Bitter Fruit: The Very Best of Saadat Hasan Manto PDF
- 700 pages
- Bitter Fruit: The Very Best of Saadat Hasan Manto
- Saadat Hasan Manto
- 14 January 2018 Saadat Hasan Manto
Manto was a controversial writer of his times and while reading his stories you come to understand why that might have been the case These stories, which I imagine to have been inspired from real life instances, present to us the ethos of a world long gone, of a country which witnessed turmoil of Partition and of the people who lived through those times Manto writes plainly, even blatantly and with sarcasm at times Perhaps that is why the stories leave such an impact on the reader A few of his stories left me shaken in terror and I could only imagine the horrors that the people who went through the violence of Partition must have faced He is a writer who must be read, for his stories lay bare before us the bestiality of human nature which inflicts torture on others in times of extreme turbulence He doesn t give hope, maybe because he was cynical and had remained distressed most of his life But he is definitely to be read Recommended. Widely renowned as the best short story writer in Urdu, Manto s stories were mostly written against the milieu of the Partition Bitter Fruit presents the best collection of Manto s writings, from his short stories, plays and sketches, to portraits of cinema artists, a few pieces on himself, and his letters to Uncle Sam which have references to communism, Russia, politics after the Partition and his own financial condition The concluding section of the book has acknowledgements and reminiscences from Saadat s friends and relatives Bitter Fruit includes stories like A Wet Afternoon, The Return, A Believer s Version, Toba Tek Singh, Colder Than Ice, The Assignment, Odour, By The Roadside, Bribing the Almighty, The Kingdom s End, The Woman in the Red Raincoat, The Room with the Bright Light, The Great Divide, The Angel, Siraj, An Old Fashioned Man, The Price of Freedom, It Happened in 1919, The Girl from Delhi, A Man of God, Free for All, and A Tale of 1947 There is a collection of sketches too Manto used to write radio plays and this book has one of the dramas he penned, called In This Vortex His short stories bring out the most delicate nuances of human nature. Saadat Hasan Manto has had a relatively short live He was born in Punjab in 1912 and died in 1955 Lahore, in the newly created Pakistan Barely 43 years But the majority of this years he was writing His language was Urdu He has never finished any formal education failed the school s exams dropped out of the university as well In spite of it, he started from translating Victor Hugo and Oscar Wilde His translations has been published and that has started off his literary career He has become an editor of a magazine and has started to write short stories His life has fallen on the almost turbulent period in Indian history He was 7 when the massacre in Armister took place His youth took place on the background of political movements for independence He was not very political though He has spend his best years in Bombay working for a magazine related to the film industry Then came independence followed by religious violence on the scale never imaginable He witnessed this He lived through this Then came Partition He did not want to leave Bombay even then However he was asked to leave his job allegedly due to overrepresentation of muslims So he went to Lahore to join his family But he never was happy since then He missed Bombey his heavy drinking has killed him in 6 years, but he never stopped writing even when he was drinking Reading his stories, i could not help wondering why I ve never heard about him before Why is he not better known worldwide, but especially in the english speaking world His writing is terrific so controlled and economic, but so poignant at the same time, creating such a nuanced psychologic images just in a fews sentences Additionally, the themes of his stories are universal Two main topics stood out for me the life of women, majority of them are prostitutes and the nature humanity versus violence be it war, revolution or communal killings what happens to a human being facing something incomprehensible, how it skews the whole definition of being human And his voice never goes anywhere near sentimentality, never capitalises on the horror of subject matter It has been a few weeks since I ve read this book However some of these stories simply stay in my mind In Last Salute two friends, who fought together for the British, are appeared to be in the different sides of India Pakistan War following Partition They are physically within short distance hiding from each other with their trapped regiments They ve recognise each other voices Then the request for a favour and the tragedy follows In A Tale of 1947 Mumtaz, a muslim man is leaving for Pakistan, the country he knows nothing off Three of his best friends, who are all Hindus are seeing him off He has decided to leave after the one of these friends received the news of his uncle s murder and acknowledged If Hindu Muslim killings start here, I do not know what I will do I do not know I might kill you So Mumtaz is leaving But before that, he is trying to talk to them one last time about what matters to him what is religion, what does it mean to be devoted, what is the human decency He says Only a naive could believe that religion could be eliminated with a gun Why cannot they understand that faith, belief, devotion, call it what you will is a thing of the spirit it is not physical Guns and knives are powerless to destroy it And he follows on with a story of the Hindu pimp he happened to know as an example of the most decent man The story is just 5 pages but it tells you much than an average novel Toby Tek Singh , the one of his most well known stories, is Manto s Ward No 6 and Other Stories It is set in a lunatic asylum which is now in the process of exchange of its Hindu and Muslim inhabitants due to Partition And the one man just simply refuse to leave So much depth and poignancy is conveyed in this image.And now about the prostitutes In his life time, Manto has received 6 charges of indecency I ve read those stories And only indecency I found how good they were He managed to charge the atmosphere and convey the feelings hardly with any reference to sex More importantly, how he cares about these women, how he could see the individual behind the setting And all of it without sliding to the usual tropes of deprivation and moral compromises These women are alive, fighting their daily problems and set backs and try to be happy like any other women In spite of the obvious, there is no sense of victimhood which often prevails in such stories In A Woman s Life the main character experiences a sort of epiphany in Joyce s sense of the world In Ten ruppies a young girl around 12 who still plays with the dolls is being procured by her own mum But she does not realise that what she is doing is not normal She just lives her life and brings her sunny disposition to her engagements In Mummy the white brothel s owner is looking after a very ill young Hindu man while everyone else has given up on him Not all of the stories are about the oldest profession The variety of his themes are wide But all of them are united by his desire to understand and depict the human condition I know how cliche this sounds, but the stories are far from any cliches.This book is the one of his most comprehensive in English Translation is smooth and the translator claims he tried to convey the style of the original I believe it worked The book contains his short stories, sketches, biographical portraits and a play I have to admit that I have not read the portraits and the play yet But the short stories are the one of the best short stories I ve ever read. The mastery of Hasan s writing is most evident in his ability to convey all the intricacies of human desire without actually saying anything overtly He is deceptively simple and makes the reader work for the illumination In a word brilliant.You ll want to purchase your own copy of this collection because the short stories deserve multiple readings followed by lively discussions with friends who will most assuredly become a captive audience after you relay one of Manto s plots or gossip about one of his characters Too, his essays are cunning, provocative, insightful and laced with his notoriously sharp wit His Letters to Uncle Sam had me in stitches If you want to gain a unique perspective about partitioned India and Pakistan, then this gritty, fleshy, comical and macabre collection is well worth your time, your money, and the extra weight in your bag you won t want to put it down. it is possible to get shocked even in 2018 when reading saadat hasan manto because he seems to take a perverse joy in writing about how ordinary the fucked up is, but his words could not have been written without deep compassion and love, the kind that comes from clear sight After reading the introduction by translator Khalid Hasan and then reading Manto s account of his friendship with Ashok Kumar, the Bollywood superstar of the Forties and Fifties, I fell in love with the book I had borrowed it from the Just Books library, so I would have to return it at some point The thought of having to give it back saddened me, though, so I decided to order my own copy on Flipkart This way, I can take my time over reading the very best of Saadat Hasan Manto. When I heard that Manto was a writer that was continually boycotted and banned in India, I figured it was because of the typical puritanical culture reaction to media reasons but after reading these stories, some of them are DARK Still, Manto writes in such a beautiful manner and develops exquisite scenes, it s no wonder he is considered the best Urdu writer Wholeheartedly recommend this book of short stories. Fantastic English translations of Manto s Urdu short stories, plays, letters, and essays I will have to read the original Urdu versions, but if the English renditions are any indication, the stories bring out Manto s mastery of varied story telling techniques that touch upon a range of taboo subjects in the Subcontinent that still resonate strongly today What I love about Manto is his uncanny ability to inject a wry and irreverent sense of humor dark comedy to otherwise grim and depressing subject matter prostitution, rape, murder,fanaticism, lust etc and make it compelling, readable, and meaningful Manto isn t overly sentimental or melancholy, which most writers indulge in when recounting the horrors of Partition or social injustices in India Pakistan Rather, Manto is a master of subtlety, often ending stories abruptly e.g just as a character exits , to leave the reader sometimes uncomfortably digesting and pondering what has just transpired Other than his famous short stories Toba Tek Singh and Tanda Ghosht , particular favorites of mine were A Tale of 1947 a semi autobiographical account of his reluctant departure from Bombay to Pakistan , Bribing the Almighty humorous account of an honest man trying to overcome economic uncertainties , The Last Salute heartfelt tale of cross border skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani soldiers recognizing each other from pre Partition regiments , The Dog of Titwal similar story of the senselessness of war , By the Roadside poetic account of unrequited love and social stigma tragic circumstances of out of wedlock childbirth , and Wild Cactus this can almost be characterized as Manto venturing into the horror genre Some of his stories can make one a bit uneasy, but perhaps that is a dose of medicine every society needs.There are collections of sketches including the famous but brief Garland about the irony of mobs in Lahore trying to destroy a statue of the great philanthropist Sir Ganga Ram , essays recounting Jinnah s demeanor and social life from peers and letters there are 9 letters from faithful nephew Manto to Uncle Sam taking sarcastic aim at targets from international and domestic politics and Bollywood in general A large portion of the book is dedicated to Manto s time in Bombay s film industry.What truly opened my eyes was the very provocative and uncensored subject matter Manto writes about sex, drugs, violence, etc , no less in the Urdu language over 50 years ago My enthusiasm in visiting public libraries in Pakistan was recently dashed when I realized the vast majority of Urdu books available were on pre modern poetry, religion, history a.k.a religious apologetics , and the Urdu language itself This probably has to do with censorship something Manto confronted throughout his life than a lack of creative minds in the Subcontinent There have been plenty of brave voices confronting social ills taboo subject matter in the Subcontinent and Pakistan in particular, but art and literature can deeply resonate at a personal level in confronting the status quo and pushing the envelope of freedom of speech To that end, Manto should be required reading for lovers of the art of story telling or those with an interest in modern South Asia in general. Manto s favorite friend Shyam a contemporary actor recalls the days when Manto was disillusioned after his migration to Lahore Manto told Shyam in clear cut fashion Saadat Hassan will perish, but Manto will live on forever.It is this unwavering honesty that kept Manto alive His body of work will keep him breathing and flourishing in the times to come After Partition, Manto always faced a conflict Is he Pakistan s greatest short story writer or Hindustan s, which because of the British had ceased to exist He couldn t find an answer.Salman Rushdie provides one He is South Asia s greatest short story writer.This is Manto Unwavering Outspoken Fearless.Bitter Fruit, an anthology of works translated from Urdu to English by Khalid Hasan in almost perfect fashion carries several of his short stories, his sketches, radio plays, descriptions, essays and his satirical Letters to Uncle Sam.Saadat Hasan Manto is the undisputed king of short stories The study of Urdu literature is incomplete without the mention of Mir Taqi Mir and Ghalib I say Manto is a name that fits in between them without which Urdu literature would have it s foundation but not it s flair.Manto failed thrice in his intermediary exams thrice in Urdu, the same language he would end up championing He never passed his exams while he was admitted in Aligarh Muslim University.Yet, somehow Manto came to capture the reality of the Indian Subcontinent in ways that were haunting his subjects were acute revelations, his storytelling was pristine Premchand captured the plight of the downtrodden, Manto uplifted the marginalized There have been several allegations against Manto.Allegations of fayeshnighari Obscenity , of cultural corruption, of misogyny and of producing a body of literary work that is so derogatory that even a slight consideration of it as literature is a considered a crime against the art itself.Yet when you read Manto, and his highly cited Partition story Toba Tek Singh, you feel as if you are not worthy of living It sends you down a lane filled with existential crisis looming out of the ghost of his plot, which by the way his every short story does and if you are not careful enough you just might end up in hell trembling, shivering and captivated with Insanity rather than Insaniyat In the end when he writes Bishen Singh ke halaq se ek jordaar cheekh nikli Darmeyaan ke us paar Pakistan tha, aur is paar Hindustan Darakht ke beech, jis zameen ka koi naam nahi tha, Toba Tek Singh khada tha , he ably captured the entire gist of Partition in these haunting lines His Partition stories gave me far far better insight of Partition than history courses could ever aim for.Manto faced several trials on charges of Obscenity thrice in British India and thrice in Pakistan He writes in his first letter to Uncle Sam I faced 3 trials in undivided India, and here in Pakistan I have already been tried once Yet Pakistan is still a young nation His disdain for the entire conception of Pakistan can be clearly seen Pakistan is still a new boat that has just left the harbor, yet boats do drown.It is this wit, this sardonic humor, his ability to satirize political situations that made him a cross platform genius No one can believe that Manto would have predicted with so pinpoint accuracy, this political maneuvering from Uncle Sam back in the days when the Cold War hadn t even started and Communism was not yet a existential threat to the politco social fabric of America He writes in his 4th letter to Chacha Sam as he called him Regardless of India and the fuss it is making, you should sign a military pact with Pakistan because you are seriously concerned about the stability of the world s largest Islamic State since our mullah is the best antidote to Russian communism Once the military aid starts flowing, the first people you should arm are the Mullahs I think the only purpose of military aid is to arm these mullahs I am your Pakistani nephew uncle and I know your moves Everyone can now become a smart ass, thanks to your style of playing politics Manto himself claimed that his best years were those of Bombay, where the vibrant intellectual environment made him flourish and seek the most out of his own self He became friends with several famous actors and screenwriters and wrote stories about the neo noir life of the majestic city of Bombay.No one clearly knows why Manto ever left Bombay, the city he loved, the people he adored and the sidelined characters that were drawn from the real struggles that Bombay threw at each and every ones face Albeit, he did choose Lahore, thinking that this is the epitome of Punjab, a thriving metropolitan city that had for centuries been a center of pluralism and religious harmony and tolerance He had for several years lived in Amritsar, the other great Punjabi city.His passionate connect towards Punjab is reflected when the other great Urdu short story writer, Rajinder Singh Bedi visited him Bedi asked him why does he never write in Punjabi, the language Manto claimed has utmost flair Manto replied in sparkling fashion, the fashion that makes him Manto, If I could write in Punjabi the way I write in Urdu, I would never in my life touch the solid black ink pen and stroke it in right to left direction Manto always had trouble with one thing How can lies be told as truths and truth be converted into lies There was a quality in Manto that I have never witnessed in any writer before, a quality that glows out in each and every work of his Manto managed to tell the tale, especially visible in his later Partition stories, without ever taking sides Manto says that literature can never always be a medium for the expression of desire Literature must in parts at least should tell the truth, the reality as it is, not as it should be, coated with desires and other seductions and fascinations that he considered supreme adulterants.Several feminists have blasted him for misogyny, for always showing weak female characters, characters that were always on the margins and ire of society Manto throughout his life rejected it And in the same way I reject it too No man today irons saris, no man today cooks food, no man today makes pickle and no man today combs and shapes the hair of their beloved I am included in this list of men who are hypocrites Manto at least taught me to be honest with myself.For his stories he said in Government College,Lahore If you can t bear my stories, it s because we live in unbearable times Who I am I to dress society which is itself naked I am a writer that writes with a white chalk on a black board, so that the blackness of the board becomes prominent My stories act as a mirror in which society can see itself If a ugly faced man is disappointed at the fact of his ugly face, who am I to be blamed for it Manto also had a premonition that in future the same Pakistani government that dislikes him now would award him its highest civilian award He said if he ever lived up until that day, he would out rightly reject it He wrote his own epitaph, showing his justified arrogance Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto, with him buried all the arts and mysteries of short story writing.., under tons of earth he lies wondering who of the two is a greater short story writer God or he Pakistan was established under the spiritual guidance of Allama Iqbal, but there is something that needs to be mentioned.We have always dreamt the glorious visions of Iqbal, but have forgotten the nightmares of Manto.Khalid Hasan s translation is majestic and quite carefully captures the enigma of Manto that continues to thrive today.I am Manto, you are Manto We all are Manto. To do justice to this review would be a difficult task because of sheer quality of stories that I ended up reading The emotions, narratives and manner of storytelling in each of the masterful stories is so compelling that you would not just enjoy them but also it would linger on deep in your minds even after they have ended.These are stories that talk to you and pull you out of slumber if you are in one I feel the pain, the sordid eventualities that partition dished out, the downright sinister mentalities and the agonising portrayal of the tumultuous times gone by You have to have felt the pain to have brought it down on paper so brilliantly.To think that he was accused of vulgarity is preposterous He sometimes told stories that happened in reality It is amusing to note that the actual happenings were not vulgar and crass but being brought down into the form of stories was.The sketches, short takes as well as his sarcastic overtones are sure to leave you spell bound An author way ahead of his times This book is a must read.