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 was a judge of a local court. He was ethnically a Kashmiri and proud of his Kashmiri roots. In a letter to Pandit Nehru he suggested that being ‘beautiful’ was the second meaning of being ‘Kashmiri’.
The big turning point in his life came in 1933, at age 21, when he met Abdul Bari Alig, a scholar and polemic writer, in Amritsar. Abdul Bari Alig encouraged him to find his true talents and read Russian and French authors.
Early career and Bombay
Within a matter of month Manto produced an Urdu translation of Victor Hugo’s The Last Day of a Condemned Man, which was published by Urdu Book Stall, Lahore as Sarguzasht-e-Aseer (A Prisoner’s Story). Soon afterwards he joined the editorial staff of Masawat, a daily published from Ludhiana
This heightened enthusiasm pushed Manto to pursue graduation at Aligarh Muslim University,which he joined in February 1934, and soon got associated with Indian Progressive Writers’ Association (IPWA). It was here that he met writer Ali Sardar Jafri and found a new spurt in his writing. His second story, “Inqlaab Pasand”, was published in Aligarh magazine in March 1935.
In 1934, Saadat Hasan Manto first came to Bombay (now Mumbai) and started to write for magazines, newspapers and writing scripts for the Hindi film industry.During this time, he became good friends with Noor Jehan, Naushad, Ismat Chughtai, Shyam and Ashok Kumar. During this time, he lived in Foras lane, in the center of Bombay’s red light area of Kamathipura. What he saw then around him had a profound impact on his writings.Subsequently Manto had also accepted the job of writing for Urdu Service of All India Radio in 1941. This proved to be his most productive period as in the next eighteen months he published over four collections of radio plays, Aao (Come), Manto ke Drame (Manto’s Dramas), Janaze (Funerals) and Teen Auraten (Three women). He continued to write short stories and his next short story collection Dhuan (Smoke) was soon out followed by Manto ke Afsane and his first collection of topical essays, Manto ke Mazamin. This period culminated with the publication of his mixed collection Afsane aur Dramey in 1943. Meanwhile, due to a quarrel with the director of the All India Radio, poet N. M. Rashid, he left his job and returned to Bombay in July 1942 and again started working with film industry. He entered his best phase in screenwriting giving films like Aatth Din, Shikari,Chal Chal Re Naujawan and Mirza Ghalib, which was finally released in 1954. Some of his short stories also came from this phase including Kaali Shalwar (1941), Dhuan (1941) and Bu (1945), which was published in Qaumi Jang (Bombay) in February 1945. Another highlight of his second phase in Bombay was the publication of a collection of his stories, Chugad, which also included the story ‘Babu Gopinath’. He stayed in Bombay until he moved to Pakistan in January 1948 after the partition of India in 1947.
Migration to Pakistan
As a resident of Bombay, Manto had intended to stay in India after partition.In 1948, his wife and children went to Lahore to visit their relatives and friends. During this time, as stories of the atrocities of partition riots reached him, in the midst of occasional communal riots in Mumbai itself, he decided to migrate to Pakistan, and left for it by ship. Manto and his family thus found themselves as “muhajirs” (refugees from India) and were among the millions of Muslims who left present-day India for the new Muslim-majority nation of Pakistan.
Life in Lahore
When Manto arrived in Lahore from Bombay, he lived near and associated with several prominent intellectuals including Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Nasir Kazmi, Ahmad Rahiand Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi. They all used to gather at Lahore’s iconic Pak Tea House, witness to some of the most fiery literary debates and passionate political arguments back in 1948–49. Pak Tea House holds a special place in the memories of those who know about Lahore’s vibrant literary and cultural past. “There was absolutely no external influence and people would share their opinions on any subject without fear even during the military dictators’ regimes.” In Lahore, Manto lived with his wife and family in a room in Lakshmi mansion, located near Butt Tikka.The three storied building was built by Lala Lajpat Rai’s Lakshmi insurance company in 1938, inaugurated by Sarojini Naidu, and was at one time the residence of K.Santhanam, an eminent lawyer and the family of a jeweler called Girdharilal.However, it was abandoned during the partition riots of 1947-48. The mansion is currently dilapidated and uninhabited, though its façade still exists, renovated and painted.
In his later years, Manto had become increasingly alcoholic, which eventually led to Cirrhosis of the liver. He died on 18 January 1955, in an apartment located off Hall Road in Lahore. His death was attributed to the effects of alcoholism. He was survived by his wife Safia and daughters Nighat, Nuzhat and Nusrat. His daughter Nighat Bashir Patel still lives in the vicinity of the house where Manto lived.
Manto was a writer whose life story became a subject of intense discussion and introspection. During the last two decades many stage productions were done to present his character in conflict with the harsh socio-economic realities of post partition era. Danish Iqbal’s stage Play Ek Kutte Ki Kahani presented Manto in a new perspective on occasion of his birth centenary.
On 18 January 2005, the fiftieth anniversary of his death, Manto was commemorated on a Pakistani postage stamp.On 14 August 2012 which is Pakistan’s Independence Day, Saadat Hasan Manto was posthumously awarded the Nishan-e-Imtiaz award (Distinguished Service to Pakistan Award) by the Government of Pakistan.
In 2015, Pakistani actor and director Sarmad Khoosat made and released a movie, Manto, based on the life of Manto. In 2018, the British Broadcasting Corporation named the work Toba Tek Singh among the 100 stories that shaped the world, alongside works by authors like Homer and Virginia Woolf.
The 2018 film Manto, made by Nandita Das and starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is a Bollywood film based on the life of Manto.
Manto chronicled the chaos that prevailed, during and after the Partition of India in 1947.Manto strongly opposed the partition of India, which he saw as an “overwhelming tragedy” and “maddeningly senseless”.He started his literary career translating the works of Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde and Russian writers such as Chekhov and Gorky. His first story was “Tamasha”, based on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar.Though his earlier works, influenced by the progressive writers of his times, showed a marked leftist and socialist leanings, his later work progressively became stark in portraying the darkness of the human psyche, as humanist values progressively declined around the Partition.
|“||“A writer picks up his pen only when his sensibility is hurt.”
— Manto to a court judge
His final works, which grew from the social climate and his own financial struggles, reflected an innate sense of human impotency towards darkness and contained a satirism that verged on dark comedy, as seen in his final work, Toba Tek Singh.It not only showed the influence of his own demons, but also that of the collective madness that he saw in the ensuing decade of his life. To add to it, his numerous court cases and societal rebukes deepened his cynical view of society, from which he felt isolated.No part of human existence remained untouched or taboo for him, he sincerely brought out stories of prostitutes and pimps alike, just as he highlighted the subversive sexual slavery of the women of his times. To many contemporary women writers, his language portrayed reality and provided them with the dignity they long deserved.He is still known for his scathing insight into human behaviour as well as revelation of the macabre animalistic nature of the enraged people, that stands out amidst the brevity of his prose.
At least one commentator compares Saadat Hasan Manto to D. H. Lawrence, partly because he wrote about taboos of Indo-Pakistani Society. His concerns on the socio-political issues, from local to global are revealed in his series, Letters to Uncle Sam, and those to Pandit Nehru. On his writing he often commented, “If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth”.
Charge for obscenity
Manto faced trial for obscenity in his writings in both India and Pakistan,including three times in India before 1947 (‘Dhuan,’ ‘Bu,’ and ‘Kali Shalwar’) and three times in Pakistan after 1947 (‘KholDo,’ ‘Thanda Gosht,’ and ‘Upar Neeche Darmiyaan’) under section 292 of the Indian Penal Code and the Pakistan Penal Code in Pakistan’s early years. He was fined only in one case. Regarding the charges of obscenity he opined “I am not a pornographer but a story writer,”
- Atish Paray (Nuggets of Fire) – 1936 آتش پارے
- Chugad چُغد
- Manto Ke Afsanay (Stories of Manto) – 1940 منٹو کے افسانے
- Dhuan (Smoke) – 1941 دُھواں
- Afsane Aur Dramay (Fiction and Drama) – 1943 افسانے اور ڈرامے
- Khol do
- Lazzat-e-Sang-1948 (The Taste of Rock) لذتِ سنگ
- Siyah Hashiye-1948 (Black Borders) سیاہ حاشیہ
- Badshahat Ka Khatimah (The End of Kingship) – 1950 بادشاہت کا خاتمہ
- Khali Botlein (Empty Bottles) – 1950 خالی بوتلیں
- Loud Speaker (Sketches) لاؤڈ سپیکر
- Ganjey Farishtey (Sketches) گنجے فرشتے
- Manto ke Mazameen منٹو کے مضا مین
- Nimrud Ki Khudai (Nimrod The God) – 1950 نمرود کی خُدائی
- Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat) – 1950 ٹھنڈا گوشت
- Yazid – 1951 یزید
- Pardey Ke Peechhey (Behind The Curtains) – 1953 پردے کے پیچھے
- Sarak Ke Kinarey (By the Roadside) – 1953 سڑک کے کنارے
- Baghair Unwan Ke (Without a Title) – 1954 بغیر عنوان کے
- Baghair Ijazit (Without Permission) – 1955 بغیر اجازت
- Tobha Tek Singh( “powerful satire”) – 1955 ٹوبہ ٹیک سنگھ
- Burquey – 1955 بُرقعے
- Phunduney (Tassles) – 1955 پھندنے
- Sarkandon Ke Peechhey (Behind The Reeds) – 1955 سرکنڈوں کے پیچھے
- Shaiytan (Satan) – 1955 شیطان
- Shikari Auratein (Women Hunters) – 1955 شکاری عورتیں
- Ratti, Masha, Tolah-1956 رتی ماشہ تولہ
- Kaali Shalwar (Black Pants) – 1961 کالی شلوار
- Manto Ki Behtareen Kahanian (Best Stories of Manto) – 1963 منٹو کی بہترین کہانیاں
- Tahira Se Tahir (From Tahira to Tahir) – 1971 طاہرہ سے طاہر
- Manto Naama, by Jagdish Chander Wadhawan.1998, Roli Books.
- Manto Naama: The Life of Saadat Hasan Manto, English translation of the above by Jai Ratan, 1998, Roli Books.
- Life and Works of Saadat Hasan Manto, by Alok Bhalla. 1997, Indian Institute of Advanced Study.
- The Life and Works of Saadat Hasan Manto. Introduction by Leslie Flemming; trans. by Tahira Naqvi. Lahore, Pakistan: Vanguard Books Ltd., 1985.
- Another Lonely Voice: The Urdu Short Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, by Leslie A. Flemming, Berkeley: Centre for South and South east Asian Studies. University of California. 1979
- Madness and Partition: The Short Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, Stephen Alter, Journal of Comparative Poetics, No. 14, Madness and Civilization/ al-Junun wa al-Hadarah (1994), pp. 91–100.
- Bitter Fruit: The Very Best of Saadat Hassan Manto, edited and tr. by Khalid Hassan, Penguin, 2008.
- Naked Voices: Stories and Sketches by Manto, Ed. and tr. by Rakhshanda Jalil. Indian Ink & Roli Books, 2008.
- Stars from Another Sky: The Bombay Film World of the 1940s, tr. by Khalid Hasan. Penguin India, 2000.
- Manto: Selected Stories, tr. by Aatish Taseer. Vintage/Random House India, 2008.
- The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide. Ayesha Jalal.
- Pinglay-Plumber, Prachi (12 January 2015). “Manto Bridge : to Manto, Bombay was about its people”. Retrieved 6 January 2016.