Remembering Sadat Hassan Manto on his 64th death anniversary

Is there a link between creativity and restlessness ? Restlessness is starkly visible in almost all the works of sadat Hassan Manto . And Manto passes on a small amount of his restlessness to his readers as well? And this passing of restlessness by a writer may also be called as “coming under his spell “ or” Getting Influenced “by his work. That puts Manto in the category of some great writers that include Camus , Kafka and Maupassant .

I have quite often thought about this Creative restlessness. And in Manto’s case , I believe , his particular family circumstances might have led towards the development of this restlessness . His heavy drinking  also aggravated his mental distress . We also know that Manto suffered from such symptoms of anxiety and depression as would need a fair amount of clinical diagnosis presently. His wife SAFIA tried to attend to it. She once got him admitted to a mental hospital .

As a young child ,Manto was afraid of his  father but he also idealized him . This induced a sense of fear in his personality. Accordingly we find that most of the male characters in his stories are so to say cruel  or lacking compassion . Could it be a result of the fear of his father ? But then look at his women ; Even if they are prostitutes or housewives, they possesses more nerve and resolve .He presents them with compassion and care. This could be due to love and respect for his mother who was a kind and compassionate lady . .  Perhaps this clash of parental temperaments could be responsible for the development of   restlessness in Manto’s personality .

Having said so , sometimes i am also led to believe that Manto , at times ,comes up as an exception in this analysis as well. It is a well known fact that his creative genius remained intact inspite of the worst bouts of his restlessness coupled with mental illness especially after 1951. He suffered from Hallucinations and had anxiety Neurosis and depression as well. And during the last days of life, he often turned sick on account of liquor abuse. But during this period also he kept writing with verve and intensity, may be  for a bottle of liquor . He wrote so many of his literary masterpieces even during this period ..


I have always said that Saadat Hassan Manto’s Character Saugandhi ( created by him for his story HATAK) brings simultaneous hatred and sympathy in hearts of millions of MANTO readers . Till this society exists Saugandhi shall exist . Manto’s pen has immortalized  this Character . Poets like Shaharyaar ( Gyan Peeth Awardee ) Balraj Komal, Kumar Paashi, Sarmad Sehbayee   and many more writers have commented or written poems on this character .Manto has given total freedom to this Character to evolve itself and then attack the very society that created it.I treat Saugandhi’s dog  as an important  character in Manto’s story HATAK. Manto calls it Khaarish-Zadaa kutta that sleeps  in her filthy room. When Saugandhi attacks and throws out Madho ( Her Exploiter ) from her room , this dog too joins and helps her by barking and attacking Madho. Manto was subjected to harsh criticism for this Character . To his critics Manto said

“If you are Ignorant about existing time or the period that we live in then read my stories. If you do not tolerate my stories then this period is certainly beyond toleration. The bad things that exist in me have come to me from this period alone .There is no defect in my scripts .The defect that is attributed to me is possibly a system defect .Trust me I am not a trouble creator .I do not want to create fatality in thought process or emotions of people. How can a poor man like me undress this society or its culture and the tradition? Isn’t this society already naked? yes, I also do not make an effort to dress it and cover its nakedness as that is not my job. Many readers call me a writer with black ink. Surely I do not use black ink to write on black boards. I use white ink to write on black background so that everything emerges more distinctly .This is my special style. I do not know what it is and I know that some people call it Progressive and some call it rubbish. God alone knows the labels that are given to my writings. Hell be the place for this Manto for he cannot be even cursed properly by people . ”


“ If there is no god then none can keep count of innumerable sufferings and pains of Saugandhi except Manto . In fact Manto has repaid a Debt to Humanity at large by writing her story.”

(Waris Alvi)

I also add lines from a poem of Noted urdu poet shaharyaar titled saugandhi

“Badhee bhari Yeh Bohriyaan,

Na jaane kaun Morh tak,

Hamaare saath jaayeingi ……………

Teri gali Mein har taraf

Se Aa rahein Hain Bhediye ,

Havaa bharaa Woh Chaand

Saat Inch neeche aa gayaa ,

Gizaa milegi Chyoontiyon Ko

Tera kaam ho gayaa ,

Hamaare naakhoonon Ki Maeil Se,

Tere Badan ke ghaav Bhar gaye ,

Yeh haadisaa bhi Ho Gayaa .

Magar Kahaan Se beech mein Yeh Aasmaan Aa Gayaa”

                                                                           ( Shaharyaar )

Kumar Paashi also wrote a poem on Saugandhi I quote some lines

 “ Ikk mausam mere Dil ke andher ,

Ikk mausam mere Baahar ,

Ikk rastaa mere peechhe Bhaage ,

Ikk Rastaa Mere aage

Rastey beech me khadee akeli ,

Piyaa na sang saheli ,

Kyaa jaane mujh janam jalee ne ,

Kyaa apraadh kiyaa hai ,

Aakhir kyon Duniyaa kaa maine saara zehar Piya hai ,

Saari Umar na jaane kaise apney badhan mein Kisse Jiyaa hai ,

Mere saath zamaane tuune

Achhaa nahin kiyaa hai ”

(Kumar Paashi )

Saugandhi the Bad woman . Saugandhi the kind and tender hearted  woman. Saugandhi the exploited . Saugandhi the lonely woman  .  Saugandhi the woman who has gone too far in her dull and aimless life  that she has lost  the distinction between Man and Dog. And a different  Saugandhi   who finally spits venom and fire  when she throws out her exploiter Madho.   I propose to put up a detailed write up on this character  shortly.


“When a story enters Manto’s  mind  he goes  restless till he writes it down on paper . His condition is like a hen that is about to lay an egg .”

That is what Manto wrote about himself.  He also informs us that that the man called MANTO,   writes his stories  sitting with his three little daughters who keep playing with him .They keep quarreling amongst themselves and he also comes to settle these quarrels in between . He may even   entertain any guest in the family  but remains focused on writing as well.

Sometimes he is unable to write as the story takes time to come out of the mind. He turns restless. He gets up to clean some room , polish shoes of girls. Goes to toilet repeatedly. He also  gets up and prepares SALAD for himself .  And then  Safia ( His wife ) often come to his rescue with her favourite suggestion

“  Aap Sonchiye Nahin . Buss Kalam Uthaaiye Aur Likhnaa Shuru kar deejiye . You do not think much. Pick up your pen and start writing. ”

In his  essay  “MANTO ” he further strips open himself as under :

“  This man who calls himself as Manto is nothing more than a Big fraud. People call him as  “Greatest Writer of urdu language ”.  Sir listen, this fraud of a man failed twice in his matriculation examination and finally cleared it in a third Division. Do not be surprised when I say that he failed in urdu paper  also . People call him great Urdu writer but he does not know the  language fully.  I have seen him looking for urdu words while he writes. He runs after these words the way a hunter runs after his prey. I smile at the foolishness of people who call him great urdu writer . ”

And Manto continues to add about his own self :

“His wife is not happy with his writing etc. Quite often she has advised him to open a shop and earn his living. But tell me what he shall do with the shop that is already open in his mind. He keeps worrying that should he open a cosmetic store, the commodities already stored in his mind  may have to be put in cold storage.

People call him irreligious and his writings as obscene. Here I disagree with people. I for certain know that when he starts a story he writes”786” on the top of the paper. This man who looks irreligious suddenly turns believer on the paper .May be he is a paper Manto or Kaagazi Manto who can be broken open like the Kaagazi Badaam ( Almond ) with fingers only. No one can break him open with an iron   hammer.

And then he takes good advantage of the simple nature of his innocent wife SAFIA. . Sometimes he pays her 800 rupees for meeting household expenses and simultaneously keeps an eye on the safe place where Safia keeps her purse .Quite often he steals   hundred or two hundred rupees from her purse allowing her to curse the servant and the  maid for these petty thefts .

He is a great liar as well. Let me tell you that this man, who in the real sense of the term can be called an illiterate. He has neither read MARX nor FREUD. He has only heard about HEGAL . But I wonder and feel amused when some critics write that he  is influenced by all these great thinkers and philosophers of the world . Let me tell you plainly that his becoming a story writer is the result of the Clash between his father and his mother. His father a firm, unbending and tough person while his mother a soft hearted human being. And you can yourself imagine how this man called Manto survived like  a grain of wheat in between these two parts of the grinding mill.


“Mein Chaltaa Phirtaa Bombay Huun ”

So said Manto in 1951.Yes he was like Mumbai on wheels for the Newly Born country known as Pakistan wherein the New Society possibly failed to understand him properly inspite of the fact that he kept crying loudly and truthfully. Living far away from his Bombay, Manto never forgot this city of temptations and hope .Mumbai comes directly or indirectly in his post partition stories and essays. It also features in some letters that he addressed to Uncle Sam ( United States Government ). About this city he once wrote as under :

“You can be happy here on two pennies a day or on ten thousand rupees a day, if you wish. You can also spend your life here as the unhappiest man in the world. You can do what you want. No one will find fault with you. Nor will anyone subject you to moralizing. You alone will have to accomplish the most difficult of tasks and you alone will have to make the most difficult decision of your life. You may live on the footpath or in a magnificent palace.”

Manto Moved to Mumbai in 1935 and finally left for Lahore in January 1948.He spent a period of more than 12 years of his life except a brief period of 2 years (1940 and 1941 ) in between when he joined AIR New Delhi . As a young boy of 23 or 24 years, he joined Nazir Ludhianavi’s Newspaper “Mussawir “ and simultaneously kept writing stories and radio plays . Nazir had contacts in film world and he introduced Manto to some Film production companies. Soon he became a sought after story writer by leading Production Houses . He also wrote screenplays and dialogues. Some movies that he successfully wrote included ‘Apni Nagarya’ , Kisan Kanya, Chal Chal Re Nawjawan ,Begum ,Naukar( 1945),Aaath din ( 1946) , Shikari ( 1946) and ‘Mirza Ghalib’. Mirza Ghalib was released after he shifted to Pakistan and was a great success. He also worked for Babu Rao Patel’s popular film journal FILM INDIA.

In Mumbai , Manto’s life was not dictated by what is known as “ Light ! Camera !and Action ! ” only. He saw a world of unbelievable range  behind the glamour of these words. He made scores of friends in this city; some intimate and reliable while others just to pass time. His friends in both these categories included Ashok Kumar , Pran ,Shyam , Noor Jahan ,Sitara . Nargis , Kuldeep Kaur ( Actress who was also known as KK ), Rafiq Gaznavi , Raja Mehdi Ali Khan , Nawaab Kashmiri , Neena , Babu Rao Patel ,Rajinder Singh Bedi , Krishen Chander , Sardar Jafri ,Begum Para , Padma Devi , Devika Rani , S Mukherjee ,Ismat Chugtai,Deewan Singh Maftoon, Shobana Samarth ,Gyan Mukerjee ,P N Arora , Ardeshir Irani and many more .Anybody who was somebody in the film world became directly or indirectly familiar to him . This was perhaps the happiest period of his life. He drank, gambled, wrote and moved carefree in this city. He also felt the life throb in the red light district of Forres Road, the chawls of Nagpara, the Cigarette Beedi sellers ,the Paanwallas , Taxi drivers, Washermen, Fisherwomen ,Parsi landladies , Irani Restaurants ,Jewish hotel keepers, unknown writers , Unknown editors of unknown Urdu Newspapers ,Hangers on , Brokers of all sorts ,Strugglers , exploiters , Communists ,Baniyas , Seths and scores of people from all segments and areas of the country . He brought them home truthfully as Characters of his stories.

Manto  described  his life in Bombay to his friend and well known urdu poet Ahmed Nadeem Kasmi in some letters that he wrote to him . I quote..

“I have a very bad habit of buying books and wasting money on other avoidable things . If you come and stay with me , I believe I shall stop all this wasteful expenditure . I have hundreds of bad habits that are not known to you at the moment .If you come and live with me , I shall be a naked man .But then you have to live in the sun and shade of my life. May be you get no food to eat but for sure you shall get books to read.

My life is like a wall. I keep removing its plaster in bits and pieces by scrubbing my nails over it. At times i feel like removing the entire plaster so as to make the inside bricks visible. Quite often i feel like demolishing the entire wall to enable me to build a new structure over it.”

This city also gave him his dedicated and loving wife Safia whom he married in was an arranged marriage to his liking as safiya too was from a kashmiri family of lahore .Safia’s father , Khwaja Qamaruddin was an efficient officer in Police who had been deputed to Zanzibar , Africaduring British rule. He had moved his family to Mumbai from Lahore. Manto’s real elder sister Iqbal too stayed at Mahim, a suburb area during those days . His mother( Died in 1940 ) too had shifted to Mumbai to live with his sister .

With Pakistan in existence, Mumbai’s peaceful atmosphere got severely communalized . Safiya left for lahore taking her three daughters along . Manto felt lonely but believed that things would normalize shortly. He joined Shahid Latif and Ashok Kumar in reviving Bombay Talkies. The company signed Ismat Chugtai as story writer for a new movie.Hurt with this decision , Manto kept silent . He did not report for work but spent his time in sleeping and drinking . And then one day he decided to pack up and go to Lahore via Karachi travelling by ship from mumbai . His friend actor Shyam tried hard to stop him but he did not agree . Shyam came to see him off .

“ Pakistan Zindabad ” said shyam.

Manto replied “ Hindustan Zindabad ”


Manto arrived in Lahore on 8th January 1948. He saw an atmosphere of suffocation and bullying around him. The tragedy of partition had wounded his soul. He was deeply touched and moved by the suffering and  plight of women On both sides of the border  unleashed by religious frenzy  during partition turmoil . He wrote an article “Mehboos Aurtein”. I quote from the article

“The responsibility of the condition they find themselves in now lies squarely upon the wrangling within the political arena and the religious frenzy of which we find no parallel in the past history of mankind. If nothing else, at least we should protect these women and cover them as our own sins. If nothing is done immediately then these women’s plight is going to turn into a huge calamity. Hundreds, nay, thousands of brothels are ready to welcome them in their cavernous mouths. Even the thought should make us tremble.”

In Lahore , he started feeling choked and dashed three letters to Ismat Chugtai seeking her help for moving back to Mumbai.

Some time before his death he wrote a series of letters to UNCLE SAM ( American Government ) . In one such letter dated 21st Feb, 1954 , Manto indirectly praised Mumbai’s  Film Industry  I quote

“ Your film producers  are taking keen interest in Bombay’s Film Industry . We can not tolerate this .I have heard that when Gregory Peck Visited India ,he lavishly  praised Suraiya’s beauty  and got himself photographed with her .I have also heard that a film producer or director put his arm around Nargis’s neck  and kissed her .This is too much . Have all actresses in our Pakistan died ?  We have Gulshan Ara .It may be a separate story that her face is as black as a Tawa ( Hot plate for making Chapatis ). May be when some people look at her they utter that an Ara ( Saw ) has rubbed on Gulshan ( Glower garden ). But she is also an actress . She has worked as a Heroine in  films and  she too has a Heart  inside her body .We have Sabeeha as well. May be she is a little squint but with a little attention this defect can be set right .

I have heard that you are giving some financial aid to Indian Film Industry .This is not done dear Unle Sam. You start giving aid to every Tom dick and Harry .

Hell with your Gregory Peck . Excuse me , i spoke these words in a fit of anger .Kindly dispatch  your two three actresses to us as our lone actor Santosh Kumar looks sad  . Last time when he went to karachi , he drank about  hundred bottles of Coca cola and saw actress Rita Hayworth one thousand times in his dreams”

Manto’s supportive and caring  Nephew Hamid Jalal  has written that  Manto hallucinated about Bombay even during his last days in the Lahore’s Mayo Hospital. I quote ..

“Most of the time, he imagined himself to be in Bombay, where he spent the happiest period of his life. Every day, I would tell him he was in Lahore, but he found that hard to believe”

I conclude this post on Manto with lines from a Gazal of noted urdu poet Zubair Rizvi

Hai Dhoop kabhi Saaya, Shola  hai kabhi shabanam

Lagtaa hai Mujhe Tums a dil ka to har ek Mausam

Beetay Huve lamhon ki Khushboo hai Mere Ghar mein

Book Rack pe Rakhein hain Yaadon Ke Kayee Album.

Autar Mota is a Blogger  , Translator and writes in English , Urdu , Kashmiri and Hindi. His write-ups have appeared in many national magazines and journals.






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