Manto’s Urdu Short Stories and his Obsession with Obscenity

Saadat Hasan Manto

An Introduction to Urdu Short Stories

Manto’s own words about his Urdu short stories were my first introduction to his writing:

“-اگر آپ میرے افسانوں کو برداشت نہیں کر سکتے تو اس کا مطلب ہے کہ زمانہ ناقابل برداشت ہے”

If you find my stories intolerably obscene, it is because the society you live in is obscene.”

At the time, I felt repulsed by this statement. Maybe I was uncomfortable reading about people who lived on the margins of our community. Although, around the same time, I was feverishly devouring fiction by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. Could it be that I found the “dirty” community of a developed country somehow more palatable than that of my own developing country? Whatever the reason, I didn’t pick up Manto again.

Prostitutes, Pimps, and Drunks in Urdu short stories

Decades later, when I finally read Manto’s, Kingdom’s End and Other Stories, I found his stories really were populated by prostitutes, pimps, drunks, and criminals. These are characters who don’t usually share space with the mainstream population. Perhaps, their truth been harder to face because their presence was geographically too close for comfort?

Manto on the Role of Writers

“If a prostitute spits out the paan spittle from her mouth, aiming it at the passer-by under her balcony, we neither laugh at the passer-by nor curse the whore. We just pause, let our gaze tear through her revealing clothes down to her dark, sinful body, deep into her heart and grope around inside, morphing, in our imagination, into that self- same filthy, revolting whore, and strive to describe not just the incident in all its vivid detail, but also to find its true motivation.”

This is why I have chosen to include my introduction to Manto’s short stories in The Simurgh Rises, the dual memoir I am writing with Anniqua. Recently, two movies about the writer’s life were made about the writer: Manto (2015) and  Manto (2018) the former in Pakistan and the latter in India.

For more on Manto and the famous Urdu Bazaar of Lahore, click on Charming Booksellers in the Chaotic Urdu Bazaar of Lahore

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