As Manto’s daughters share their nostalgia for the father they never knew too well

Opad di gud gud di moong di dal di laltain di Hindustan te Pakistan di dur fitey munh,” Nusrat Jalal recalled verbatim the nonsense utterances of Bishen Singh, the ‘lunatic’ from “Toba Tek Singh”. The short story was written by her father Sa’adat Hasan Manto, whose 100th birth anniversary was celebrated earlier this year. After visiting his birthplace in Samrala, Ludhiana, Nusrat and her sisters Nighat and Nuzhat arrived recently in the Capital, a city Manto had deep connections with.

Speaking at a function organised by Jawaharlal Nehru University, Nusrat said she remembers “Toba Tek Singh” and other stories by Manto vividly; it is her father she doesn’t remember much of. She was only 5 years old when he passed away in 1955. “In his last few years he was plagued by financial problems and bad health. When we were living at 31, Laxmi Mansions in Lahore with our aunt, none of us realised that he was who he is today.”

The few memories that she has are fond ones. “I was a coward as a child. Whenever Abba was angry at me, he would scold my sisters instead. He didn’t want to scare me even more.”

Her elder sister Nuzhat revealed the death of Manto’s son before his first birthday and his subsequent burial in Delhi. This had a deep impact on her mother Safiyah, who raised her grandson almost as her own son.

Shedding light on the relationship between Manto and Safiyah, she recalled an episode. “He once saw someone in a beautiful sari on a street. So he went up to her and asked her where she bought the sari. After receiving directions to the store, he went there and found that the sari was not within his means. So he asked dadi to make a sari, which turned out to be more beautiful than the one he saw.” “Since he was in the film industry, he ensured our mother was properly groomed,” Nuzhat, the eldest sister added.

Although his stint in the Bombay film industry as a script and dialogue is now well known, it was later in Delhi that Manto really became famous, through his radio plays for All India Radio. Fame turned to notoriety with his six obscenity trials for the frank and unapologetic depictions of sexuality in his stories. “The trials were just an attempt to make trouble for him. He wrote women centric stories and his characters, such as Zeenat in “Kali Shalwar”, are alive characters.” This being a commemorative year, Manto has seen a revival of sorts in India. But his significance as a progressive writer and dissident thinker has never been lost; his writings continue to serve as rude reminders of “nationalistic rage and barbarism”.