A new anthology on Saadat Hasan Manto, penned by the maverick’s friends, foes and family, inspects “Manto Saheb” beyond the usual, capturing the psychology of the much discussed figure.
“Manto Saheb: Friends and Enemies on the Great Maverick” has been translated by Vibha S. Chauhan and Khalid Alvi (Speaking Tiger/ 287 pages/ Rs 499). The offering has a common thread running through most of its 15 pieces — the abuses that the “Thanda Gosht” writer spewed, freely and with ease.
But, why was he foul-mouthed?
“Because this society abused him, foul-mouthed him, like it has done to lakhs and crores of other people” poet-critic and short story writer Ali Sardar Jafri — a contemporary of Manto in the world of literature — writes in his piece “The Foul-Mouthed One”.
Yet, Manto was armed against the society with his “large, restless eyes” that saw everything, and the teeth of his pen “ripped through society’s garments and unveiled deceit and hypocrisy”, as per Abu Saeed Qureshi, Manto’s childhood friend and the biographer behind “Manto: Sawaneh”.
“His inflexibility, bluntness and acrimony are a kind of protective armour with which he shields his internal tenderness. His attempt to demonstrate how he is completely different from everybody else is actually evidence of the fact that he is just like all of us.
“In truth, he is much more deeply wounded, more vulnerable, and more compassionate than any of us,” writer Krishan Chandar noted.
Manto’s impeccable characterisation — often finding genesis in bazaars and brothels — finds mention in many anecdotes that the book’s contributors recall.
“Manto was not wrong in representing the whole range of human emotions, including our bestiality, our hollow humanity and perversion,” wrote noted novelist and Manto’s contemporary at All India Radio, Upendranath Ashk, in his piece “Manto, My Enemy”, adding that Manto was never able to figure out who his pen must target.
Several others also argue that the pistol in Manto’s hand fired at many, but wounded none.
There’s no denying that Manto, who declared himself a “fraud of the top order”, was an alcoholic, with a contributor Ibrahim Jalees even terming alcohol as the most important thing in Manto’s life.
“..I am inclined to believe that, for Manto, life itself was a bottle of alcohol from which he kept drinking with great relish and kept distributing its intoxication in the form of stories,” Jalees wrote, adding that Manto was not the master of alcohol as he claimed, but it was the other way round.
The aficionado died on January 18, 1955, after several rounds to lunatic asylums and many more to hospitals.
“Manto Saheb”, while painting a comprehensive portrait of the Saheb, demystifies his life, more than his work.