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‘There are parallels between Manto’s Khol Do, Delhi gang-rape’

Madhur Tankha
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Two of his stories to be adapted as plays to commemorate his birth centenary

Two of Manto’s stories are being adapted onstage to commemorate his birth centenary. A scene from the play rehearsal.— Photo: Special Arrangement
Two of Manto’s stories are being adapted onstage to commemorate his birth centenary. A scene from the play rehearsal.— Photo: Special Arrangement

To commemorate the birth centenary year of Saadat Hasan Manto, theatre personality Devendra Raj Ankur is adapting two stories depicting the horrors of Partition into a play, which will be staged at National School of Drama (NSD) this coming Tuesday. Penned by the famous Urdu writer, Khol Do and Mozel talk about two different aspects of Partition.

“I have been planning to stage a play on Manto for a long time. As part of this process, I and my actors, who are all NSD alumni, went through almost all his stories. There was unanimity on adapting Khol Do and Mozel into a play. I have tried to adapt the stories as they were written by this extraordinarily gifted writer. One has to be faithful to Manto’s creativity,” says Devendra.

“Through literature, newspapers and cinema, we have been exposed to different perspectives on the violence and pain of Partition. So it was important to present the two stories in a new way,” he says.

Khol Do is the story of Sakina, a young girl lost during the riots. Her father sets out in search of her, but it turns out to be pointless. “Sakina’s protectors exploit her sexually. Manto was so far-sighted. He portrayed the darkness of human psyche as humanist values declined during Partition years. Though this story depicted the sectarian killings during Partition, it is still contemporary. This story has parallels with the para-medical student who was gang-raped and murdered savagely by men who were supposed to drive her safely to her destination,” says Devendra.

Mozel revolves round a bewitching and big-hearted Jewish girl who appears to be coquettish but when things go horribly wrong another aspect of her character comes to the fore. “Trilochan, a Sikh, is head over heels in love with this Jewish girl. But he plans to get hitched to a girl of his community. Even then, this Jewish girl sacrifices her life to save Trilochan’s soon-to-be-wife, who is caught in the violence of the riots. Both stories evoke the bitterness and pain of Partition-experience with great depth and sensitivity, both commenting on as well as portraying the varying shades of humanity and the human experience.”

A master of combining human behaviour with psychoanalysis, Manto was among the best short story writers in Urdu in the 20th Century. He left an indelible mark on the subcontinent with his writings on the terrible wounds inflicted by Partition.

His earlier works had Leftist leanings and his later work became progressively stark. His books on the socio-economic conditions prevailing in the pre and post-colonial subcontinent and also on controversial topics of love, incest and hypocrisy of the traditional sub-continental male are still a rage among the youth of the sub-continent.

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