Understanding Manto

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Understanding Manto

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 16, 2013 12:56 am

The words above are: main un logo ki saraahna nahi kar sakta jo aaramkursi me dhans kar "hansiye-hathode" ki baat karte hain. Someone posted the above image in another forum. The poster seemed unsure about the meaning of the words. She was speculating that the word "hansiye" means a gardening tool. Some really weird and strange explanations were given by others posters in response to the original post. One poster wrote "Good one" without clarifying what the words mean, or whether he really understood the meaning of the words.

First, something about Manto. Saadat Hassan Manto was perhaps the greatest short story writer of India in the 20th century. He was a kashmiri muslim but spent his life in north india, and later in bombay where he wrote some scripts for a few bollywood movies along with his other writings. After the partition of India, he migrated to Pakistan. This happened in a curious way. He was participating in some humanitarian relief work along with his hindu friend (and hindi film actor) Shyam just after the partition. They were helping victims of communal violence. Whereupon Shyam became emotional and said that all muslims should go to Pakistan. And so Manto went. He was never happy in Pakistan though. He was not well paid for his writings as was the case in Bombay. He took to drinking, became an alcoholic, and died of liver failure. There was an artistic episode even in his death. He demanded alcohol on his death bed, knowing that he was dying from that which he was demanding. But he had barely taken a sip when he lost consciousness, was rushed to hospital, and died on the way.

Manto's stories on the partition of India rank as the finest stories of this period and they help explain the evils of those days. He also wrote excellent stories depicting the life of prostitutes. There were even murder stories with a sex angle in his repertoire of short stories. And he was well aware of his talent. On his death bed, he wanted his epitaph to read as follows:
"In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie buried all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short-story writing....
Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short-story writer: God or He.”

The best english translation of Manto's stories is probably by Khalid Hassan. The following volume is highly recommended:

Anyways, to come back to the question of the meaning of Manto's words in the image:
main un logo ki saraahna nahi kar sakta jo aaramkursi me dhans kar "hansiye-hathode" ki baat karte hain.

saraahna = to praise, to applaud; aaramkursi = relaxing chair, dhans kar = to sit, to slouch ; hansiye = sickle, and hathode = hammer ; baat = talk

So the meaning is clear. The words literally mean "I cannot applaud those who sit on a relaxing chair and talk of 'sickle-hammer' ".  A clearer meaning is as follows:
"I cannot applaud those who sit on a relaxing chair and talk of communism".

Although it was fashionable in Manto's times for intellectuals (the so called 'drawing room intellectuals")  to have a proclivity for socialism, Manto would in fact ridicule and make fun of such people.

Last edited by Rashmun on Mon Sep 16, 2013 6:27 pm; edited 1 time in total


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Re: Understanding Manto

Post  Guest on Mon Sep 16, 2013 1:16 am

In May, for instance, in a darkened auditorium in Lahore, two actors stood on a spotlit stage and read out Manto’s “Dekh Kabira Roya” (“Kabir Saw and Wept”), a story he wrote soon after Pakistan’s creation. It shows the medieval Indian poet Kabir, a sayer of contrary things, freakishly transplanted in the streets of a “newly independent state.” Kabir is still in the Indian subcontinent (people have castes here), though it is now the middle of the twentieth century (intellectuals are arguing about Stalin). All around him citizens are excitedly going about the implementation of new laws. Only Kabir is “grief-stricken”; he bursts into tears when he sees, on the top of a building, a desecrated statue of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi (it has been bound up in jute fiber because the religion in the new state forbids idolatry), and again when he hears a general urging his troops to “fight the enemy on empty stomachs.” Elsewhere in the new state, people are listening to sermons about the importance of beards and veils, while prostitutes with “ravaged and anxiety-ridden faces” ponder a new law that requires them to find husbands in thirty days.

Kabir moves between these scenes, crying all the while.

A religious leader says to him, ‘Why do you weep, my good man?’

Kabir—his medieval contrariness has been transformed in these circumstances into a kind of innocence—wants to know how the prostitutes will ever find husbands.

And the religious leader, who is a creature of the state and has a working knowledge of its laws, laughs because “it was the funniest thing he had ever heard.”

Around me in the darkened auditorium I heard sighs and whispers and even a few gasps. They expressed several things at once: the audience’s mortified recognition of the “newly independent state”; a wearied familiarity with the weeping Kabir; and amazement that Manto, writing all those years ago, had pointed out the very features—the warlike generals and fire-breathing mullahs and rampaging vigilantes—that have come to stand for the sorry state of Pakistan.

On my way out I heard a bewildered man say to his companion, “But it was like he could see the future….”

And it was this feeling, hard to resist in a time of widespread social unease, that sent me looking in Manto’s work for signs of a seer.



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