Life in the metropolitan

Hasan Mansoor’s antholoy, published on his first death anniversary this year, consists of Sindhi short stories that revolve around Karachi

March 5, 2020 was a fateful day for us as it was on that day that journalist Hasan Mansoor passed away following a heart attack. He was 55. Mansoor had started his journalistic career with Sindhi newspapers but later joined English journalism. Born and bred in Lyari, Karachi, he was also a poet and short story writer. An anthology of his Sindhi short stories has been published this year.

Mansoor was used to writing interesting posts on social media. Asked by a follower to preserve these, he had promised to do something in that direction someday. It is not known if he ever got around to actually doing that. In the last years of his life he had also taken to photographing Karachi. Most of the pictures he posted showed the Karachi sky in the backdrop of landmark buildings.

Pathar Manj Passah (Breathing stone) contains 27 short stories. Almost all stories are based in and revolve around life in Karachi, which is a significant departure from the norm of Sindhi writers who mostly set their stories in rural Sindh.

As Rauf Nizamani writes in the preface of the anthology, Mansoor was an extroverted fiction writer. The main themes of his stories are the general socio-economic situation, the worsening environment and the political, religious and ethnic conditions of Karachi, especially during the 1980s and 1990s when the traditionally peaceful city morphed into a violent one.

His longest story, Closed Alleys,s is a lucid account of a poor young man, who has to look after his wife, mother and a minor son. He is lured by a terrorist group into volunteering to be a suicide bomber. However, he realises the futility of his new role and returns to his familiar way of life. His story, Ruins, is a sad tale about the criminalisation of politics and ethnicity in Karachi. In another story, Father of Nargis, we meet a diehard political worker. The story, Reflection, depicts the degradation and unruliness of the police force. Vanished, another story in the anthology, is about the sudden disappearance of some persons after they voice dissent with some powerful actors. Death of a Dead Person is a heart-wrenching tale of an innocent young person, who is forced to become a mercenary. Once his services are no longer needed, he is ruthlessly eliminated. Tomb Custodian, earlier translated into Urdu by Shahid Hinai, is a parable for the country.

The main themes in the stories are the general socio-economic situation, the worsening environment and the political, religious and ethnic conditions of Karachi.

Most of Mansoor’s stories are symbolic. A contemporary reader can generally discern the underlying themes. His story, Shadows, suggests that it is due to socio-economic deprivations, that people become dependent on exploitative forces. As a result they remain deprived. However, when they dare to abandon the crutches, they can realise their immense potential. The stories Sea, My Brother Fig Tree, and White Butterflies are about the repercussions of environmental degradation.

The last story in the anthology is a tale of love. In the story Blanket, we came across a penniless lady, whose husband suffers bankruptcy and commits suicide. She then takes it upon herself to look after his family. Son of Hunger is an account of another woman beggar, who after getting sexually assaulted, gives birth to a son. When pressed to name the baby’s father, she says it’s ‘Hunger’. Sexual exploitation of female beggars is also the subject of another story, You Are Within Me.

The Hooter, Vacant Sky, Patches, Echoes, Deal all have male protagonists, who are victims of socioeconomic inequalities. The story, An Ode to a Silent Wall describes how the society’s values have changed and how that has affected our lives.

The Buried Also Breathe is an account of a young Indian Sindhi, who visits Karachi to get a glimpse of the neighbourhood where his father was lynched on the eve of Partition. Behind Broken Glass, Tale of Centuries Entrapped in Moments, Breathing Stone, Flower Blossomed in Autumn are all about the ethos of the society. In some stories, development of characters and the pattern of dialogue between them appears to be influenced by Amar Jalil.

It appears that the book has been compiled and printed in a hurry resulting in a disappointment on several counts. For one, it does not have a table of contents. For another, not much attention has been paid to the layout.

Mansoor was also a poet. One hopes that an anthology of his poetry will be compiled soon and printed.

Pather Manj Passah

Author: Hasan Mansoor

Publisher: Kitab

Publishers, Karachi

Pages: 210

Price: 400

The writer is a freelance journalist

Life in the metropolitan