Stories of Sadat Hasan Manto
Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) Men of Letters
Date of Issue (January 18, 2005)
Saadat Hasan Manto, a great short story writer of South Asia in Urdu, was born on May 11, 1912. He received his early education at Muslim High School in Amritsar. Throughout his school years, Amritsar, like the rest of the Punjab, had experienced considerable civil unrest and political activity as the independence movement began to grow. During his early days of Amritsar he met an itinerant journalist, Abdul Bari Alig, who soon changed the young man's imaginary dabbling with revolution into genuine interest in politics and more importantly their enthusiasm for movie stars into fascination with nineteenth century French and Russian literature, which was now becoming available in India in English and Urdu translation. Under the direction of Bari, who moved back and forth between Amritsar and Lahore as he changed jobs. Manto discovered the works of such leading writers as Victor Hugo, Lord Layton, Gorky, Chekhov, Pushkin, Osar Wilde, Maupassant and others. During this time Bari enthusiastically discovered Hugo's The Last Days of Condemned, a drama expression opposition to capital punishment, and he encouraged Manto to attempt a translation of it into Urdu. Manto completed the translation in about two weeks and sold it to the Urdu Book Stall, Lahore, which published it under the title Sarguzasht-e-Aseer (A Prisoner's Story). Having now become a published author, Manto aided by Hasan Abbas soon attempted a translation of Oscar Wilde's Vera, which was published in 1934.
Besides encouraging the, young Manto to translate good European literature into Urdu, Bari also urged him to return to his earlier literary inclination and begin writing himself in Urdu. While there, Manto also continued to try his hand at original short stories in Urdu, at least one of which "Inqlab Pasand" (Revolutionary), dated March 1935 was published in the Aligarh Magazine. Later this, story 'Tamasha" and several others were put together into Manto's first collection of original short stories in Urdu, 'Atish Pare" (Sparks; also Quarrel-Provokers), published in 1936. Later he came to Lahore and joined newspaper Paras (Philosopher's Stone). However, he soon tired of the paper's "yellow journalism" policies. In late 1936 he accepted an invitation to edit the weekly Musawwir (Painter) and justify Lahore for Bombay. In 1941 he came to Delhi and accepted the job of writing for Urdu Service of All India Radio. During his stay at All India Radio, Manto had the good fortune to be acquainted with many of these writers, including among others, Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, Dr. Akhtar Hussain Raipuri, Ansar Nasiri, Mahmud Nizami, Kirshan Chander, Miraji and Upendranath Ashk.
Whatever literary influences may have rubbed off on Manto during his tenure at All India Radio, his personal relation with the writers he met there were, not surprisingly, quite varied.
Judging from the number and variety of collections Manto had published in Delhi, this was a "golden period" indeed for him. In only eighteen months, no fewer than four of his collection of radio plays, Ao (Come), Manto ke Drame (Manto's Dramas), Janaze (Funerals) and Tin aurraten (Three women) were published. In addition he persisted in writing and publishing his short stories as well as, although they provoked a variety of reactions among readers and critics. The controversial short story collection Dhuan (Smoke) came out during this time, as did at least one edition of Manto ke Afsane. His first collection of topical essays, manto ke mazamin, also appeared during this time.
Following the publication of the mixed collection Afsane aur drame in 1943, Manto's next collection of short stories "Chughd" appeared in India in 1948, shortly after Manto had justify India for Pakistan.
In his collections: Atishpare - 1936, manto Ke Afsane - 1940, Dhuan - 1941, Afsane Aur dramme- 1943, Laazat-e-sang- 1 948, Siyah hasiye- 1948, Badshahat ka Khatimah- 1950, Khali Botlein- 1950, Nimrud ki khudai- 1950, Thanda gosht- 1950, Yazid- 1 951, Parde ke Pichhe- 1953, Sarak ke kinare- 1 953, Baghair unwan ke-1954, Baghairijazt-1955, Burque-1955, Phundne-195 Sarkandon ke pichhe-1955, Shaitan-1955, Shikari auratein- 1955, Ratti, Masha, Tolah-1956, Tahira se tahir-1971, Kaali shalwar-1961, Manto ke behtreen kahanian-1963, Mere afsane are very farnous. He died on January 18, 1955 at the age of 44 years.
Toba Tek Singh
Toba Tek Singh
Translated from the by
Two or three years after Partition, the governments of Pakistan and India decided to exchange lunatics in the same way that they had exchanged civilian prisoners. In other words, Muslim lunatics in Indian madhouses would be sent to Pakistan, while Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistani madhouses would be handed over to India.
I can’t say whether this decision made sense or not. In any event, a date for the lunatic exchange was fixed after high level conferences on both sides of the border. All the details were carefully worked out. On the Indian side, Muslim lunatics with relatives in India would be allowed to stay. The remainder would be sent to the frontier. Here in Pakistan nearly all the Hindus and Sikhs were gone, so the question of retaining non-Muslim lunatics did not arise. All the Hindu and Sikh lunatics would be sent to the frontier in police custody.
I don’t know what happened over there. When news of the lunatic exchange reached the madhouse here in Lahore, however, it became an absorbing topic of discussion among the inmates. There was one Muslim lunatic who had read the newspaper Zamindar1 every day for twelve years. One of his friends asked him: “Maulvi Sahib! What is Pakistan?” After careful thought he replied: “It’s a place in India where they make razors.”
Hearing this, his friend was content.
One Sikh lunatic asked another Sikh: “Sardar ji, why are they sending us to India? We don’t even speak the language.”
“I understand the Indian language,” the other replied, smiling. “Indians are devilish people who strut around haughtily,” he added.
While bathing, a Muslim lunatic shouted “Long live Pakistan!” with such vigor that he slipped on the floor and knocked himself out.
There were also some lunatics who weren’t really crazy. Most of these inmates were murderers whose families had bribed the madhouse officials to have them committed in order to save them from the hangman’s noose. These inmates understood something of why India had been divided, and they had heard of Pakistan. But they weren’t all that well informed. The newspapers didn’t tell them a great deal, and the illiterate guards who looked after them weren’t much help either. All they knew was that there was a man named Mohammed Ali Jinnah, whom people called the Qaid-e-Azem. He had made a separate country for the Muslims, called Pakistan. They had no idea where it was, or what its boundaries might be. This is why all the lunatics who hadn’t entirely lost their senses were perplexed as to whether they were in Pakistan or India. If they were in India, then where was Pakistan? If they were in Pakistan, then how was it that the place where they lived had until recently been known as India?
One lunatic got so involved in this India/Pakistan question that he became even crazier. One day he climbed a tree and sat on one of its branches for two hours, lecturing without pause on the complex issues of Partition. When the guards told him to come down, he climbed higher. When they tried to frighten him with threats, he replied: “I will live neither in India nor in Pakistan. I’ll live in this tree right here!” With much difficulty, they eventually coaxed him down. When he reached the ground he wept and embraced his Hindu and Sikh friends, distraught at the idea that they would leave him and go to India.
One man held an M.S. degree and had been a radio engineer. He kept apart from the other inmates, and spent all his time walking silently up and down a particular footpath in the garden. After hearing about the exchange, however, he turned in his clothes and ran naked all over the grounds.
There was one fat Muslim lunatic from Chiniot who had been an enthusiastic Muslim League activist. He used to wash fifteen or sixteen times a day, but abandoned the habit overnight. His name was Mohammed Ali. One day he announced that he was the Qaid-e-Azem, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Seeing this, a Sikh lunatic declared himself to be Master Tara Singh. Blood would have flowed, except that both were reclassified as dangerous lunatics and confined to separate quarters.
There was also a young Hindu lawyer from Lahore who had gone mad over an unhappy love affair. He was distressed to hear that Amritsar was now in India, because his beloved was a Hindu girl from that city. Although she had rejected him, he had not forgotten her after losing his mind. For this reason he cursed the Muslim leaders who had split India into two parts, so that his beloved remained Indian while he became Pakistani.
When news of the exchange reached the madhouse, several lunatics tried to comfort the lawyer by telling him that he would be sent to India, where his beloved lived. But he didn’t want to leave Lahore, fearing that his practice would not thrive in Amritsar.
In the European Ward there were two Anglo-Indian lunatics. They were very worried to hear that the English had left after granting independence to India. In hushed tones, they spent hours discussing how this would affect their situation in the madhouse. Would the European Ward remain, or would it disappear? Would they be served English breakfasts? What, would they be forced to eat poisonous bloody Indian chapattis instead of bread?
One Sikh had been an inmate for fifteen years. He spoke a strange language of his own, constantly repeating this nonsensical phrase: “Upri gur gur di annexe di be-dhiyan o mung di daal of di lalteen.”2 He never slept. According to the guards, he hadn’t slept a wink in fifteen years. Occasionally, however, he would rest by propping himself against a wall.
His feet and ankles had become swollen from standing all the time, but in spite of these physical problems he refused to lie down and rest. He would listen with great concentration whenever there was discussion of India, Pakistan and the forthcoming lunatic exchange. Asked for his opinion, he would reply with great seriousness: “Upri gur gur di annexe di be-dhiyana di mung di daal of di Pakistan gornament.”3
Later he replaced “of di Pakistan gornament” with “of di Toba Tek Singh gornament.” He also started asking the other inmates where Toba Tek Singh was, and to which country it belonged. But nobody knew whether it was in Pakistan or India. When they argued the question they only became more confused. After all, Sialkot had once been in India, but was apparently now in Pakistan. Who knew whether Lahore, which was now in Pakistan, might not go over to India tomorrow? Or whether all of India might become Pakistan? And was there any guarantee that both Pakistan and India would not one day vanish altogether?
This Sikh lunatic’s hair was unkempt and thin. Because he washed so rarely, his hair and beard had matted together, giving him a frightening appearance. But he was a harmless fellow. In fifteen years, he had never fought with anyone.
The attendants knew only that he owned land in Toba Tek Singh district. Having been a prosperous landlord, he suddenly lost his mind. So his relatives bound him with heavy chains and sent him off to the madhouse.
His family used to visit him once a month. After making sure that he was in good health, they would go away again. These family visits continued for many years, but they stopped when the India/Pakistan troubles began.
This lunatic’s name was Bashan Singh, but everyone called him Toba Tek Singh. Although he had very little sense of time, he seemed to know when his relatives were coming to visit. He would tell the officer in charge that his visit was impending. On the day itself he would wash his body thoroughly and comb and oil his hair. Then he would put on his best clothes and go to meet his relatives.
If they asked him any question he would either remain silent or say: “Upri gur gur di annexe di be-dhiyana di mung di daal of di laaltein.”
Bashan Singh had a fifteen-year-old daughter who grew by a finger’s height every month. He didn’t recognize her when she came to visit him. As a small child, she used to cry whenever she saw her father. She continued to cry now that she was older.
When the Partition problems began, Bashan Singh started asking the other lunatics about Toba Tek Singh. Since he never got a satisfactory answer, his concern deepened day by day.
Then his relatives stopped visiting him. Formerly he could predict their arrival, but now it was as though the voice inside him had been silenced. He very much wanted to see those people, who spoke to him sympathetically and brought gifts of flowers, sweets and clothing. Surely they could tell him whether Toba Tek Singh was in Pakistan or India. After all, he was under the impression that they came from Toba Tek Singh, where his land was.
There was another lunatic in that madhouse who thought he was God. One day, Bashan Singh asked him whether Toba Tek Singh was in Pakistan or India. Guffawing, he replied: “Neither, because I haven’t yet decided where to put it!”
Bashan Singh begged this “God” to resolve the status of Toba Tek Singh and thus end his perplexity. But “God” was far too busy to deal with this matter because of all the other orders that he had to give. One day Bashan Singh lost his temper and shouted: “Upri gur gur di annexe di be-dhiyana di mung di daal of wahay Guru ji wa Khalsa and wahay Guru ji ki fatah. Jo bolay so nahal sat akal!”
By this he might have meant: “You are the God of the Muslims. If you were a Sikh God then you would certainly help me.”
A few days before the day of the exchange, one of Bashan Singh’s Muslim friends came to visit from Toba Tek Singh. This man had never visited the madhouse before. Seeing him, Bashan Singh turned abruptly and started walking away. But the guard stopped him.
“He’s come to visit you. It’s your friend Fazluddin,” the guard said.
Glancing at Fazluddin, Bashan Singh muttered a bit. Fazluddin advanced and took him by the elbow. “I’ve been planning to visit you for ages, but I haven’t had the time until now,” he said. “All your relatives have gone safely to India. I helped them as much as I could. Your daughter Rup Kur . . .”
Bashan Singh seemed to remember something. “Daughter Rup Kur,” he said.
Fazluddin hesitated, and then replied: “Yes, she’s . . . she’s also fine. She left with them.”
Bashan Singh said nothing. Fazluddin continued: “They asked me to make sure you were all right. Now I hear that you’re going to India. Give my salaams to brother Balbir Singh and brother Wadhada Singh. And to sister Imrat Kur also . . . Tell brother Balbir Singh that I’m doing fine. One of the two brown cows that he left has calved. The other one calved also, but it died after six days. And . . . and say that if there’s anything else I can do for them, I’m always ready. And I’ve brought you some sweets.”
Bashan Singh handed the package over to the guard. “Where is Toba Tek Singh?” he asked.
Fazluddin was taken aback. “Toba Tek Singh? Where is it? It’s where it’s always been,” he replied.
“In Pakistan or in India?” Bashan Singh persisted.
Fazluddin became flustered. “It’s in India. No no, Pakistan.”
Bashan Singh walked away, muttering: “Upar di gur gur di annexe di dhiyana di mung di daal of di Pakistan and Hindustan of di dar fatay mun!”
Finally all the preparations for the exchange were complete. The lists of all the lunatics to be transferred were finalized, and the date for the exchange itself was fixed.
The weather was very cold. The Hindu and Sikh lunatics from the Lahore madhouse were loaded into trucks under police supervision. At the Wahga border post, the Pakistani and Indian officials met each other and completed the necessary formalities. Then the exchange began. It continued all through the night.
It was not easy to unload the lunatics and send them across the border. Some of them didn’t even want to leave the trucks. Those who did get out were hard to control because they started wandering all over the place. When the guards tried to clothe those lunatics who were naked, they immediately ripped the garments off their bodies. Some cursed, some sang, and others fought. They were crying and talking, but nothing could be understood. The madwomen were creating an uproar of their own. And it was cold enough to make your teeth chatter.
Most of the lunatics were opposed to the exchange. They didn’t understand why they should be uprooted and sent to some unknown place. Some, only half-mad, started shouting “Long live Pakistan!” Two or three brawls erupted between Sikh and Muslim lunatics who became enraged when they heard the slogans.
When Bashan Singh’s turn came to be entered in the register, he spoke to the official in charge. “Where is Toba Tek Singh?” he asked. “Is it in Pakistan or India?”
The official laughed. “It’s in Pakistan,” he replied.
Hearing this, Bashan Singh leapt back and ran to where his remaining companions stood waiting. The Pakistani guards caught him and tried to bring him back to the crossing point, but he refused to go.
“Toba Tek Singh is here!” he cried. Then he started raving at top volume: “Upar di gur gur di annexe di be-dhiyana mang di daal of di Toba Tek Singh and Pakistan!”
The officials tried to convince him that Toba Tek Singh was now in India. If by some chance it wasn’t they would send it there directly, they said. But he wouldn’t listen.
Because he was harmless, the guards let him stand right where he was while they got on with their work. He was quiet all night, but just before sunrise he screamed. Officials came running from all sides. After fifteen years on his feet, he was lying face down on the ground. India was on one side, behind a barbed wire fence. Pakistan was on the other side, behind another fence. Toba Tek Singh lay in the middle, on a piece of land that had no name.
1 "The Landowner"
2 Literally: "The lack of contemplation and lentils of the annexe of the above raw sugar of the lantern."
3 "Gornament": Punjabi pronunciation of the English "government."
Dog of Tithwal
Dog of Tithwal
Dog of Tithwal
The soldiers had been entrenched in their positions for several weeks, but there was little, if any, fighting, except for the dozen rounds they ritually exchanged every day. The weather was extremely pleasant. The air was heavy with the scent of wild flowers and nature seemed to be following its course, quite unmindful of the soldiers hiding behind rocks and camouflaged by mountain shrubbery. The birds sang as they always had and the llowers were in bloom. Bees buzzed about lazily.
Only when a shot rang out, the birds got startled and took Right, as if a musician had struck a jarring note on his instrument. It was almost the end of September, neither hot nor cold. It seemed as if summer and winter had made their peace. In the blue skies, cotton clouds floated all day like barges on a lake.
The soldiers seemed to be getting tired of this indecisive war where nothing much ever happened. Their positions were quite impregnable. The two hills on which they were placed faced each other and were about the same height, so no one side had an advantage. Down below in the valley, a stream zigzagged furiously on its stony bed like a snake.
The air force was not involved in the combat and neither of the adversaries had heavy guns or mortars. At night, they would light huge fires and hear each others' voices echoing through the hills.
The last round of tea had just been taken. The fire had gone cold. The sky was clear and there was a chill in the air and a sharp, though not unpleasant, smell of pine cones. Most of the soldiers were already asleep, except Jamadar Harnam Singh, who was on night watch. At two o'clock, he woke up Ganda Singh to take over. Then he lay down, but sleep was as far away from his eyes as the stars in the sky. He began to hum a Punjabi folk song:
Buy me a pair of shoes, my lover A pair of shoes with stars on them Sell your buffalo, if you have to But buy me a pair of shoes With stars on them
It made him feel good and a bit sentimental. He woke up the others one by one. Banta Singh, the youngest of the soldiers, who had a sweet voice, began to sing a lovelorn verse from Heer Ranjha, that timeless Punjabi epic of love and tragedy. A deep sadness fell over them. Even the grey hills seemed to have been affected by the melancholy of the song.
This mood was shattered by the barking of a dog. Jamadar Harnam Singh said, 'Where has this son of a bitch materialized from?'
The dog barked again. He sounded closer. There was a rustle in the bushes. Banta Singh got up to investigate and came back with an ordinary mongrel in tow. He was wagging his tail. 'I found him behind the bushes and he told me his name was Jhun Jhun,' Banta Singh announced. Everybody burst out laughing.
The dog went to Harnam Singh who produced a cracker from his kitbag and threw it on the ground. The dog sniffed at it and was about to eat it, when Harnam Singh snatched it away. '. . . Wait, you could be a Pakistani dog.'
They laughed. Banta Singh patted the animal and said to Harnam Singh, 'Jamadar sahib,JhunJhun is an Indian dog.' 'Prove your identity,' Harnam Singh ordered the dog, who began to wag his tail.
'This is no proof of identity. All dogs can wag their tails,' Harnam Singh said.
'He is only a poor refugee,' Banta Singh said, playing with his tail.
Harnam Singh threw the dog a cracker which he caught in midair. 'Even dogs will now have to decide if they are Indian or Pakistani,' one of the soldiers observed.
Harnam Singh produced another cracker from his kitbag. 'And all Pakistanis, including dogs, will be shot.'
A soldier shouted, 'India Zindabad ! '
The dog, who was about to munch his cracker, stopped dead in his tracks, put his tail between his legs and looked scared. Harnam Singh laughed. 'Why are you afraid of your own country? Here, Jhun Jhun, have another cracker.'
The morning broke very suddenly, as if someone had switched on a light in a dark room. It spread across the hills and valleys of Titwal, which is what the area was called.
The war had been going on for months, but nobody could be quite sure who was winning it.
Jamadar Harnam Singh surveyed the area with his binoculars. He could see smoke rising from the opposite hill, which meant that, like them, the enemy was busy preparing breakfast.
Subedar Himmat Khan of the Pakistan army gave his huge moustache a twirl and began to study the map of the Titwal sector. Next to him sat his wireless operator who was trying to establish contact with the platoon commander to obtain instructions. A few feet away, the soldier Bashir sat on the ground, his back against a rock and his rifle in front of him.
He was humming:
Where did you spend the night, my love, my moon?
Where did you spend the night?
Enjoying himself, he began to sing more loudly, savouring the words. Suddenly, he heard Subedar Himmat Khan scream,
'Where did you spend the night?'
But this was not addressed to Bashir. It was a dog he was shouting at. He had come to them from nowhere a few days ago, stayed in the camp quite happily and then suddenly disappeared last night. However, he had now returned like a bad coin.
Bashir smiled and began to sing to the dog. 'Where did you spend the night, where did you spend the night?' But he only wagged his tail. Subedar Himmat Khan threw a pebble at him. 'All he can do is wag his tail, the idiot.'
'What has he got around his neck?' Bashir asked. One of the soldiers grabbed the dog and undid his makeshift rope collar. There was a small piece of cardboard tied to it. 'What does it say?' the soldier, who could not read, asked.
Bashir stepped forward and with some difficulty was able to decipher the writing. 'It says JhunJhun.'
Subedar Himmat Khan gave his famous moustache another mighty twirl and said, 'Perhaps it is a code. Does it say anything else, Bashirey?'
'Yes sir, it says it is an Indian dog.'
'What does that mean?' Subedar Himmat Khan asked.
'Perhaps it is a secret,' Bashir answered seriously.
'If there is a secret, it is in that word Jhun Jhun,' another soldier ventured in a wise guess.
'You may have something there,' Subedar Himmat Khan observed.
Dutifully, Bashir read the whole thing again. 'JhunJhun. This is an Indian dog.'
Subedar Himmat Khan picked up the wireless set and spoke to his platoon commander, providing him with a detailed account of the dog's sudden appearance in their position, his equally sudden disappearance the night before and his return that rnorning. 'What are you talking about?' the platoon commander asked.
Subedar Himmat Khan studied the map again. Then he tore up a packet of cigarettes, cut a small piece from it and gave it to Bashir. 'Now write on it in Gurmukhi, the language of those Sikhs . . .'
'What should I write?'
'Well . . .'
Bashir had an inspiration. 'Shun Shun, yes, that's right. We counter JhunJhun with Shun Shun.'
'Good,' Subedar Himmat Khan said approvingly. 'And add:
This is a Pakistani dog.'
Subedar Himmat Khan personally threaded the piece of paper through the dog's collar and said, 'Now go join your family.'
He gave him something to eat and then said, 'Look here, my friend, no treachery. The punishment for treachery is death.'
The dog kept eating his food and wagging his tail. Then Subedar Himmat Khan turned him round to face the Indian position and said, 'Go and take this message to the enemy, but come back. These are the orders of your commander.'
The dog wagged his tail and moved down the winding hilly track that led into the valley dividing the two hills. Subedar Himmat Khan picked up his rifle and fired in the air.
The Indians were a bit puzzled, as it was somewhat early in the day for that sort of thing. Jamadar Harnam Singh, who in any case was feeling bored, shouted, 'Let's give it to them.'
The two sides exchanged fire for half an hour, which, of course, was a complete waste of time. Finally, Jamadar Harnam Singh ordered that enough was enough. He combed his long hair, looked at himself in the mirror and asked Banta Singh, 'Where has that dog Jhun Jhun gone?'
'Dogs can never digest butter, goes the famous saying,' Banta Singh observed philosophically.
Suddenly, the soldier on lookout duty shouted, 'There he comes.'
'Who?' Jamadar Harnam Singh asked.
'What was his name?JhunJhun,' the soldier answered.
'What is he doing?' Harnam Singh asked.
'Just coming our way,' the soldier replied, peering through his binoculars.
Subedar Harnam Singh snatched them from him. 'That's him all right and there's something round his neck. But, wait, that's the Pakistani hill he's coming from, the motherfucker.'
He picked up his rifle, aimed and fired. The bullet hit some rocks close to where the dog was. He stopped.
Subedar Himmat Khan heard the report and looked through his binoculars. The dog had turned round and was running back. 'The brave never run away from battle. Go forward and complete your mission,' he shouted at the dog. To scare him, he fired in his general direction. Harnam Singh fired at the same time. The bullet passed within inches of the dog, who leapt in the air, flapping his ears. Subedar Himmat Khan fired again, hitting some stones.
It soon became a game between the two soldiers, with the dog running round in circles in a state of great terror. Both Himmat Khan and Harnam Singh were laughing boisterously. The dog began to run towards Harnam Singh, who abused him loudly and fired. The bullet caught him in the leg. He yelped, turned around and began to run towards Himmat Khan, only to meet more fire, which was only meant to scare him. 'Be a brave boy. If you are injured, don't let that stand between you and your duty. Go, go, go,' the Pakistani shouted.
The dog turned. One of his legs was now quite useless. He began to drag himself towards Harnam Singh, who picked up his rifle, aimed carefully and shot him dead.
Subedar Himmat Khan sighed, 'The poor bugger has been martyred.'
Jamadar Himmat Singh ran his hand over the still-hot barrel of his rifle and muttered, 'He died a dog's death.'
Written in Urdu by Sadaat Hasan Monto
Translated by Sardar Khushwant Singh ji
published in an excellent book named
Selected Stories by Khushwant Singh Land of five rivers
by Orient Paperbacks Madarsa Road, Kashmere Gate Delhi 110006
Re: Stories of Sadat Hasan Manto
Third Letter to Uncle Sam
Translated from the by
31 Laxmi Mansions
Hall Road, Lahore
15 March 1954
I write this after a long break. The fact is that I was ill. According to our poetic tradition, the treatment for illness lies in what is called the elixir of joy served by a slender temptress straight out of the quatrains of Omar Khayyam from a long-necked crystal jug. However, I think that is all poetry. Not to speak of comely cupbearers, one can't even find an ugly servant boy with a mustache to play the cupbearer.
Beauty has fled this land. While women have come out from behind the veil, one look at them and you wish they had stayed behind it. Your Max Factor has made them even uglier. You send free wheat, free literature, free arms. Why not send a couple of hundred examples of pure American womanhood here so that they could at least serve a drink as it is supposed to be served?
I fell ill because of this blasted liquor--God damn it--which is poison, pure and simple. And raw. Not that I did not know, not that I did not understand, but what the poet Meer wrote applies to my condition.
What a simpleton Meer is!
The apothecary's boy who made him fall ill
Is the very one he goes to get his medicine
Who knows what Meer found in that apothecary's boy from whom he sought his medicine when he knew he was ill because of him. The man from whom I buy my poison is far more ill than I am. While I have survived because I am used to a hard life, I see little hope for him.
In the three months I was in a hospital's general ward, no American aid reached me. I think you knew nothing about my illness otherwise you would have surely sent me two or three packages of Terramycin and earned credit in this world and the next.
Our foreign publicity leaves a great deal to be desired and our government, in any case, has no interest in writers, poets and painters.
Our late lamented government, I recall, appointed Firdausi-i-Islam Hafiz Jullandhri director of the song publicity department at a monthly salary of Rs 1,000.1 After the establishment of Pakistan, all that was allotted to him was a house and a printing press. Today you pick up the papers and what do you see? Hafiz Jullandhri bewailing his lot, having been thrown out of the committee appointed to compose a national anthem for Pakistan. He is one poet in the country who can write an anthem for this, the world's largest Islamic state, and even set it to music. He has divorced his British wife because the British are gone. He is said to be now looking for an American wife. Uncle, for God's sake help him there so that he can be saved from a sorry end.
The number of your nephews runs into millions but a nephew like yours truly you will not find even if you lit an atom bomb to look for him. Do pay me some attention therefore. All I need is an announcement from you that your country (which may it please God to protect till the end of time) will only help my country (may God blight the distilleries of this land) acquire arms if Saadat Hasan Manto is sent over to you.
Overnight, my value will go up and after this announcement, I will stop doing Shama and Director crossword puzzles.2 Important people will come to visit my home and I will ask you to airmail me a typical American grin which I will glue to my face so that I can receive them properly.
Such a grin can have a thousand meanings. For instance, "You are an ass." "You are exceptionally brilliant." "I derived nothing but mental discomfort from this meeting." "You are a casual-wear shirt made in America." "You are a box of matches made in Pakistan." "You are a homemade herbal tonic." "You are Coca-Cola." etc. etc.
I want to live in Pakistan because I love this bit of earth, dust from which, incidentally, has lodged itself permanently in my lungs. However, I will certainly visit your country so that I can get my health back. Barring my lungs, every other organ in my body I will hand over to your experts and ask them to turn them American.
I like the American way of life. I also like the design of your casual-wear shirt. It is both a good design and a good billboard. You can print the latest propaganda item on it every day and move from Shezan to Coffee House to Chinese Lunch Home so that everyone can read it.3
I also want a Packard so that when I go riding in it on the Mall, wearing that shirt with a pipe gifted by you resting between my teeth, all the progressive and nonprogressive writers of Lahore should come to realize that they have been wasting their time so far.
But look, Uncle, you will have to buy petrol for the car, though I promise to write a story as soon as I have the Packard that I would call "Iran's Nine Maunds of Oil and Radha." Believe me, the moment the story is printed, all this trouble about Iranian oil will end and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan,4 who is still alive, will have to amend that couplet he once wrote about Lloyd George and oil.
Another thing I would want from you would be a tiny, teeny weeny atom bomb because for long I have wished to perform a certain good deed. You will naturally want to know what.
You have done many good deeds yourself and continue to do them. You decimated Hiroshima, you turned Nagasaki into smoke and dust and you caused several thousand children to be born in Japan. Each to his own. All I want you to do is to dispatch me some dry cleaners. It is like this. Out there, many Mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the after-drops of urine as they resume their walk. This they do in full public view. All I want is that the moment such a person appears, I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the Mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding.
As for your military pact with us, it is remarkable and should be maintained. You should sign something similar with India. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us, the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is a Kashmiri, so you should send him a gun which should go off when it is placed in the sun. I am a Kashmiri too, but a Muslim which is why I have asked for a tiny atom bomb for myself.
One more thing. We can't seem able to draft a constitution. Do kindly ship us some experts because while a nation can manage without a national anthem, it cannot do without a constitution, unless such is your wish.
One more thing. As soon as you get this letter, send me a shipload of American matchsticks. The matchsticks manufactured here have to be lit with the help of Iranian-made matchsticks. And after you have used half the box, the rest are unusable unless you take help from matches made in Russia which behave more like firecrackers than matches.
The American topcoats are also excellent and without them our Landa Bazar5 would be quite barren. But why don't you send us trousers as well? Don't you ever take off your trousers? If you do, you probably ship them to India. There has to be a strategy to it because you send us jackets but no trousers which you send to India. When there is a war, it will be your jackets and your trousers. These two will fight each other using arms supplied by you.
And what is this I hear about Charlie Chaplin having given up his U.S. citizenship? What did this joker think he was doing? He surely is suffering from communism; otherwise why would a man who has lived all his life in your country, made his name there, made his money there, do what he has done? Does he not remember the time when he used to beg in the streets of London and nobody took any notice of him!
Why did he not go to Russia? But then there is no shortage of jokers there. Perhaps he should go to England so that its residents learn to laugh heartily like Americans. As it is, they always look so somber and superior? It is time some of their pretense came off.
I now close my letter with a freestyle kiss to Hedy Lamarr.
Saadat Hasan Manto
1 Hafiz Jullandhri was one of Urdu's leading poets before independence and gained popularity for his poetic epic based on the history of Islam, "Shahnameh-e-Islam." He was likened to the great medieval Persian poet Firdausi who wrote the famous epic poem "Shahnameh." Hafiz was often called Firdausi-e-Islam. After independence he was assigned to write the Pakistani national anthem. However, he always felt that his services had not been recognized to the extent they deserved. Manto did not think much of him, either as a poet or a man.
2Shama, Delhi, and Director, Lahore, were two popular magazines of the time that ran crossword puzzle competitions that offered generous cash prizes.
3Zelin's Coffee House, Pak Tea House, and Cheney's Lunch Home, all located on the Mall, were Lahore's most popular restaurants at the time where writers and intellectuals gathered. Only Pak Tea House has survived, though it is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
4Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, prolific poet, writer, and journalist who founded the Urdu daily Zamindar from Lahore. He died in the early 1950s.
5Landa Bazar, Lahore's famous secondhand clothes market.
(Story) Lihaaf or The Quilt by Ismat Chugtai
Lihaaf or The Quilt
In the depth of winter whenever I snuggle into my quilt, its shadow on the wall seems to sway like an elephant. My mind begins a mad race into the dark crevasses of the past; memories come flooding in.
Begging your pardon, I am not about to relate a romantic incident surrounding my own quilt—I do not believe there is much romance associated with it. The blanket, though considerably less comfortable, is preferable because it does not cast such terrifying shadows, quivering on the wall!
This happened when I was a small girl. All day long I fought tooth and nail with my brothers and their friends. Sometimes I wondered why the hell I was so quarrelsome. At my age my older sisters had been busy collecting admirers; all I could think of was fisticuffs with every known and unknown girl or boy I ran into!
For this reason my mother decided to deposit me with an 'adopted' sister of hers when she left for Agra. She was well aware that there was no one in that sister's house, not even a pet animal, with whom I could engage in my favorite occupation! I guess my punishment was well deserved. So Mother left me with Begum Jan, the same Begum Jan whose quilt is imprinted on my memory like a blacksmith's brand.
This was the lady who had been married off to Nawab Sahib for a very good reason, courtesy her poor but loving parents. Although much past his prime, Nawab Sahib was noblesse oblige. No one had ever seen a dancing girl or prostitute in his home. He had the distinction of not only performing the Haj himself, but of being the patron of several poor people who had undertaken the pilgrimage through his good offices.
Nawab Sahib had a strange hobby. People are known to have irksome interests like breeding pigeons and arranging cockfights. Nawab Sahib kept himself aloof from these disgusting sports; all he liked to do was keep an open house for students; young, fair and slim-waisted boys, whose expenses were borne entirely by him. After marrying Begum Jan, he deposited her in the house with all his other possessions and promptly forgot about her! The young, delicate Begum began to wilt with loneliness.
Who knows when Begum Jan started living? Did her life begin when she made the mistake of being born, or when she entered the house as the Nawab's new bride, climbed the elaborate four-poster bed and started counting her days? Or did it begin from the time she realized that the household revolved around the boy-students, and that all the delicacies produced in the kitchen were meant solely for their palates? From the chinks in the drawing-room doors, Begum Jan glimpsed their slim waists, fair ankles and gossamer shirts and felt she had been raked over coals!
Perhaps it all started when she gave up on magic, necromancy, seances and whatnot. You cannot draw blood from a stone. Not an inch did the Nawab budge. Broken-hearted, Begum Jan turned towards education. Not much to be gained here either! Romantic novels and sentimental poetry proved even more depressing. Sleepless nights became a daily routine. Begun Jan slowly let go and consequently, became a picture of melancholy and despair.
She felt like stuffing all her fine clothes into the stove. One dresses up to impress people. Now, neither did the Nawab Sahib find a spare moment from his preoccupation with the gossamer shirts, nor did he allow her to venture outside the home. Her relatives, however, made it a habit to pay her frequent visits which often lasted for months, while she remained prisoner of the house.
Seeing these relatives on a roman holiday made her blood boil. They happily indulged themselves with the goodies produced in the kitchen and licked the clarified butter off their greedy fingers. In her household they equipped themselves for their winter needs. But, despite renewing the cotton filling in her quilt each year, Begum Jan continued to shiver, night after night. Each time she turned over, the quilt assumed ferocious shapes which appeared like shadowy monsters on the wall. She lay in terror; not one of the shadows carried any promise of life. What the hell was life worth anyway? Why live? But Begum Jan was destined to live, and once she started living, did she ever!
Rabbo came to her rescue just as she was starting to go under. Suddenly her emaciated body began to fill out. Her cheeks became rosy; beauty, as it were, glowed through every pore! It was a special oil massage that brought about the change in Begum Jan. Begging your pardon, you will not find the recipe for this oil in the most exclusive or expensive magazine!
When I saw Begum Jan she was in her early forties. She sat reclining on the couch, a figure of dignity and grandeur. Rabbo sat against her back, massaging her waist. A purple shawl was thrown over her legs. The very picture of royalty, a real Maharani! How I loved her looks. I wanted to sit by her side for hours, adoring her like a humble devotee. Her complexion was fair, without a trace of ruddiness. Her black hair was always drenched in oil. I had never seen her parting crooked, nor a single hair out of place. Her eyes were black, and carefully plucked eyebrows stretched over them like a couple of perfect bows! Her eyes were slightly taut, eyelids heavy and eyelashes thick. The most amazing and attractive part of her face were her lips. Usually dyed in lipstick, her upper lip had a distinct line of down. Her temples were covered with long hair. Sometimes her face became transformed before my adoring gaze, as if it were the face of young boy.
Her skin was fair and moist, and looked like it had been stretched over her frame and tightly stitched up. Whenever she exposed her ankles for a massage, I stole a glance at their rounded smoothness. She was tall, and appeared taller because of the ample flesh on her person. Her hands were large and moist, her waist smooth. Rabbo used to sit by her side and scratch her back for hours together—it was almost as if getting scratched was for her the fulfilment of life's essential need. In a way, more important than the basic necessities required for staying alive.
Rabbo had no other household duties. Perched on the four-poster bed, she was always massaging Begum Jan's head, feet or some other part of her anatomy. Someone other than Begum Jan receiving such a quantity of human touching, what would the consequences be? Speaking for myself, I can say that if someone touched me continuously like this, I would certainly rot.
As if this daily massage ritual were not enough, on the days she bathed this ritual extended to two hours! Scented oils and unguents were massaged into her shining skin; imagining the friction caused by this prolonged rubbing made me slightly sick. The braziers were lit behind closed doors and then the procedure started. Usually Rabbo was the only one allowed inside the sanctum. Other servants, muttering their disapproval, handed over various necessities at the closed door.
The fact of the matter was that Begum Jan was afflicted with a perpetual itch. Numerous oils and lotions had been tried, but the itch was there to stay. Hakims and doctors stated: It is nothing, the skin is clear. But if the disease is located beneath the skin, it's a different matter. These doctors are mad! Rabbo used to say with a meaningful smile while gazing dreamily at Begum Jan. "May your enemies be afflicted with skin disease! It is your hot blood that causes all the trouble!"
Rabbo! She was as black as Begum Jan was white, like burnt iron ore! Her face was lightly marked with smallpox, her body solidly packed; small dextrous hands, a tight little paunch and full lips slightly swollen, which were always moist. Those puffy hands were as quick as lightning, now at her waist, now her lips, now kneading her thighs and dashing towards her ankles. Whenever I sat down with Begum Jan, my eyes were riveted to those roving hands.
Winter or summer, Begum Jan always wore kurtas of Hyderabadi jalli karga. I recall her dark skirts and billowing white kurtas. With the fan gently rotating on the ceiling, Begum always covered herself with a soft wrap. She was fond of winter. I too liked the winter season at her house. She moved very little. Reclining on the carpet, she spent her days having her back massaged, chewing on dry fruit. Other household servants were envious of Rabbo. The witch! She ate, sat, and even slept with Begum Jan! Rabbo and Begum Jan—the topic inevitably cropped up in every gathering. Whenever anyone mentioned their names, the group burst into loud guffaws. Who knows what jokes were made at their expense? But one thing was certain—the poor lady never met a single soul. All her time was taken up with the treatment of her unfortunate itch.
I have already said I was very young at the time and quite enamoured of Begum Jan. She, too, was fond of me. When mother decided to go to Agra she had to leave me with somebody. She knew that, left alone, I would fight continuously with my brothers, or wander around aimlessly. I was happy to be left with Begum Jan for one week, and Begum Jan was equally pleased to have me. After all, she was Ammi's adopted sister!
The question arose of where I was to sleep. The obvious place was Begum Jan's room; accordingly, a small bed was placed alongside the huge four-poster. Until ten or eleven that night we played Chance and talked; then I went to bed. When I fell asleep Rabbo was scratching her back. "Filthy wench", I muttered before turning over. At night I awoke with a start. It was pitch dark. Begum Jan's quilt was shaking vigorously, as if an elephant was struggling beneath it.
"Begum Jan", my voice was barely audible. The elephant subsided.
"What is it? Go to sleep". Begum Jan's voice seemed to come from afar.
"I’m scared". I sounded like a petrified mouse.
"Go to sleep. Nothing to be afraid of. Recite the Ayat-ul-Kursi".
"Okay!" I quickly began the Ayat. But each time I reached Yalamu Mabain I got stuck. This was strange. I knew the entire Ayat!
"May I come to you, Begum Jan?"
"No child, go to sleep". The voice was curt. Then I heard whispers. Oh God! Who was this other person? Now I was terrified.
"Begum Jan, is there a thief here?"
"Go to sleep, child; there is no thief". This was Rabbo's voice. I sank into my quilt and tried to sleep.
In the morning I could not even remember the sinister scene that had been enacted at night. I have always been the superstitious one in my family. Night fears, sleep-talking, sleep-walking were regular occurrences during my childhood. People often said that I seemed to be haunted by evil spirits. Consequently I blotted out the incident from memory as easily as I dealt with all my imaginary fears. Besides, the quilt seemed such an innocent part of the bed.
The next night when I woke up, a quarrel between Begum Jan and Rabbo was being settled on the bed itself. I could not make out what conclusion was reached, but I heard Rabbo sobbing. Then there were sounds of a cat slobbering in the saucer. To hell with it, I thought and went off to sleep!
Today Rabbo has gone off to visit her son. He was a quarrelsome lad. Begum Jan had done a lot to help him settle down in life; she had bought him a shop, arranged a job in the village, but to no avail. She even managed to have him stay with Nawab Sahib. Here he was treated well, a new wardrobe was ordered for him, but ungrateful wretch that he was, he ran away for no good reason and never returned, not even to see Rabbo. She therefore had to arrange to meet him at a relative's house. Begum Jan would never have allowed it, but poor Rabbo was helpless and had to go.
All day Begum Jan was restless. Her joints hurt like hell, but she could not bear anyone's touch. Not a morsel did she eat; all day long she moped in bed.
"Shall I scratch you, Begum Jan?" I asked eagerly while dealing out the deck of cards. Begum Jan looked at me carefully.
"Really, shall I?" I put the cards aside and began scratching, while Begum Jan lay quietly, giving in to my ministrations. Rabbo was due back the next day, but she never turned up. Begum Jan became irritable. She drank so much tea that her head started throbbing.
Once again I started on her back. What a smooth slab of a back! I scratched her softly, happy to be of some assistance;
"Scratch harder, open the straps", Begum Jan spoke. "There, below the shoulder. Ooh, wonderful!" She sighed as if with immense relief.
"This way", Begum Jan indicated, although she could very well scratch that part herself. But she preferred my touch. How proud I was!
"Here, oh, oh, how you tickle", she laughed. I was talking and scratching at the same time.
"Tomorrow I will send you to the market. What do you want? A sleeping-walking doll?"
"Not a doll, Begum Jan! Do you think I am a child? You know I am…"
"Yes… an old crow. Is that what you are?" She laughed.
"Okay then, buy a babua. Dress it up yourself, I'll give you as many bits and pieces as you want. Okay?" She turned over.
"Okay", I answered.
"Here". She was guiding my hand wherever she felt the itch. With my mind on the babua, I was scratching mechanically, unthinkingly. She continued talking. "Listen, you don't have enough clothes. Tomorrow I will ask the tailor to make you a new frock. Your mother has left some material with me".
"I don't want that cheap red material. It looks tacky". I was talking nonsense while my hand roved the entire territory. I did not realize it but by now Begum Jan was flat on her back! Oh God! I quickly withdrew my hand.
"Silly girl, don't you see where you're scratching? You have dislocated my ribs". Begum Jan was smiling mischievously. I was red with embarrassment.
"Come, lie down with me". She laid me at her side with my head on her arm. "How thin you are… and, let's see, your ribs", she started counting.
"No", I protested weakly.
"I won't eat you up! What a tight sweater", she said. "Not even a warm vest?" I began to get very restless.
"How many ribs?" The topic was changed.
"Nine on one side, ten on the other". I thought of my school hygiene. Very confused thinking.
"Let's see", she moved my hand. "One, two, three…"
I wanted to run away from her, but she held me closer. I struggled to get away. Begum Jan started laughing.
To this day whenever I think of what she looked like at that moment, I get nervous. Her eyelids became heavy, her upper lip darkened and, despite the cold, her nose and eyes were covered with tiny beads of perspiration. Her hands were stiff and cold, but soft as if the skin had been peeled. She had thrown off her shawl and in the karga kurta, her body shone like a ball of dough. Her heavy gold kurta buttons were open, swinging to one side.
The dusk had plunged her room into a claustrophobic blackness, and I felt gripped by an unknown terror. Begum Jan's deep dark eyes focused on me! I started crying. She was clutching me like a clay doll. I started feeling nauseated against her warm body. She seemed possessed. What could I do? I was neither able to cry nor scream! In a while she became limp. Her face turned pale and frightening, she started taking deep breaths. I figured she was about to die, so I ran outside.
Thank God Rabbo came back at night. I was scared enough to pull the sheet over my head, but sleep evaded me as usual. I lay awake for hours.
How I wished Ammi would return. Begum Jan had become such a terrifying entity that I spent my days in the company of household servants. I was too scared to step into her bedroom. What could I have said to anyone? That I was afraid of Begum Jan? Begum Jan, who loved me so dearly?
Today there was another tiff between Begum Jan and Rabbo. I was dead scared of their quarrels, because they signalled the beginning of my misfortunes! Begum Jan immediately thought about me. What was I doing wandering around in the cold? I would surely die of pneumonia!
"Child, you will have my head shaven in public. If something happens to you, how will I face your mother?" Begum Jan admonished me as she washed up in the water basin. The tea tray was lying on the table.
"Pour some tea and give me a cup". She dried her hands and face.
"Let me get out of these clothes".
While she changed, I drank tea. During her body massage, she kept summoning me for small errands. I carried things to her with utmost reluctance, always looking the other way. At the slightest opportunity I ran back to my perch, drinking my tea, my back turned to Begum Jan.
"Ammi!" My heart cried in anguish. "How could you punish me so severely for fighting with my brothers?" Mother disliked my mixing with the boys, as if they were man-eaters who would swallow her beloved daughter in one gulp! After all who were these ferocious males? None other than my own brothers and their puny little friends. Mother believed in a strict prison sentence for females; life behind seven padlocks! Begum Jan's "patronage", however, proved more terrifying than the fear of the world's worst goondas! If I had had the courage I would have run out on to the street. But helpless as I was, I continued to sit in that very spot with my heart in my mouth.
After an elaborate ritual of dressing up and scenting her body with warm attars and perfumes, Begum Jan turned her arduous heat on me.
"I want to go home!" I said in response to all her suggestions. More tears.
"Come to me", she waxed. "I will take you shopping".
But I had only one answer. All the toys and sweets in the world kept piling up against my one and only refrain, "I want to go home!"
"Your brothers will beat you up, you witch!" She smacked me affectionately.
"Sure, let them", I said to myself annoyed and exasperated.
"Raw mangoes are sour, Begum Jan", malicious little Rabbo expressed her views.
Then Begum Jan had her famous fit. The gold necklace she was about to place around my neck, was broken to bits. Gossamer net scarf was shredded mercilessly. Hair, which were never out of place, were tousled with loud exclamations of "Oh! Oh! Oh!" She started shouting and convulsing. I ran outside. After much ado and ministration, Begum Jan regained consciousness. When I tiptoed into the bedroom Rabbo, propped against her body, was kneading her limbs.
"Take off your shoes, she whispered". Mouse-like I crept into my quilt.
Later that night, Begum Jan's quilt was, once again, swinging like an elephant. "Allah", I was barely able to squeak. The elephant-in-the quilt jumped and then sat down. I did not say a word. Once again, the elephant started convulsing. Now I was really confused. I decided, no matter what, tonight I would flip the switch on the bedside lamp. The elephant started fluttering once again, as if about to squat. Smack, gush, slobber—someone was enjoying a feast. Suddenly I understood what was going on!
Begum Jan had not eaten a thing all day and Rabbo, the witch, was a known glutton. They were polishing off some goodies under the quilt, for sure. Flaring my nostrils, I huffed and puffed hoping for a whiff of the feast. But the air was laden with attar, henna, sandalwood; hot fragrances, no food.
Once again the quilt started billowing. I tried to lie still, but it was now assuming such weird shapes that I could not contain myself. It seemed as if a frog was growing inside it and would suddenly spring on me.
"Ammi!" I spoke with courage, but no one heard me. The quilt, meanwhile, had entered my brain and started growing. Quietly creeping to the other side of the bed I swung my legs over and sat up . In the dark I groped for the switch. The elephant somersaulted beneath the quilt and dug in. During the somersault, its corner was lifted one foot above the bed.
Allah! I dove headlong into my sheets!!
What I saw when the quilt was lifted, I will never tell anyone, not even if they give me a lakh of rupees.