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‘Writings of Manto, Krishan have become more relevant than ever’

‘Writings of Manto, Krishan have become more relevant than ever’

KARACHI: Two prominent Urdu fiction writers Sadat Hasan Manto and Krishan Chander, both affected by the madness surrounding the partition, were discussed by social scientist Raza Naeem at an event titled Manto, Krishan Hazir Haen at T2F on Wednesday evening.

Naeem established at the outset that both were significant authors as they along with Ismat Chughtai and Rajinder Singh Bedi belonged to the celebrated quartet of writers from the second half of the 20th century.

Manto: the rebellious

Naeem first spoke on Manto. He was of the view that the writer got timelier by the year. He said Manto was born on May 11, 1912 into a middle-class Kashmiri family. His father, a stern man — that partly explained the son’s rebellious nature — got married twice. He had three sons from the first wife, whereas the second wife bore him a daughter and a son, Manto.

Naeem said Manto read copiously. Bari Alig, a pamphleteer, influenced him to read world literature, so he read French, Russian and English literatures. He also translated quite a few works from world literature into Urdu, including those of Victor Hugo. He later got enamoured of the Bolshevik Revolution. Initially, the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) celebrated his works but once he turned to sexual matters, the PWA began to have issues with him, and the writer could not be straitjacketed.

Naeem said Manto led a happy life in India: he earned money and was happily married. He did have his share of trouble as three of his stories were banned by the British government, including ‘Kali shalwar’. The subcontinent’s partition and the madness surrounding it affected Manto, as it did some other prominent literary figures like Majaz and Miraji. There were different views on his migration to Pakistan.

Naeem said Pakistan provided Manto with opportunities to improve and excel in his craft as his desperation, too, had increased because the government at the time was trying to take the country in a certain direction and wanted to make an example out of Manto. The progressives were the first ones to give up on him. Ahmed Nadim Qasmi, much later, accepted the responsibility of disowning the writer.

Naeem said Manto had two enemies: the United States and the mullahs. To prove that, and to prove how perceptive the writer was in the 1950s, the social scientist read out one of the letters that he had written to Uncle Sam and a piece on the mullahs. He also touched upon one of the under-discussed aspects of his writings, that is, his essays on Karl Marx. He refuted the assertion that his work did not have an agenda. “Manto was a deeply political man.”

‘Krishan Chander intimidates editors’

Naeem said Chander was born on Nov 23, 1914. His father, who hailed from Wazirabad (which is now in Pakistan), was a physician of Maharaja Poonch, Kashmir. Chander spent a considerable time in Lahore where he got in touch with a number of men of letters — Manto, Faiz, Ashk, etc. In 1947, he migrated to India. He always longed to return to Lahore, but could not. He did not have a rebellious childhood. He had a socialist bent and worked to achieve the goal of a classless society. He was a prolific writer who had 30 collections of short stories (5,000 stories), 20 novels and other writings to his credit.

Naeem said critics believed that Chander’s best works were from his early days, and that he stopped writing quality material after 1947. Disagreeing with that view, he argued that the critics had not read his later stories. “He intimidates editors,” he remarked. He said from 1929 onwards Chander penned romantic tales; from 1945 onwards his creativity was inspired by the socialist revolution.

Naeem claimed that Chander was the first Urdu writer to employ the stream of consciousness technique. He cited his story ‘Do furlang lambi sadak’ as an example, calling it a comment on the callous colonial justice system. He also wrote about problems related to transportation, such as in a piece titled ‘Aakhir bus’, and on corruption in a prescient tale ‘Leader ki kursi’. Chander, like Manto, criticised America’s role in trying to influence the middle class in India in ‘Naey ghulam’.

Naeem said since the writer’s father was a physician of the Maharaja of Kashmir, the Kashmir region had an important place in his heart. Some of his stories which he penned about it were still relevant to the Kashmir problem – he wanted both India and Pakistan to leave Kashmir. And like Manto, he too was affected by partition of undivided India. It could be gauged from a collection of his stories ‘Hum wahshi haen’. He opined that people thought ‘Peshawar Express’ was the most noteworthy story from the collection, but in his view ‘Aik tawaef ka khat Pandit Nehru aur Jinnah ke naam’ was more powerful.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2015

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