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The Pity of Partition

The Pity of Partition: Manto's Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Pity of Partition
    Book Description:

    Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) was an established Urdu short story writer and a rising screenwriter in Bombay at the time of India's partition in 1947, and he is perhaps best known for the short stories he wrote following his migration to Lahore in newly formed Pakistan. Today Manto is an acknowledged master of twentieth-century Urdu literature, and his fiction serves as a lens through which the tragedy of partition is brought sharply into focus. InThe Pity of Partition, Manto's life and work serve as a prism to capture the human dimension of sectarian conflict in the final decades and immediate aftermath of the British raj.

    Ayesha Jalal draws on Manto's stories, sketches, and essays, as well as a trove of his private letters, to present an intimate history of partition and its devastating toll. Probing the creative tension between literature and history, she charts a new way of reconnecting the histories of individuals, families, and communities in the throes of cataclysmic change. Jalal brings to life the people, locales, and events that inspired Manto's fiction, which is characterized by an eye for detail, a measure of wit and irreverence, and elements of suspense and surprise. In turn, she mines these writings for fresh insights into everyday cosmopolitanism in Bombay and Lahore, the experience and causes of partition, the postcolonial transition, and the advent of the Cold War in South Asia.

    The first in-depth look in English at this influential literary figure,The Pity of Partitiondemonstrates the revelatory power of art in times of great historical rupture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4668-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Prelude: Manto and Partition
    (pp. 1-16)

    Shocked by the catastrophic impact of India’s partition in 1947, Saadat Hasan Manto (1912–1955), the greatest Urdu short story writer of the twentieth century, marveled at the stern calmness with which the British had rent asunder the subcontinent’s unity at the moment of decolonization. Even the coolest of Indian minds had no time to think. Those renowned for statesmanship, acumen, and farsightedness were left blinking their eyes. Human beings had instituted rules against murder and mayhem in order to distinguish themselves from beasts of prey. None was observed in the murderous orgy that shook India to the core at...

  5. I Stories

    • 1 “Knives, Daggers, and Bullets Cannot Destroy Religion”
      (pp. 19-28)

      Bombay was rife with fear and foreboding. The British had wielded the partitioner’s ax. Reports of horrific bloodletting in northern India, particularly Punjab, had turned the cosmopolitan city into a battleground of real and imagined hostilities along purportedly religious lines. Four good Punjabi friends, three Hindus and one Muslim, were parting company. Mumtaz was going to Pakistan, a country he neither knew nor felt anything for. His decision to leave was sudden but unsurprising. Relatives of his Hindu friends in western Punjab had suffered loss of life and property. Overcome with grief upon hearing of his uncle’s murder by Muslim...

    • 2 Amritsar Dreams of Revolution
      (pp. 29-54)

      Saadat Hasan Manto was born a hundred years ago on May 11, 1912, at Sambrala in Ludhiana District. His Kashmiri Muslim trading family had migrated to Punjab in the early nineteenth century and eventually settled down in Amritsar. After abandoning their traditional trade in Kashmiri pashmina shawls for the legal profession, Manto’s ancestors took up residence in Amritsar’s Koocha Vakilaan, the Lawyers’ Colony. Manto’s mother, Sardar Begum, was the second wife of his father, Khwaja Ghulam Hasan. A trained lawyer who rose to become a sessions judge in the government of Punjab’s Justice Department, Ghulam Hasan was a strictly practicing...

    • 3 Bombay: Challenges and Opportunities
      (pp. 55-82)

      In the fall of 1936 Saadat Hasan moved to Bombay to take up the job of editor for the film weeklyMusawwir(Painter), owned by Nazir Ahmad Ludhianvi. The salary was a measly forty rupees a month, exactly what he was earning in Lahore. But the prospect of living in Bombay’s dynamic megalopolis excited his imagination. Saadat had high hopes for his future as a writer. India’s sprawling port city and film capital offered a welter of opportunities to a talent awaiting recognition. He admitted that, like any ordinary college student, he was possessed with the desire to enter the...

  6. II Memories

    • 1 Remembering Partition
      (pp. 85-90)

      At the famed midnight hour of 15 August 1947, Indians marked the end of two centuries of subjugation and humiliation at British hands. Expressions of joy tinged with anger and bitterness at the partition of the subcontinent periodically exploded in visceral rage against members of other religious communities. In Punjab at large, and Amritsar in particular, former slaves celebrated freedom by burning down the homes of their neighbors. Before anyone knew whether Amritsar would be included in India or in Pakistan, half the city had been gutted. Outside the Lawyers’ Colony was a mountain of rubble, including bricks and mortar...

    • 2 From Cinema City to Conquering Air Waves
      (pp. 91-110)

      During his all-too-brief life of forty-two years spanning Amritsar, Bombay, Delhi, and Lahore, Manto came into contact with many people and forged some extraordinary friendships that withstood the strains of arbitrary frontiers between India and Pakistan. His cosmopolitanism can be gleaned at one level from his keen interest in Russian, French, and Chinese literature and, on another, from his firm refusal to allow distinctions of religion to interfere with his choice of friends. His extensive galaxy of friends and acquaintances, to name just a few, included the giants of progressive Urdu and Hindi literature, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander, Ismat...

    • 3 Living and Walking Bombay
      (pp. 111-138)

      Manto returned to Bombay on 7 August 1942, still mourning his son’s death the previous year and as uncertain as ever as to how to make ends meet. The film industry held obvious attractions. “Serve literature and earn money through films,” he once told Krishan Chander, who had been taken aback by his willingness—at the behest of a half-literate producer—to change a script they had jointly worked on.50Bombay was bristling with the energy of the Quit India movement. Anticolonial sentiments were being fuled by economic distress caused by the shortage of essential commodities and galloping wartime inflation....

  7. III Histories

    • 1 Partition: Neither End nor Beginning
      (pp. 141-150)

      “The main newspaper headlines these days are about bloodshed,” Manto lamented. He was bewildered by the chaos and confusion attending the dawn of a long-awaited freedom. “Why have human beings become so thirsty for human blood these days?” he asked. “Should we wash our hands of humanity?” “Have we lost faith in that thing called conscience?” He was at a loss as to how to answer these weighty questions. What had happened at the time of partition was a blot on the face of humanity. The unpardonable horrors of partition—women belonging to rival communities being paraded naked; several hundreds...

    • 2 On the Postcolonial Moment
      (pp. 151-186)

      Life in Pakistan was unlike anything Manto had known. The impact of partition was everywhere, as if an earthquake of great force had left everything in ruins, disconnected and disorderly. A few people were delirious about their ill-gotten gains. Most others were distraught and pensive, since they had lost everything in the upheaval and were reduced to living in extreme destitution in refugee camps. It was as if two streams were flowing side by side, one of life and the other of death. Manto met his old friends Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi and Sahir Ludhianvi and found them to be as...

    • 3 Pakistan and Uncle Sam’s Cold War
      (pp. 187-210)

      An acerbic critic of progressive follies and the statist fatuities of both subcontinental nations, Manto reserved some of his finest barbs for their respective international patrons—the Soviet Union and the United States of America. He ridiculed the two superpowers for wanting to outdo each other in their quest for world dominance, even if it meant riding roughshod over other countries in the process. His humorous piece “Imaan-o-Iqaan” (Peace and Certainty), written in the form of radio announcements and included in the anthologyTalkh, Tursh aur Shireen(Bitter, Acrimonious, and Sweet), opens with the United Nations announcing the resolution of...

  8. Epilogue: “A Nail’s Debt”: Manto Lives On . . .
    (pp. 211-228)

    In 1946 an astrologer in Bombay had predicted that while Manto would live a long life, he was about to enter a sevenyear period of hardship and suffering. Manto was then at the peak of his scriptwriting career. The slump in the film industry caused by India’s partition had yet to set in. After he passed away sooner than anyone expected, Hamid Jalal mused whether the astrologer had meant that while “Uncle Manto would have a long life as a literary figure . . . his seven year bad period would come to an end with physical death.”¹ Saadat Hasan...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 229-244)
  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 245-248)
  11. Index
    (pp. 249-266)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-270)