Kids Corner

Below: a scene from an enactment of the play based on 'Toba Tek Singh' in Dhaka, Bangla Desh.


Lost and Found:
Saadat Hasan Manto





NEWS REPORT (Times of India), March 11, 2015
One of the greatest writers of Punjab and the great chronicler of the Partition of Punjab in 1947  - Saadat Hasan Manto - is no longer the subject of study in Punjab, the land of his birth. Punjabi University, Patiala has thrown out Manto's writings from its MA in Punjabi (Honours) course curriculum. This was the only state university where his teachings were taught. The authorities have decided to replace him with a collection of Japanese short stories.

So now, young Punjabis will be denied the gut-wrenching tales from the earliest days of Independence, such as '
Toba Tek Singh', 'Khol Do', 'Kaali Salwar' and 'Thanda Gosht.'

I had heard of Manto in passing as the author of ‘Toba Tek Singh‘, one of his most acclaimed short stories.

But had never bothered to read him, as one is always arrogant in youth, ignoring and neglecting one's own literature while seeking the embrace of Western authors.

However, when I recently read about him and the fact that he was not going to be taught anymore here in Punjab, it made me conscious about my ignorance.

Saadat Hasan Manto is one of the most misunderstood authors. And it is virtually impossible to get his work in the stores except for some weak translations that do not do justice to his passionate style of writing.

I tried to get his books, even appealing to my social networking mainstay group, where I was met with ‘what?’ and ‘who? and was told to read pulp fiction and to get a life!

The other option was to reach out simultaneously to my Facebook friends … and, well, then came the answers.

I cannot thank enough one of them in particular who found the books and sent them to me by courier.

Needless to say, I discovered how ignorant and lacking in knowledge I had been about both the Partition and Manto. His books take you to the times of the Partition and the chilling encounters of 1947 when humans were killed just because they followed a particular religion. Discrimination was only on the basis of being Sikh, Muslim, Hindu. The carnage that followed remains one of the worst in human history.

You and I cannot even begin to pen down what really happened or analyze it intelligently.

Manto’s style of writing, however, the empathy and the fact that he highlights goodness of humans in the very eye of the worst human suffering makes us believe in the goodness of humanity.

However, in the same breath, he shocks one to the core with his naked and chilling rendition of a father who is sexually molesting his own daughter who had tried to escape his clutches to be on the other side. Its like the very savior was the enemy, and the real enemy lived within. This story was so powerfully written and the imagery so effective that it made me cry and stop reading for a few days.

And that has never happened to me before. Reading for me is akin to breathing. Manto’s impact was so huge that whenever I would try and discuss the story I would cry .

In his inimitable style, he strips man to his basic primeval self wherein lies an evil, feral animal who lets his basic, baser instincts overtake him.

And then he surprises one with a classic love story.

Oh Manto, how misunderstood you are!

And that too in the very land where you were born, he who protested against laws that banned others has himself been banned because, they say, he is obscene. More is shown in today’s advertising, and we go through worse horrors everyday which easily get past our censors and ‘moral’ police. 

I wish he was read openly so that today‘s generation could learn from the pain and horrors of the tearing apart of a land where blood ran free just because people did not confirm to one religion or the other.

Ironically, these are the religions that which were originally started to bring peace to mankind.

Each Manto story is like unravelling him and the more I read, the more I feel that I should learn Urdu so that I can read him in the original. It’s brought home to me that indeed life is a learning curve and a process that goes on every day.

April 2, 2015 

Conversation about this article

1: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), April 02, 2015, 1:01 PM.

It is a shame that his works are being ignored in his motherland, Punjab, and that includes the parts on both sides. I was fortunate enough to attend a university with a vibrant Punjabi-Canadian studies program and had the opportunity to read some of his works. I can understand how some of his works can be disturbing, not only from the realities of the horrors of Partition, but in the context of discussing certain issues in a 'conservative' culture.

2: R Singh (Canada), April 02, 2015, 3:36 PM.

Badal's Punjab too is toeing the line of the Hindutva agenda of bigotry and narrow mindedness. Shame on these morons who think they are there to censor and control the intelligentia.

3: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), April 02, 2015, 8:38 PM.

His story 'Toba Tek Singh' is a literary masterpiece. I highly recommend its reading. It made the real-life town of Toba Tek Singh a household name in the 1960s.

4: Harjap Singh Aujla (Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, USA), April 03, 2015, 10:23 AM.

Ravneet's writings are well informed.

5: Harsaran Singh (Indonesia), April 03, 2015, 10:38 AM.

Punjabi art, literature, music and history are incomplete without the erstwhile undivided Punjab. Saadat Sahib is one of the very important links in this cultural trail. The problem in India these days is that religious fanaticism and hatred for minorities is at its peak. These zealots who delve in ultra-nationalistic jingoism are intolerant (read jealous) of the rich culture and heritage of the Sikhs and Punjabis. They have repeatedly tried to dilute our history and continue to spare no efforts to misguide the younger generation. It is the intellectuals and academics of our community who have to rise to the occasion and resist these fanatics who, while in cahoots with the present day rulers of Punjab, want to spoil our treasures of literature, culture and history.

6: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), April 04, 2015, 8:31 PM.

Manto's 'Toba Tek Singh' remains a perennial and unmatched classic. [You can read an excellent English translation of the story here on at]

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