{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sadaat Hasan Manto

The writings of Sadaat Hasan Manto, Urdu short story writer, are characterized by sharp wit and cynicism, compounded by his personal vagaries (some of them he invited himself) and the turmoil of his times. Some of his writings are available online in English translation. We know that much of the Urdu melody and irony is lost in translation, but even then Manto's caustic ideas and world view comes forth beautifully. In his famous short story, Toba Tek Singh, he describes the transfer of "lunatics" between India and Pakistan, as they exchange war prisoners. Some of the lunatic behave like political leaders, some don't want to go anywhere and others have lost the idea of which part of the world they are in. In an adsurdist plot, Manto points to the trauma of the displaced and how it will live for ever. The story can be read here. If you can read Urdu, you can find the Urdu pdf on the same page.

Manto wrote nine letters to Uncle Sam between 1951 and 1954, out of which four are available online in English translation. These letters are witty and a sign of what is about to come as US imports to the developing countries, the ill-fitted modernizations, the arms and ammunition, and the wars and battles, that will reduce these nations as "small" players in the big game. These witty letters are filled with references to persons and events, which can be read as his sense of future for the new-born nations - political hopelessness and cultural-devastation of his folks through the hands of the Uncle, which no one can see then. The Urdu pdf of one of the letters can be found here.

A short biography of Manto here. More translated writings here and here.


bhakit said...


Thanks for the information.
Adding to it:
Manto has also written a book on stars-movies-Bombay. This tradition was later followed by the likes of Devyani Chaubal, Isaq Mujavar, Shirish Kanekar, Raju Bharthan and others. The book is a blend of trivia, personal experience as a script writer.


anurag said...

hey bhakit,

ya, I saw a post on that book too. Are you talking about Stars From Another Sky. He also wrote sketches of 12 personalities from films, literature and politics, its called Ganjey Farishtey (Bald Angels). actually Manto's writing, in content and tone, can be divided into two parts, the Bombay period and the Lahore one, but what remains throughout is his wit, sly wit!

thanks again for reading and commenting.