“Even though noted Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto lived the last seven years of his life in Pakistan, his heart longed to be in Bombay. He wrote dispassionately about the ugly ramifications of Partition. While we are celebrating the centenary of Manto in both countries, it is important to continue the peace process and allow senior citizens to visit their ancestral land,” says eminent Pakistani theatre personality Madeeha Gauhar.
Madeeha, now on a visit to India at the invitation of the Union Government, has been staging plays of her group Ajoka in this country for the past two decades.
“I will stage my plays on Manto as part of the ongoing Bharat Rang Mahotsav. But on Wednesday my play in Jaipur was cancelled at the eleventh hour. I am returning to Delhi and do not know whether it would be staged in the Capital on Saturday,” she said.
Describing the border skirmishes and the beheading of Indian soldiers as unfortunate, Madeeha says such incidents put a spanner in the works of the peace process. “India had announced that senior citizens of Pakistan would be issued visas on arrival. Elderly folks long to see their villages, homes and interact with the locals. But their visit has now become a casualty.”
Pointing out that hardliners in both countries want to sabotage the peace process and heightened tensions threaten to stop people-to-people contact, Madeeha says it is unfortunate that Pakistani hockey players were forced to go back home following protests by the Shiv Sainiks. “This is extremely unfortunate as events related to sports, culture and art should never be stalled. Pakistani cricketers were given such warm hospitality while they toured and played in different Indian cities. Similarly, Indian cricketers are always given respect and love by the locals when they came to Pakistan. Awam on both sides of the border wants people-to-people contact.”
Noting that Manto had migrated to Pakistan because his wife and relatives had already settled there, Madeeha says he was disillusioned with the Hindu-Muslim tensions in Bombay which had affected the atmosphere in the film industry. “However, when he came to Pakistan he became a virtual recluse as he was boycotted by the conservatives but some of his best works like Thanda Gosht and Khol Do were written there.”
Stating that Manto’s words have become prophetic, Madeeha says he had predicted years ago that Islamic hardliners would call the shots in our country.
“His writings on Partition are well known but his political writings are also amazingly prescient and predict Pakistan’s inevitable drift towards religious extremism. Our soldiers are being kidnapped and beheaded by the fundamentalists. Manto had also predicted that the State will honour him after his death. He would be awarded Nishan-e-Pakistan posthumously on March 23 this year.”
Madeeha’s play Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh which in all probability would be staged in the Capital this Saturday focuses on his life and events after he migrated to Pakistan. “The play starts with his journey from India to Pakistan and his impressions of the horrific communal riots which are reflected in his writings on Partition, and ends with a powerful poetic tribute to him.”