“Baajoo kee gulley” is not only one of the more well-known phrases Manto uttered and wrote,it also described a trait in his personality, and of which he was well aware.He avoided tempting fate and wherever a difficult situation arose he eased himself into those alleys where there was no possibility of a clash or confrontation.At the same time he was a fearless & fierce champion of justice—the likes of who the world has seldom seen.
Ironically enough Abou Saeed Qureishi refers to him as the ‘kind hearted terrorist’—–I,for one,would prefer the title ‘kind hearted wrangler’—–O,what forms the words assume with time & place!
Almost half a century after this brilliant man took the word-snapshots of the human condition, it is gratifying to know that the world too is becoming increasingly aware of his work. Leslie Fleming of USA has devoted quite a part of her literary carreer in studying Manto & recently wrote–
—-“With its irony,delicate ambiguity,and swift movement from laughter in the beginning to the depth of feeling it evokes at the end,and with genuine emotions with which it deals,it is no surprise that the story (Toba Tek Singh) has profoundly moved not only Indian & Pakistani readers but American students as well.
I met Leslie Fleming almost a decade ago and she mentioned to me that she spent a considerable time in Lahore to better appreciate Manto’s work.She lived with
Safia(Mantos wife) for sometimes in the seventies to interview her about Manto and also to gain a first-hand cultural immersion(she learned to make chapaaties as well!)—again to access the quintessential Manto.Her dedication to her work is indeed an inspiration for many research afficiondos.
It is tempting for me to give a chronological account of his life,but this is not the time & place for it,especially keeping in mind the newly inducted reader.Hence I would let it remain a “hello” & a “handshake” for now.
Saadat Hasan Manto was born on May 11,1912 in Ludhiana district.His parents were Kashmiris and resided in the Lawyers’ Enclave(koocha e Vakeelaan).His
father was a barrister & sessions judge so were most of his relatives.He failed twice in his matriculation examinations and specifically in the subject of urdu.It was the legendary Maulana Bari Alig under whose tutelage he got introduced to the French and Russian writers and he was immediately hooked and drawn into the web of word-weavers.
Upon Baris’ encouragement he started out by translating some of the above writers and gradually wrote some original plays and short stories.Manto said of Maulana Bari Alig…..”It is true that he is the very one who put me on the road of writing. If I had not met him in Amritsar,possibly I would have died an unknown man or would be serving a long sentencefor robbery.”
The burning passion for writing as being a socially conscious activist took him to All India Radio where he was the firefly(gadfly?) among such luminaries as
N.M.Rashid,Faiz,Z.A.Bukhari,Krishan Chander and many other well-known writers of the day.
His stay in Bombay with Bombay Talkies and Filmistan and other movie companies added another dimension to his literary genius and there are few who have been
able to encapsulate the senseless period of mid-forties with so much brilliance and vigour.
The side-street(Baajoo kee gulley) brought him to Pakistan where he was honoured to face five court trials for his supposedly obscene writings.He has documented those trials with vintage Manto precision.
I would like to end with mantos’ own words on his writings:”I am not seditious.I do not want to stir up people’s feelings or ideas.If I take off the blouse of
culture,society then is naked.I do not try to put clothes back on,because I am not a Darzi(tailor),that is not my job”–
This is how he aptly replied to the Progressive writers,for whom he had nothing but contempt,and sure enough he had the last word.
Amir Jafri has been studying Manto for quite some time now but would now hasten admit that the discovery seems to be unending. As an ardent fan of Urdu he regrets that he was not able to understand & appreciate this very rich language during his schooldays.
He ranks Hathhak as Mantos best story followed by Nayaa Quanoon,Toba Tek Singh and Mozel.Among his life-sketches those of Noor Jehaan,Rafeeque Ghaznavi,& Agha Hashr Kashmiri are great