The brutal violence that accompanied the Partition of 1947 has been the subject of many literary works, from movies to plays to novels. But, it was best captured in the beautiful snippets that were Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories.
On his birth anniversary, we remember a man who defied convention in trying to express the unspoken torments of Partition. Here’s a look at four of his significant short stories:
A poignant tale that narrates the travails of a father , Khol Do is a defining piece of Manto’s literary works. It describes the experiences of a daughter who has lost her father during Partition and is gang-raped by men charged with her rescue. The story strikes at the heart of the beastly behaviour that was so exhibited at that time, without regard for respect or dignity.
Toba Tek Singh
The Partition was not just a grand political divorce and this is exactly what the story tries to explore. Set in a mental asylum in Lahore, the subject of the story is the troubling tales of its inmates. The ending, which sees a man refusing to get off the no-man’s land on the Indo-Pak border, is the defining moment in the story with its thought-provoking implications.
Set amidst the communal violence of 1947, the story looks at the last moments of a dying Sikh man and his conversation with his wife. The man admits to having raped a Muslim girl and he attributes his behaviour to the mad frenzy of religiosity induced by the violence. Manto, here, poses a critical question about religion and nationalism that continues to haunt us even today.
Thitwal ka Kutta
A dead dog is used as a symbol to convey the larger futilities of war in this moving tale. With neither side accommodating him, Jhun Jhun walks between camps with a placard around his neck. The Pakistanis believe that his name is something that carries a secret and banish him to the Indian camp. The Indians, fearing something dangerous, brutally murder the dog. The dog has no home just like the millions of families severed from each other.