The galvanisation of Manto

  • ‘You can’t keep a good man down’!

On the eve of Manto’s 64th death anniversary, a multitude of issues has surfaced which includes a banning on the screening of his movie in Pakistan made by Indian actor Nandita Das and a reversal of holding a festival by some theatre groups at the Alhamra Arts Council a few days ago.

Ironically, there are efforts abound to restrict one of Urdu’s most imminent short-story writer which in the modern era is hapless and pointless. Muzzling and censoring him has been attempted before, however, it hasn’t stopped anyone from accessing his works and reading them much to the consternation of his critics.

Such restrictions on a literary genius like Manto, irrespective of the controversial nature of his writings, will only amplify interest and galvanise the public into reading him more. Myopia has always remained a distinct practice, especially regarding Manto, leaving aside the post-centenary celebrations of his birth in 2012, which heralded into a biopic about his life and works by Sarmad Khoosat in late 2015 and then the release of a TV series in 2017.

The iconic writer’s popularity has never plateaued, however, after the centenary in 2012 it has risen exponentially, fascinated and rekindled the publics’ interest in his works. The detractors keep raising the rhetoric over his works as being ‘obscene’ and ‘vulgar’, but that hasn’t stagnated the keenness and interest of people to read those stories.

The current situation wouldn’t have amused or baffled Manto because throughout his life he was hounded, wounded and deemed morally abject for a society that was keen on keeping him sidelined. He wouldn’t have cared about being sidelined, that always triggered his literary genius to present stories, which were provocative and bemused the reader.

It is condemnable that a writer bestowed a Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 2012 by the state is now once again being confined and banned on the pretext of being vulgar and a threat to the moral fabric of society

Shrinking and contracting the space for Manto’s stories will be equivalent to a foolhardy exercise devoid of any sense. He thrived when he was subjugated, produced works that turned out to be classics and till now evoke curiosity and wonder. Neither are his works for everyone to read, those who want to read him will do it irrespective of being censored or banned.

Moral policing in a society polarised by opinions and influence will continue unabated and in case of Manto, such regressive measures will only elevate his status further considering that his works have reached as far as Croatia, in whose language his stories were translated in 2016. In a globalized and interconnected world, imposing bans on Manto is useless, the legacy will continue untarnished and continue to grow as the years go by.

At the time of Nandita Das’s release of her movie about Manto last September, there was a wave of euphoria and excitement; much akin to what was experienced in 2015 when Sarmad Khoosat’s biopic was released. As divisive a writer Manto was, he always firmly believed in the power of literature to portray the reality of a society as it truly is.

Manto always attracting fanatic elements and the unfettered hatred isn’t surprising, considering he was subjected and continuously victimized till his death. Even after his death, his short stories have retained an aura of controversy, which has always fascinated me. I have always wondered how someone who died over six decades ago, whose stories could evoke such incense amongst people and still retain a freshness that resonates till today.

The intelligentsia and peers that chided Manto were always jealous of his intellectual arrogance and snobbish attitude, they to no avail tried their utmost to corner and persecute him. All that antagonism towards Manto, the seclusion and persecution deprived him of his right to earn a living by writing, irrespective of how much may have been fueled by the man himself cannot be denied.

It is condemnable that a writer bestowed a Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 2012 by the state is now once again being confined and banned on the pretext of being vulgar and a threat to the moral fabric of society. Like always, time will be the best judge and we all are there to witness the unfolding of Manto’s galvanization.

As Manto said in his own words, “If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don’t even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that’s the job of dressmakers.”