India Uncut

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Saadat Hasan Manto, and Socialism

If Saadat Hasan Manto wrote in a Western language instead of Urdu, he would be regarded as a legend of world literature, a short-story writer to rank alongside Chekhov and Maupassant. And what is remarkable about some of his work is that it is so short. In just a few lines he can strip us bare. I take the liberty here of reproducing the entire text of one of his short stories:

He loaded all his belongings onto a truck and was driving to another town when he was waylaid by a mob. Eyeing the goods greedily, one man said to the other, 'Just look at all that booty he is decamping with.'

The owner smiled proudly, 'What you see here is my personal property.'

Some of the men laughed. 'We know.'

There was a yell from the mob, 'Don't let this capitalist get away. He is nothing but a robber with a truck.'
Manto is most famous, of course, for his stories about the traumas of partition. And I thought of him today when I read this heartbreaking account of a survivor of Gujarat 2002. (Link via Sonia.) Do read Manto if you haven't already: he died more than 50 years ago, but there are few living Indian writers who are as relevant to our present times.

(The short story reproduced here was translated by Khalid Hasan for the anthology, Mottled Dawn; Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition, published by Penguin in India.)

Update: Arun Simha points me to Frances Pritchett's page on Manto, which has links to a few stories of his. One of my favourites is The Return. (PDF link.) And for an illustration of how good a journalist Manto was, check out his profile of Ashok Kumar (pdf file), an exceptional portrait of a man and his milieu.
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