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Spotlight: Saadat Hasan Manto: A Short Form List

Spotlight: Saadat Hasan Manto

The undisputed master of the modern Indian short story.

Salman Rushdie

A selection of stories from one of Pakistan/India’s greatests.

Dr. Ayesha Jalal celebrating Manto’s 100th in The Herald:

On his 100th birthday, Manto stands taller on the literary horizon than others who wrote about the mass migrations of 1947. Where he needs greater appreciation is in the role he played as a witness to history through his chilling narratives of Partition. In a country where history as a discipline has suffered from calculated neglect in the interests of projecting statist ideology, Manto’s Partition stories are an excellent entry point for enquiring minds eager to understand the past that has made their present fraught with such uncertainty and danger. The ever-percipient Manto had anticipated the problems of treating religion as a weapon rather than a matter of personal faith and ethics, which have over the past three decades surfaced with a vengeance in Muslim Pakistan. His words of warning have a resonance that is louder than when he said: “Our split culture and divided civilization, what has survived of our arts; all that we received from the cut up parts of our own body, and which is buried in the ashes of Western politics, we need to retrieve, dust, clean and restore to freshness in order to recover all that we have lost in the storm.”

Selected Stories

The Dog of Tithwal

Harnam Singh opened his satchel, and removing a biscuit, threw it at the dog. Sniffing the biscuit, it was just about to open its mouth when Harnam Singh leapt forward and picked it up: ‘Wait, wait … you’re not, by any chance, Pakistani?’

Once again everyone laughed. Banta Singh approached, and running his hand over the dog’s back, looked up at Harnam Singh and said: ‘No, corporal saab, chapad jhunjhun is Indian.’

Corporal Harnam Singh chuckled, and addressing the dog, said, ‘Oye, give us a sign.’

The dog began to wag his tail.

Harnam Singh laughed heartily. ‘That’s no sign. All dogs wag their tails.’

Banta Singh caught hold of the dog’s trembling tail. ‘Poor fellow, he’s a refugee.’

Corporal Harnam Singh threw down the biscuit, which the dog sprang upon.

One young soldier, digging the heel of his boot into the ground, said, ‘Dogs, too, better now make up their minds as to whether they’re Indian or Pakistani.’

Harnam Singh removed another biscuit from his satchel and threw it in the direction of the dog. ‘And like the Pakistanis, their dogs, too, will be blown away.’

Another soldier shouted : ‘Long Live, India!’

We read it in Granta.

Toba Tek Singh

Nobody knew what transpired in India, but so far as Pakistan was concerned this news created quite a stir in the lunatic asylum at Lahore, leading to all sorts of funny developments. A Muslim lunatic, a regular reader of the fiery Urdu daily Zamindar, when asked what Pakistan was, reflected for a while and then replied, “Don't you know? A place in India known for manufacturing cut-throat razors.” Apparently satisfied, the friend asked no more questions.

Likewise, a Sikh lunatic asked another Sikh, “Sardarji, why are we being deported to India? We don't even know their language.” The Sikh gave a knowing smile. “But I know the language of Hindostoras,” he replied. “These bloody Indians, the way they strut about!”

One day while taking his bath, a Muslim lunatic yelled, “Pakistan Zindabad!” with such force that he slipped, fell down on the floor and was knocked unconscious.

We read it in Selected Stories.

A Woman's Life

She pulled down the fourth picture, a man in a turban, and then, as Madhu watched apprehensively, his own, throwing them together through the window. They heard them fall on the street, the glass breaking. Madhu somehow managed to say, “Well done! I didn't like that one of mine either.”

Saugandhi moved, slowly towards him. “You didn't like that one, yeah? Well, let me ask you, is there anything about you which you should like? This bulb of a nose of yours! This small, hairy forehead! Your swollen nostrils! Your twisted ears! And that awful breath! Your filthy, unwashed body! This oil that you coat yourself with! So you didn't like your picture, eh?”

Madhu was flinching away from her, his back against the wall. He tried to put some authority into his voice. “Look, Saugandhi, it seems to me you have gone back to that dirty old profession of yours. I am telling you for the last time...”

Saugandhi mimicked him, “If you return to that dirty old profession of yours, that'll be the end. And if I find out that another man has been in your bed, I'll drag you out by your hair and throw you out on the street. As for your monthly expenses, a money order will be on its way as soon as I return to Poona. And what is the monthly rent of this kholi of yours?”

We read it in Toba Tek Singh.

An Old-Fashioned Man

“Saeeda, did you notice what she was wearing?”

“Who?” Saeeda asked.

“Shadaan,” Farida whispered in her ear.

“What was she wearing?”

When Farida whispered something in her ear, Saeeda put her hand on her heart and gasped, “What!”

The two sisters kept whispering to each other for sometime, then the door swung open and Shadaan came running in. Normally, when one of the players was caught there was much screaming and laughter, but this time there was none. Even Shadaan, who was on the verge of shouting with joy at having caught her quarries, was quiet. The two sisters stayed in the dark, looking scared. “What is the matter?” Shadaan asked in a whisper, keeping with the atmosphere. Farida said something to Saeeda, who whispered something right back to her. They both elbowed each other in the ribs before Farida asked in a tremulous voice, “What is that you are wearing under your shirt?”

Shadaan burst out laughing.

“Where did you get it?” Saeeda asked.

“From the bazaar,” Shadaan replied.

“How much?” Fareeda asked.

“Ten rupees.”

“So expensive!” the two sisters almost screamed.

All Shadaan said in reply was, “Can't we poor people sometimes buy something nice that we like?”

We read it in Toba Tek Singh.

Colder Than Ice

Kalwant Kaur began to boil with passion like a kettle on high fire.

But there was something wrong.

Ishwar Singh, despite his vigorous efforts at foreplay, could not feel the fire which leads to the final and inevitable act of love. Like a wrestler who is being had the better of, he employed every trick he knew to ignite the fire in his loins, but it eluded him. He felt cold.

Kalwant Kaur was now like an overtuned instrument. “Ishr Sian,” she whispered languidly, “you have shuffled me enough, it is time to produce your trump.”

Ishwar Singh felt as if the entire deck of cards had slipped from his hands on to the floor.

We read it in Selected Stories.