August 07, 2020
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Torn Images Fractured Words

Saadat Hasan Manto's short, short stories

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Torn Images Fractured Words

One of the subcontinent's finest short story writers, Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-55) belonged to a middle-class Kashmiri family of Amritsar. Educated in Amritsar and at AMU, he arrived in Bombay in '36 to edit a weekly, joined AIR Delhi in '41 and returned in '43 to work for the Bombay Talkies. In January'48 he moved to Karachi. Virtually drinking himself to death, he wrote his own epitaph on August 18,'54:

Here Saadat Hasan Manto lies buried-and buried in his breast are all the secrets of the art of story writing. Even now, lying under tons of earth, he is wondering whether he or God is the greater short story writer.

He wrote over 200 stories, besides plays and essays. The first collection came in '40; he was condemned for an 'obsession with sex, morbidity', and was twice prosecuted. His stories on 1947 were reviled, he was dubbed a cynic and sensationalist. A critic said he had desecrated the dead, robbing them of their privacies to build a collection. His defence: "I came to accept this nightmarish reality (Partition) without self-pity or despair I tried to retrieve from this man-made sea of blood pearls of a rare hue, the singleminded dedication with which men killed men, the remorse felt by some, the tears shed by murderers...


What's The Difference
Halal aur Jhatka

'I placed my knife across his windpipe and, slowly, very slowly, I slaughtered him.'

'What have you done?'


'Why kill him like that?'

'I love it that way.'

'You idiot, you should have hacked his neck off with a single blow. Like this.'

And the kosher-killer's neck was chopped off accordingly.


Value of Ignorance
Bekhabri ka Faida

The trigger was pressed; the bullet shot out of the barrel. A man looking through his window collapsed on the spot. The trigger was pressed a second time. Another shot fired.

The water carrier's water-bag burst. He too collapsed. His blood, mixed with water, started flowing on the road.

The third shot. This time it was off target. The bullet simply went through a damp wall.

The fourth bullet hit the back of an elderly woman. She died instantly—without a scream.

Nobody was killed. Nobody was injured. That was the fifth and sixth bullet.

The man was enraged. Suddenly he spotted a child sprinting across the road. He turned his pistol in his direction.

'What are you doing?' his companion said.

'You have no rounds to fire.'

'You keep quiet! How would that little child know?'


Appropriate Action
Munasib Karawai

When the mohalla was attacked, some members of the minority community were killed. The survivors fled. A couple however sought refuge in the cellar of their own house.

For two days and nights they waited in vain for the assailants.

Two more days passed. They were much less afraid of death. They longed for food and water.

Four more days went by. By then the couple were no longer concerned with life or death. They came out of hiding.

The husband tried to draw the people's attention. 'Please kill us. We've come to surrender,' he said in a feeble voice.

'Killing is a sin in our religion.'

They were Jains. Had a powwow. And handed over the couple to the people of another mohalla for 'appropriate action'.


A Raw Deal
Ghate ka Sauda

There were ten or twenty girls. Two friends paid forty-two rupees to buy off one of them.

'What is your name?' asked one of them.

The man was furious when the girl disclosed her name.

'We were told that you belonged to the other community!'

'He pulled a fast one on you,' the girl replied.

The man rushed to his Fiend's house.

'That bastard has cheated us. He palmed off to us a girl from our own community. Come, let's pack her off.'


Mourning the Dead

The mob turned to its next target—Sir Ganga Ram's statue. They rained lathi blows on it, hurled bricks and stones. One of them disfigured the statue with coal tar. Somebody else collected old shoes to make a garland out of them. He proceeded towards the statue.

The police appeared and opened fire.

The man holding the garland of shoes was hit by a bullet.

He was sent for first-aid to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.


Beastly Tale

The couple managed to save some household possessions. But their young daughter was missing. The other baby girl clung to her mother.

The rioters took away their brown buffalo. The cow escaped their notice though not the calf.

Everyone went into hiding-the husband, the wife, the child and the cow.

It was dark. The fear-stricken girl started crying. In the stillness of the night it sounded like the beating of drums.

The mother panicked. She did not want the enemies to find the hiding place. She put her hand on the child's mouth. The father placed a thick sheet to cover her up.

Just then a calf mooed in the distance. The cow was alerted. It stood up and started running around from here to there excitedly. Efforts to quieten her down were in vain.

Having heard the noise the enemies surfaced with burning torches.

'Why bring this wretched beast along,' the wife chided her husband angrily.


A Warning

The rioters wrestled hard with the landlord to drag him out of the house. He stood up, brushed his clothes and told them: 'Kill me for all I care. But I warn you not to touch my money - not a paisa'



One of them fancied a large wooden box. It was heavy. He could not move it an inch.

The other, having failed to find anything useful, extended a helping hand. 'May I help?' 'Yes,' came the answer.

The man who was unable to play his hands on any worthwhile object moved the box with his strong hands and placed it on his back with one mighty heave.

Both stepped out.

The box was indeed very heavy. The man carrying it was weighed down. His legs caved in. But the prospect of reward kept him going despite the physical strain.

The man was had spotted the box was, in comparison, weak. He placed his hands firmly on the box, assuring himself that it was his. When the two reached a safe destination, the man carrying the box placed it on the floor. 'So, what is my share?' he asked.


'This is too little.' 'I don't think so. I think it is too much. I was the one who found the box.'

'Right. But who has carried this heavy load all the way?'

'Do you agree to fifty-fifty?'

'Very well. Open.'

The box was opened. Out came a man with a sword in his hand.

He cut the two claimants into four.


Sharing the Loot

Forty-fifty lathi-wielding men headed towards a large house to loot and plunder.

Just then a middle-aged person appeared in the melee. He turned around and exhorted the rioters:

'Brothers, this house is fill of wealth, priceless objects. Come, let us take over and share the booty.' Several lathis were raised. Fists clenched. And loud and excited cries rent the sky. The group of forty-fifty lathi-wielding characters, led by a frail-looking middle-aged man, speedily moved towards the house with precious objects.

The slim man spoke once more at the entrance. 'Comrades, everything here belongs to you. Make sure There are no clashes over who secures what. Come, this way. Avoid friction.'

'But the door is locked,' somebody shouted.

'Let us break in,' said someone else. 'Yes, yes, let's break in. 'Several lathis were raised. Fists clenched. And loud and excited cries rent the sky. The frail man prevented the door from being broken down.

'Comrades, please wait. Let me open the lock with a key,' he said smiling.

He selected a key from his key-bunch and let open the shisham door.

Pandemonium prevailed. The crowd entered the house frantically.

The frail man tried to soothe tempers. 'Patience please, patience. Whatever is in here belongs to you. So, why this chaos?'

The crowd was pacified. One by one people began entering the house. But they became disorderly soon after. Without scruple they laid their hands on precious objects.

The frail man witnessed this disorderly scene. 'Comrades, take it easy. There is no need to quarrel or exchange blows. This is a large house. Find something precious for yourself: Don't take offence if somebody finds some-thing invaluable. Don't act like savages. Vandalism is not on. IT will hurt you more than anybody else,' he said in an anguished Tone.

The rioters paid heed to his advice. Order was restored. Slowly the house was denuded of its precious belongings.

From time to time the frail man kept on repeating his directives.... 'See bhaiya, this is a radio. Handle it gently. Make sure it doesn't break. Take the cord along, too.

'Fold it up, bhai, fold it up. It's a walnut table inlaid with ivory work. It's very delicate, very fragile. Well, it's alright now.'

'No, no, don't have a swig here. You will get tipsy Take the bottle home.'

'Wait, wait, let me turn off the main switch. I don't want you to be electrocuted.'

In the meanwhile there was a scuffle in one corner of the room. Four rioters were embroiled in a dispute over a rolled length of silk.

The frail man rushed towards them. He chided them. 'You are so naive. This cloth will be torn to shreds. And it's so expensive. Find a tape-measure (gaz). Measure the cloth and share it equally.' Just then, a dog barked-woof, woof. Like a flash of lightning the big Alsatian made his way and mercilessly pounced on three or four intruders.

'Tiger! Tiger!' the frail man cried out.

Tiger had the end of a rioter's shirt in his mouth. He wagged his tail, lowered his head and moved towards the frail man. The intruders had vanished. Only one person—the one attacked by Tiger—remained. 'Who are you?' 'The owner of the house. Beware! The crystal vase is slipping out of your fingers.'



At six in the morning, the man selling ice from a pushcart next to the petrol pump was stabbed to death. His body lay on the road until seven, while water kept falling on it in steady driblets from the melting ice.

At quarter past seven, the police took his body. The ice and blood stayed on the road.

A tonga rode past. The child noticed the coagulated blood on the road, pulled at his mother's sleeve and said, 'Look, ma, jelly'


Praise Be to the Lord Sadeqe us ke

The mujra (dance session) was over. The clients went away. This is when ustadji said, 'Having lost everything (during the country's partition) we came to this city. Praise be to Allah Miyan for having showered us with these riches in just a few days.'

Translated by Mushirul Hasan

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