(1912 – 1955)
Saadat Hasan Manto was born on 11 May 1912 in United Punjab’s Ludhiana district, India. He was the son of Ghulam Hasan Manto, a judge, and his second wife, Sardar. He was of Kashmiri descent and his ancestral home was in Koocha Wukeelan, Amritsar.
Manto had a difficult childhood and the hostile attitude of his stepbrothers and his father’s strict nature affected him immensely. He received a sparse education at home until the age of ten. He then attended a local Muslim school, then Government Muslim High School, Amritsar, and finally Aligarh Muslim University, which he left without taking a degree.
Manto began his career as a translator. This direction was influenced by his friend Abdul Bari Alig, a journalist and scriptwriter, who encouraged him to read both in English and Urdu and to write translations of Victor Hugo and Oscar Wilde into Urdu. He read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Zola, Chekov, Balzac and Maupassant and learned to master the craft of the short story from these writers.
His short story Tamasha was published in the first number of the journal Khulq in 1934. Further stories followed in the Aligarh Magazine Saqi and other literary journals. The first collection of his short stories, Atishparay was published in 1936. This was also the time around which Manto moved to Bombay and began a career in the film industry. He edited a monthly film magazine Musawwir and worked as a scriptwriter for companies such as Filmistan Limited and Bombay Talkies. He also worked for All India Radio as a feature and drama writer from 1941 to 1942 and as a journalist for the newspapers Daily Masawat, Humayun, and Alamgir. His short stories from this period were collected in successful volumes including Manto kay Afsanay (1940), Dhuaan (1941), Afsanay aur Dramay (1943), and Luzut-e-sung (1947). He married in April 1938 and he and his wife Safia had three daughters. In 1948, following the horrors of Partition, Manto moved to Lahore.
Manto is known predominantly as a short story writer, but he also wrote in different genres such as personality sketches, essays and radio plays. He is described as the chronicler of fiction on Partition and many of his memorable stories are woven around the horrors of the event. Thanda Gosht, Siyah Haashiay, Khol Do and Toba Tek Singh are only a few of his seminal works on the subject. Manto is described by the historian Ayesha Jalal as a rebel, whose primary interest was to expose the deception and hypocrisy in a society. Manto desired that the society should be able to see its own face in his writings. His stories that addressed prostitution asked searing questions about a society’s responsibility towards individuals who were products of the society itself. His Partition stories asked salient questions about humanity and conscience. The characters in his stories came out of the ordinary and often the detritus of society; the prostitute, the pimp, the street bully. He wrote about religious bigotry and his stories, both on Partition and prostitutes had a riveting political and social relevance.
His series of Letters to Uncle Sam (nine letters under sequential titles, Chacha Sam kay Naam Aik Khat to Chacha Sam Kay Naam Nava Khat) reveal that Manto was very alive and sensitive to political currents. Written between 1951 and 1954, these letters reflect his political views and concerns and are enlivened by his caustic and sometimes savage wit. The subjects he addressed in his stories met with criticism from the state as well as literary colleagues. As Ayesha Jalal says Manto was considered ‘vulgar’ because what he saw in his surroundings was vulgar to him. It was the environment that caused him to attain that degree of directness in his writings. Manto was faced with over half a dozen charges of obscenity, three of which occurred before Partition and three after he moved to Pakistan. Of these, the court found only two stories in which he had transgressed the law and was liable to punishment. The stories for which he was charged and tried for obscenity include Dhuaan, Bu, Kaali Shalwaar, Khol Do, Thanda Gosht and Uupar Neechay aur Darmiyaan. Jalal describes Manto as an awkward writer for the conservatives as well as the elite who did not like his tendency to repeatedly remind them of the higher truths of society.
During his lifetime Manto published 22 collections of short stories, one novel, 5 collections of radio plays, 3 collections of essays, and 2 collections of personal sketches. 2012 was Manto’s centenary year and the Government of Pakistan finally decided to honour Manto with the Nishan-e Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian honour.
Saadat Hasan Manto died of liver failure in Lahore on 18 January 1955.
Bilal Ahmad, ‘Manto, Saadat Hasan (1912–1955)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oct 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/95338, accessed 16 April 2013
Ayesha Jalal in conversation with Christopher Lydon, “What would Manto say?” http://www.radioopensource.org/ayesha-jalal-part-2-what-would-manto-say/, accessed 16 April 2013
Kekin N. Daruwalla, “The Craft of Manto: Warts and All”, Annual of Urdu Studies, 11 (1996), 119-126, accessed 17 April 2013, http://www.urdustudies.com/pdf/11/11craft.pdf
Khalid Hasan, “Letters to Uncle Sam. Saadat Hasan Manto”, http://www.alhamra.com/Excerpts/LettersExcerpt.htm, accessed 17 April 2013.
Raza Rumi, “Finally Pakistan State honours Manto”, http://razarumi.com/2012/08/25/finally-pakistani-state-honours-manto/#more-5403 , accessed 17 April 2013
Saadat Hasan Manto, in Manto: Haqeeqat Se Afsaanay Tuk, Shamim Hanfi, (Karachi: Scheherzade 2012), 66-67
Ayesha Jalal, ibid Ali Madeeh Hashmi, “Manto’s World – Part I”, http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta3/tft/article.php?issue=20130118&page=26, accessed 18 April 2013