“You can calculate the worth of a man by the number of his enemies and the importance of a work of art by the harm that is spoken of it.” - Gustavo Flaubert
Some 1,400 million people live in the Indo-Pak continent, of which about 3.5% are in the age group of 70 or above, and fortunately I am one of them. People of our age group were not just spectators, but actual participants, and in many cases the victims of the Great Divide that took place in 1947. We hold the answer to that most enigmatic question that relates to the senseless bloodshed that took place at the time of Partition of India in 1947. The question is: “Why do people, otherwise so normal and decent, become so un-imaginably inhuman and barbaric in so easy a manner at certain points of history? Intellectual Iqbal, who like me had witnessed the bloodbath that the people on both the sides of the border took, gives one answer, “Witnessing the Partition of India had a lasting impact on me. What I saw then was the ease with which humanity, perfectly good humanity, descended into barbarism.”
Great legendary actor Shayam, a close friend of Manto, and a resident of the town I come from, Rawalpindi, and also a graduate of my alma mater, Gordon College, furnishes another answer. Manto in his sketch of Shyam in “Muli Ki Dhun
” records Shayam’s answer. One day they, Shyam and Manto, were sitting in the house of a Sikh family in Bombay and were listening to the depressing stories of human carnage. While listening, Manto says, he observed that Shyam had not remained unaffected, and he could understand why. Later, he asked Shyam, “I am a Muslim. Don’t you feel like killing me
?” Shyam replied quite seriously and in a matter-of-fact manner, “Not now… but when he (the Sikh) was telling me the atrocities committed by Muslims on them, I could have killed you.”
This shocked Manto and he thought over it afterwards by putting himself in Shayam’s shoes, “May be at that time even I could have killed him (Shyam)... “Not now… but at that time, yes. ..But why? If one closely follows he can find the true answer to the nature of human beings behind this problem.” Humans habitually experience such fits of madness. G
ifted with a sharp wit and deep insight Manto had discovered that deep down the civilized surface of humans, there always lurks an unavoidable savage instinct, which sporadically manifests whenever circumstances make a call. Manto in his short stories tried to find those motives and attitudes which normally facilitate that formidable “ease” that benumbs people’s humanity and awakens the hidden monster in them. Dr. Ernest Jones called this approach “psycho-analysis”. In this effort he discovered, as Mumtaz Shireen puts it, that human beings can be defiant and inhumanly sinful, but they can never get completely lost forever. Humans cannot be absolutely Nouri
(Angelic), nor totally Khaki,
or (Diabolical). They may have the inherent tendency to indulge in mischief or bloodshed, but they do also carry the option of redemption. Manto strongly objected to such statements as, “Hundred thousand Muslims have been killed, or hundred thousand Hindus have been killed. Why don’t you say, ‘Two hundred thousand human beings have been killed.’”
Manto’s humanism did not fit well in Pakistan, and he soon got dubbed as anti-State and anti-Islamic in Pakistan, one who lacked nationalism and patriotism for such statements. The amazing thing about Manto, like Shakespeare, has been that in the process of graphically recording the macabre and dark side of human beings, he artfully maintained a neutral position. He does not pass judgments on his characters; nor does he put them to shame. He just lets them speak for themselves. Manto’s characters by name are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jews and Jains, but in essence, they are ordinary human beings, embroiled in some unfortunate situations and predicaments that force them to act the way they do. Manto ideologically did not subscribe to the Kantian
logic that human beings are inherently evil and that nothing good can come out of them, nor does he like Kafka
let his characters live with a sense of guilt. He, unlike both, refuses to believe that people are like the twisted timber which can never be straightened out. Notwithstanding his personal dejections, humiliations and sufferings, Manto remains optimistic, always busy in excavating hope and courage in those whom society had dubbed as the scum of the earth. As one writer puts it, “Manto wrote realistic tales of the great drama of Partition that brim with his own generous, forgiving embrace of sinners and saints, but in comprehension is the telling note of his Partition stories”
. Partition for him was a period of total madness and absurdity which transformed friends of decades into instant enemies. Manto’s mantra in his so called six sex-stories, namely, Bo, Dhuan, Kali Shalwar (of pre-partition era), and Thanda Ghost, Khol Do and Uppar Nache Aur Darmiyan (he penned in Pakistan), has been that man by nature is manipulative and is hypocritical. Man shamefacedly denies the importance of human emotions, especially sex, and deems these vital life-forces as something sinful and evil, but is always prone to indulge in them madly in private and in secrecy. Man also manipulates his masculinity and often uses it as a tool in order to harm, humiliate and hurt those who are weak and helpless. Short story was a perfect genre for him that ideally suited his genius.
Continued on next page.