Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2012 > Saadat Hasan Manto in his Birth Centenary

Mainstream, VOL L, No 25, June 9, 2012

Saadat Hasan Manto in his Birth Centenary

Tuesday 12 June 2012, by Humra Quraishi

MUSINGS

As it is there are other idiotic things to view, so why watch those television serials? Well, it’s this simple rationale that keeps me away from the small screen, unless that can’t-help-it type of situation arises. And last week-end when I did switch it on, it was Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate …that particular episode where victims of child abuse went about offloading, baring, throwing out unsettling details of those encounters.

That noon I sat glued to the small screen, listening in rapt attention, gulping down each detail. Muttering and murmuring, at long last we Indians seem to have moved ahead, to have picked up the grit to throw out skeletons from those creaky cupboards. Ironically, though child abuse is rampant, so much so that most of us, if not all of us, have experienced those hellish situations at some stage of our childhood, yet a strange quiet holds sway. Those pretences, those third-class facades keep our lips sealed. We are not supposed to talk of these dark realities, for the sake of those so many sakes…

And as I switched off the idiot-box I didn’t really find it idiotic. I sat back with nostalgia overpowering. Sitting wide awake for hours at a stretch, going back on the years passed by, remembering those sketchy details hovering around those two definite incidents when I was abused as a very young child…though years, decades have passed by but that stack of painful memories continue to hurt to this day.
The tragedy of child abuse can be curbed only if and when there’s that definite atmosphere of openness to talk aloud. Not sure what happens in cold-blooded countries like Norway or in those foster care homes they run but in our Indian homes we can talk for hours on any of the ‘safe’ topics—food and more of it, clothes, and ah, yes, textbooks and all that they lie fitted with. But try moving from that supposed safe terrain and there’s trouble…parents rarely encourage children to offload, outpour, to tell all there’s to it. For some strange reason, emotions and all that’s connected with those are given a complete backseat. As though the hapless child is a mere robot, who is good enough to be bundled off to school or made to sit with those routine khaana peena bandobasts.

What about his or her emotions? That complete heap of emotions each one of us sits saddled with, which actually keeps us going ahead or not really? And till that day arrives—that is, the day when emotions hold sway and with that given utmost priority—we’d continue to see turbulences and more along the strain. This brings me to write about this rather apt one-liner from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel—Memories of My Melancholy Whores—‘sex is the consolation one has for not finding enough love!‘ Just about drill this lone sentence and the sentiments it carries along with it, into the heads and tails of all those ageing uncles and sex maniacs…in that big hope it brings about dents in those prowling and pouncing sessions!

YES, we Indians talk of the genius only when he or she is long dead. Departed. Lies well under the folds of the parched earth… And in keeping with this tendency, it didn’t really surprise and nor shock me that Saadat Hasan Manto has now suddenly sprung up, in this his centenary year. Now those talks of his genius, his writing prowess, and that stark idealism that he carried till his last day.

In fact, the government of the day ought to reach out to his family and maybe set up a museum in any of the three States he was asso-ciated with: his family’s base—Amritsar, Punjab; his place of work—Mumbai, Maharashtra; and the State from which he and his ancestors hailed—Srinagar, J&K.

I think it will be important if Manto’s ancestral place, Srinagar, comes up with a museum, where his books, letters and works are put up. What says Chief Minister Omar Abdullah?

Let me also try and fit in this conversation I’d had with Manto’s grand nephew, Abid Hasan Minto, when he had travelled to New Delhi, to attend a Progressive Writers’ Meet at the Jamia Millia Islamia. A senior advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, also the President of the National Workers’ Party of Pakistan (NWP) and together with those political frills, perhaps the biggest frill—the fact that he is a well-known writer and critic.

Before I‘d begun with the formal interview I had to ask him this crucial why: why did he—Abid Hasan Minto—spelt his surname differently. Why Minto and not Manto?

He’d detailed—“We’re ethnic Kashmiris. My father’s grandfather had shifted from Srinagar to Amritsar. In fact, my parents were born in Amritsar and my mother was the niece of Saifuddin Kichlu. I was born in Rawalpindi in 1932, though on the eve of Partition I was holidaying in Srinagar…

“Manto is a Kashmiri surname. Saadat Hasan Manto was my father’s paternal uncle. The surname Manto was too closely associated with him, with one particular individual. My father had dropped the surname, but I chose to take it with a change in spelling.…”

And with that the interview had taken off. And it was relaxing talking to this gentleman. Not looking embarrassed nor impatient, the conversation simply flowed, as he spoke out, even as I’d asked him those curiosity-laden queries: As a young man was he ever embarrassed to be associated with a controversial writer like Saadat Hasan Manto, whose name was linked to the various so-called ‘not done’ activities? Then, those rumours afloat that he’d befriended several prostitutes in Mumbai? Also those much in circulation theories that he was mentally fragile?

And this is what he’d told me: “Saadat Hasan Manto was my father’s paternal uncle/chacha. I’d got close to Saadat Hasan Manto when I came down to Lahore around 1953 to study law. He was already living there and I‘d interacted with him regularly for two years—till he died…. Regarding he being mentally fragile that’s just not true. No, not at all…he wasn’t mad, on the contrary very sharp and clever. It’s just that he was an alcoholic and in those days there were no de-addiction centres or clinics for alcoholics, and anybody with alcohol-related problems was dumped in an asylum. And regarding his name getting linked to prostitutes, I can say with great confidence that he was absolutely in love with his wife and greatly committed to her. They were happy with each other, happily married till the very end. She was also a Kashmiri like us and her family earlier shifted to Africa and later to Mumbai. And that’s where they had met and married.”

Then why those endless tales of his sexual flings with women of all shades?
“Maybe before his marriage, whilst he was living in Mumbai, he mixed around with all sections and all levels of people. Also there could be an underlying factor to it—he was taken up by the non-elite and those from the socially lower strata. But after his marriage he was devoted to his wife and except for those alcoholic-related offshoots, he suffered from no other disease or problems. Another fact stands out: he was severely affected when his only son died as a child. Though he had three daughters but that loss played havoc and he was in deep sorrow. No, it’s not the Partition chaos that affected him as much as the death of his little son. Somehow till the end he couldn’t get over it and it had left him completely devastated.”

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