A humanist called Manto

Distinguished lecture series of Nalanda University at NMML.  

“Knives, daggers, and bullets cannot destroy religion,” said Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955). Probably he knew that any attempt to fathom the murderous hatred that erupted at the time of partition, had to begin with an exploration of human nature itself. Years later, his grand-niece, Prof. Ayesha Jalal, delivered a lecture at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi as a part of the ‘Distinguished Lecture Series’ of Nalanda University. It was titled, “The Pity of Partition: Manto’s life, Times, and Work across India-Pakistan Divide”. It was chaired by Professor Alok Rai, formerly at Department of English, Delhi University.

Saadat Hasan Manto was an Urdu short story writer who revealed the morass of societal vanities, and brought out the bare truths without losing faith in the residual goodness of the people of both Pakistan and India. “I wanted to show Manto, as the cosmopolitan humanist. He talked equally about perpetrators and the victims which is evident from his story Thanda Ghosht (Cold Meat). It is the circumstances which make the man do wrong. Everyone talks about the trauma during Partition, but I tried to show the friendships which transcended the tensions that were prevalent,” said Prof. Jalal. She added, “The ‘pity of Partition’ is not that a country was split, but that human beings of both sides became slaves of passion and barbarity.”

Talking about the lessons that could be learnt from his life, she said, “By killing a Muslim or a Hindu, one cannot put an end to the religion. This was something that the bigots couldn’t understand. If Manto had been living today, he would have decried the lack of empathy between the two countries and the corresponding failure to realise that what they hate so intensely about each other also resides within them.”

Prof. Jalal is also coming up with a book called The Pity of Partition: Manto as Witness to History, to be published in early 2013 by Princeton University Press, and in India by HarperCollins India. She has been close to Manto’s life, as she heard a lot of stories about him from her family members.

According to Alok Rai, “Manto showed that the violence on both sides was equal in nature. Each kind would add to another and got accumulated, rather cancelling each other. True to the words of Wilfred Owen, his subject was war and the pity of war.”

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 4:07:40 AM |

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