His daughter who was kidnapped by the same people, ready to go to any extent for the sake of religion right when a border was drawn and suddenly there were two countries instead of one. She was later found unconscious in the bushes and brought back by the soldiers on an army truck. When the doctor was examining her for injuries in a closed room, he said, “Open it” and she started taking off her salwar almost promptly. The doctor had only meant, “Open the windows”. She was repeatedly raped and had become obedient to the command, “Khol do”.
– It is from his “Khol Do” (Open it)
No matter how the life looks like, a man is helpless before his sexual needs. It was the time of partition, people were migrating from one part to the other of the country. There were not enough houses to accomodate individual families, people used to sleep in flocks on the roofs during summer. And the only fix for some privacy was the temporary curtains that used to hang and flutter with the wind just like the voices could travel with the gusts of air. Everyone had made their peace with this arrangement, but when Bholu got married and the wife entered his life, he wanted more privacy than these makeshift curtains. Lying there behind the translucent rags of clothes with his wife, he used to be constantly aware of the people present around, able to listen to all their talks and movements. It seemed he lied there naked and everyone could hear him and watch him in his bare skin. Struggling with this longing of privacy, one day Bholu was found shredding down those rags and wandering on the streets screaming. He had lost his mental balance due to the constant whispers of people a relentless reminder of his nakedness that he heard through those thin curtains all night.
– It is from his “Nangi Awaajein” (Naked voices)
These are two stories that still continue to haunt me sometimes even after a year of reading them. I was left with unnamed feelings thinking about them and this is what Manto’s stories do to you. They cleave your heart into shreds, you just feel numb and void deepens deep inside your heart. These are not completely fictional, he reflected only what he saw and felt around him in his stories. His words that are powerful enough to make you question the humanity itself are unmatchable with any other writings. His active years are closer to the era when the pens of writers and poets were blazing and they were not ready to be hushed away by anything or any fear. They just wanted to get their heavy hearts exempted of the weight they perpetually carried. Manto’s writings are no different, they are the mirror to the brutal society but at the end it is something nobody wants to hear, read or acknowledge consciously.
Always skeptic about the translated version of authors whose work although prominent but has not been dared to explore much, I decided to pick the Hindi version of collected short stories. And little did I know that I was in for the hundreds of small bits of unspeakable violence and unthinkable transformations of people’s lives due to the partition of the country where everybody used to live and love without thinking of the religion.
There were two worlds that were writhing in limitless sufferings and torture. The one was outside where people were not confident of seeing their blood relatives the very next day. Everything was getting lost; home, streets, courtyard, school, market and anything that they could call their own. And another was inside Manto. He had to move to Lahore from Bombay where he was able to connect with the environment to an extent but without the company of his fellow writers and intellectuals which had started killing him slowly and after getting addicted to alcohol and pain, he died young.
Another story that reached deep down the layers of my heart and bled it is Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat). A man with his lover on the bed is trying to make love to her, but something bothers him constantly. He gets up to narrate a recent incident where he had participated in a loot in the village. Everyone was getting away with what they could get their hands on. The man had attacked a house and killed all six men of the family but the only woman of the house, he left because he got distracted by her immense beauty. He had resolved to rape her on his way but when he had proceeded, something had barred him and left him deprived of any sensation. Girl’s body was cold as ice, lifeless in fact! While touching his lover on the bed, it was reminding him of the cold meat of that girl he had contrived to rape and he was not able to make love anymore.
He wrote about brothels, women and their sexuality and desires, a human’s extent of inflicting and bearing the pain. Everything that he picked his pen to write about was skin-to-skin with the harsh reality but still unacceptable by the so-called civilized society, due to which he also faced legal trials and had to answer for his stories that contain the truth in an extremely bare nature.
That era is gone, the situations are changed, but Manto’s words are going to echo with our society perhaps till eternity. Readers are going to like him or hate him as they have always, but deep down when in a lone room with only themselves, they know that it’s only the ugly truth that we live every day admittedly or unadmittedly.