Thursday, May 10, 2012
From Print Edition
Let me begin with an anecdote. Recently, my Pakistani-Norwegian fan Toni Usman arrived in Miani Sahab cemetery in Lahore in search of my eternal abode. Unable to locate it, he asked a Mashki (caretaker). The Mashki did not know me. When told that Manto was a well-known writer, he pointed to Z A Suleri’s grave. Finally, Toni succeeded in getting to my grave. The clue to my grave was that it is next to the grave of Khushia Pehlwan, who used to be one of Lahore’s local toughs.
Toni thinks it reflects your trauma. You don’t even know how to look after the grave of your greatest short story writer. A rightwing writer like Z A Suleri, or even Lahore’s notorious goons have not been forgotten, but dissidents like myself have been whitewashed from your public memory.
Let me remind you that today is my birth centenary. It has been officially ignored by your Sarkar the way my 50th death anniversary was ignored on January 18, 2005. It is understandable, however. Long ago, when you were still in your infancy I made myself clear: “That section of my country’s population which rides in Packards and Buicks is really not my country. Where poor people like me, and those even poorer, live, that is my country.”
Since the part I belonged to is too disempowered to honour its most celebrated fiction writer, my birth centenary is largely passing by unnoticed. I don’t mind. I did not mind even when my sister replaced the epitaph I had myself written for my grave. You do not know that my epitaph does not say I what meant it to say. What I myself wrote was feared to be too strong for ‘religious’ sensibilities.
Not that Salmaan Taseer’s murder has scared me to a point that I would retract my own epitaph. Fanaticism cannot silence me. I did not hold back my sharp pen even during Partition when my passion, that of someone deeply intoxicated, was dancing like a madman. Instead of writing lamentations like Amrita Pritam, I did not mince any words and publicly declared: Uper the gur gur the annexe the bay dhyana the mung the dal of the Pakistan and India dur fittey moun
I know your establishment does not approve of the kind of things I wrote. It needs people like Nasim Hijazi and Ashfaq Ahmed. Your establishment needs conformists, zealots, red topi-wallas, and paper tigers.
Unliike my teacher at Amritsar’s Government College and your poet laureate, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, or my friend Ahmed Rahi, I am not acceptable to your establishment. Therefore, the boards of textbooks make sure students remain unaware about the 22 collections of my short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches, and a dozen scripts for films.
Ironically, it is students who curiously seek my works. A text by an Indian journalist, Asim Khan, recently reached me. It seems in India students are my keen audience. I was quite amused to read that the former vice chancellor of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, Mushir-ul-Hasan has cast the names of famous intellectuals of the 20th century over the Jamia’s various gates, entrances, department buildings and the connecting roads within the university campus. “So today somewhere between the Noam Chomsky Complex and the Fidel Castro Cafe, there runs a minor strip of tarmac, now officially known as Saadat Hasan Manto Lane,” says this text.
Honestly, I don’t want your Punjab University or the Lahore government to name a road after me. I never seek official recognition. I belong to your clerks, tonga-wallas, jobless labourers, petty thieves, prostitutes, pimps, pickpockets, peasants, poor students and exploited factory workers.
However, if possible stop “Islamising” whatever buildings and roads are still named after Hindus. I was really sad to learn of the “Islamised” renovation of Lahore’s Lakshami Mansion, a place I used to frequent. Your government’s zeal for changing old place-names makes me laugh and reminds me of my short story, “The Garland”:
“The mob suddenly veered to the left, its wrath now directed at the marble statue of Sir Ganga Ram, the great philanthropist of Lahore. One man smeared the statue’s face with coal tar. Another strung together a garland of shoes and was about to place it around the great man’s neck when the police moved in, guns blazing. The man with the garland of shoes was shot, then taken to the nearby Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.”
Wishing you all the best,
Sadaat Hasan Manto
The writer is a freelance contributor.