. Comparison of manuscripts with necessary annotations adds to the authenticity of the book in view. The compiler/editor has also attempted to correct the syntactical content of Manto’s works, where necessary besides inserting some preliminary explanations, a supplement, a few indices, and the bibliography.
Thus the collection brings out Manto’s writings, duly authenticated, in their entirety which in Urdu would read Poora aur Mustanad Manto. A prized addition to the Manto studies!
Edited and Compiled by: Shams-ul-Haq Usmani
Published by: Oxford University Press, Pakistan
Pages: 539; Price: Rs.1200/-