Amritsar observed the centenary of Saadat Hasan Manto with a play delving into why he wrote what he wrote.
Countries can be divided but not Manto! Remembering perhaps the most widely-read and the most translated writer in Urdu, Saadat Hasan Manto, whose literary legacy is jointly shared between India and Pakistan, a Punjabi play “Ek si Manto” (“There was a Manto”) was showcased in Amritsar this past week.
A tribute to the great writer whose birth centenary year (May 11, 1912) is being celebrated in both the countries, especially in Indian Punjab where he was born, the play seeks to convey why Manto wrote what he wrote.
The play conceptualised by Amritsar-based theatre director Kewal Dhaliwal brings alive Manto and his candid conversations with his three daughters who question their father on his writings, especially those capturing the 1947 Partition horrors, and charges of obscenity levelled at him.
The daughters also seek some answers from the society at large on why their father had to leave Mumbai — his workplace for many years and the city he was extremely attached to — for Pakistan, and why his stories were considered “immoral”. Some of Manto's renowned short stories like “Toba Tek Singh” and “Khol Do” are also interwoven through the narrative.
Manto, who was born in Samrala near Ludhiana in Punjab, had lived in Amritsar for several years before moving to Aligarh, Delhi, Mumbai and finally across the border.
“The play is our way of accentuating Manto's prolific writings. He was far ahead of his times. He belongs to both the countries. After its debut here, we will take this play to different parts of Punjab as well as India to spread awareness about the life, works and times of Manto. The production is also slated to participate in a festival in Lahore this September,” said Dhaliwal, who specialised in direction from the National School of Drama, and has been doing theatre for the last 30 years.
The director exchanged notes with Manto's daughters when he met them during a visit to Lahore a few years ago for his play “Andar Bahar Manto”. He has now invited them to attend the 10-day theatre festival dedicated to Manto's esteemed body of work, which will be organised by his group Manch Rang Manch later this year.