Ethnically a Kashmiri and proud of his Kashmiri roots and the remnants of Kashmiri culture in his family, Saadat Hassan Manto was born in Paproudi village of Samrala, in the Ludhiana district of the Punjab in a Muslim family of barristers on 11 May 1912. His father Molvi Ghulam Hasan from his externals demonstrably appeared to be a Kashmiri. In his myriad writings Mantoo too has proudly written about his Kashmiri origins and even accepted the label of ‘hato’ with all its insulting sting that, feudalistic people low in culture would frequently hurl at Kashmiris. In fact, it never instilled a feeling of inferiority in his psyche. He writes:-
‘I am a Kashmiri—a hato’.
It was during 19th century that his family shifted to Punjab. It like many other Kashmiris lived off the Shawlbaf trade. The ancestor of the family, Rahmat Allah, settled at Lahore and later on shifted to Amritsar permanently with the design of expanding his trade. The family continued living at Amritsar for generations together. When Sadat Hasan Manto came to consciousness, Mantoos had set up a separate mohalla for themselves and was known as the Mohalla of lawyers. The reason for such a nomenclature was that the family had taken up law as their profession and had bidden farewell to the shawl-selling vocation.
Molvi Ghulam Hasan’s second spouse, Choti Begum, was Mantoo’s mother. She hailed from Kabul and bore the name of Sardar Begum. It was from Kabul that her family had migrated to Lahore. Sardar Begum was an orphan and was married to Hidayat Ullah, but the marriage was not a success. It was at Lahore that she was again married to Molvi Ghulam Hassan. She bore him three issues. Sadat Hasan was the male child. Molvi Sahib had a respectable position in the government but was not very prosperous. In the family his second marriage was more or less disliked.
Manto’s father, Molvi Ghulam Hasan had multiple issues. He had retired by the time Sadat was to be reared and looked after. Because of his meagre resources Choti Begum’s two issues, Sadat and his sister, Nasira, had to bear the brunt of it. They failed to get required education and bring-up. Sadat failed in the Matric examination several times and finally passed in third division. It is interesting to note that he failed in the subject of Urdu.
Mantoo’s mother was a noble and mild-mannered lady. She had got married to Molvi Sahib at such a stage in life when he had lost the vigour of youth and was economically not very prosperous. After his demise she somehow managed the home. It is said that she knew the skill of embroidery. After Mantoo had been in Bombay she too had joined him there. In fact, her daughter and son-in-law were also there in Bombay. After Mantoo was married she had continued to live with him. A letter from Ahmad Nadim Qasimi reveals that it was there, that she breathed her last in June, 1940.
At the behest of his mother Mantoo was married in a Kashmiri family long settled in Africa. The father of his spouse, Begum Safia, had been a police inspector in Africa. Mantoo himself has described their Kashmiri roots. He wrote to Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi in a letter:-
“My wife belonged to a Kashmiri family settled in Lahore”.
Manto’s married life lasted just for sixteen years. He had four issues, one son and three daughters. During this short span Safia Begum had to face many ups and downs of life. The three years of adversity period of Mantoo’s life severely impacted the bring-up of her children. But she never grumbled.
Mantoo lived the stark bitterness of life. In his childhood days only he had lived the hideous miseries of life and had borne the harsh temperament of his father. He had also tasted the love-lessness of his brothers. Mantoo had keenly observed the nudities of life in contrast to his brothers whose scholarship was limited to religion and law. He respected his brothers but was in no way emotionally involved with them. His brother, Sayyid Hasan, had stayed with him at Bombay and was unhappy with the manner and style of his life and had judged him as a ‘stray’. Mantoo has depicted it fearlessly and for this he has earned disdain both from his admirers and critics.
Manto is best known for his short stories which have stood the tests of time and reflect the difficult period the entire subcontinent lived through.Manto is also renowned for his essays, screenplays and the only novel he ever wrote. His stint at ‘Bombay Talkies’ and his extensive yet short lived flirtation with Bollywood of those times reflects heavily in his writing. Stars from Another Sky, his book on the lives of Bollywood personalities, is filled with insider trivia and provides in-depth understanding of the industry.
His controversial writing, earned him the ire of many conservatives, the British government and other writers. The leading literary body of those times, Progressive Writer’s Association attacked him, and he was a lone warrior in the writing scene, with frequent calls for bans of his writing, and many court cases filed against him for obscenity, especially in Lahore.
Manto’s death didn’t come before he had managed to publish 20 short story collections. The candle of Mantoo’s life got extinguished on 18th January, 1955 at a young age of 42 after a prolonged addiction with alcohol.
Rouf Ahmed can be mailed at email@example.com