In 1933, Saadat Hasan Manto met Abdul Bari Alig, a polemic writer, and scholar in Amritsar that changed his life forever. Abdul Bari Alig’s mentorship advocated Manto to know his true self and bring out his inner talent. Abdul encouraged him to read French and Russian literature. From there on, Manto was inspired by writers such as Chekhov, Maxim Gorky, Victor Hugo and Anton.
It was only within the matter of a month that Manto produced his first-ever Urdu translation, Victor Hugo’s ‘The Last Day of a Condemned Man’. The Urdu Book Stall, Lahore published it as ‘Sarguzasht-e-Aseer’ (A Prisoner's Story). Doing so, he realized his inclination, and then on started working in Masawat, a publishing house based in Ludhiana.
From 1934, he started attending Aligarh Muslim University that took his life in a new direction. Following that, he joined the Indian Progressive Writers Association (IPWA). He met with the writer Ali Safdar Jafri who bolstered his interest in literature and acclaimed his writing.
He wrote his second story, ‘Inqlaab Pasand’, which was published in the Aligarh Magazine in March 1935.
In 1934, he came to Bombay and started writing for magazines, newspapers, and scripts for the then Hindi film industry. He resided in Foras Lane, in the very centre of Bombay’s red-light district of Kamathipura. His surroundings profoundly impacted his writings.
In early 1940, he accepted the job offer of writing for Urdu service in All India Radio. This was a golden period in his career, as it was proved to be quite rewarding to him. It was during this time that he composed over four collections of radio plays, ‘Teen Auratein’ (Three Women), ‘Janaze’ (Funerals), ‘Manto Ke Drame’ (Manto’s Dramas) and ‘Aao’(Come).
Alongside, he also continued with his composition of short stories and completed his next collection, ‘Dhuan (Smoke), followed by the title ‘Manto Ke Afsane’ and his first topical essay collection, ‘Manto Ke Mazamin’.
Meanwhile, due to difference of opinion with the director of the All India Radio, poet N.M. Rashid, he resigned from his job and returned to Bombay in 1942 and again resumed his work with the film industry. He wrote screenplay for films such as ‘Chal Chal Re Naujawan’, ‘Mirza Ghalib’, ‘Shikari’ and ‘Aatth Din’.
Some of his notable short stories that were composed during this phase were ‘Bu’, ‘Dhuan’ printed in ‘Quami Jang, Bombay in February of 1945.
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He stayed in Bombay till the partition of India in 1947. In January 1948, he moved to Lahore, Pakistan, with his wife and children against his intentions, as the brutality of partition and communal riots forced him to do so.
After arriving in Lahore, he connected with prominent intellectuals like Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Ahmad Rahi, Nasir Kazmi and Faiz ahmad Faiz. They used to sit down together in the iconic ‘Pak Tea House’, and engage themselves in passionate literary debates and political arguments.
In 1950, Manto wrote a series of essays, entitled “Letters to Uncle Sam’, where he expressed his concerns on local and global issues. He predicted of a future as depicted in one of the essays, when literature, poetry, art and music, every form of expression would become censored.
’Toba Tek Singh’ (1955) published in Urdu, narrates the story of inmates residing in a Lahore asylum, who are to be shipped to India, following the partition of 1947. The story is a heart-wrenching satire on the relationship existing between Indis and Pakistan.
’Thanda Gosht’ (1950) is a compelling short story that depicted a brutal picture of the 1947 communal riots. The story is about the Sikh Man who is stabbed by his mistress during sex when he admits to raping the corpse of a Muslim girl. Hence, it is synonymous with the title, which means ‘cold flesh’. Manto underwent a trial in criminal court for this story.
Family & Personal Life
In 1936, Saadat Hasan Manto’s parents arranged his marriage to Safia Deen, later changed to Safia Manto. He penned down an essay entitled ‘Meri Shaadi’(My Wedding) dedicated to his marriage.
Safia gave birth to a son, Arif, who died in his infancy. The death of their newborn son, pained Safia and Saadat to the very core.
Thereafter they had three daughters, Nusrat Manto, NIghat Manto and Nuzhat Manto.
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He became increasingly addicted to alcohol in his later years, which ultimately led to cirrhosis of the liver. He passed away on 18 January 1955 due to multiple organ failure, in Lahore, Pakistan, at the mere age of 42 years. He was survived by his three daughters and his wife Safia.
The Government of Pakistan posthumously awarded Manto Nishan-e-Imtiaz on 14 August 2012.
On January 2005, Manto’s 50th dealth anniversary, his face was commemorated on Pakistani Postage Stamp.
Danish Iqbal’s portrayed the distinguished writer in a whole new light through his play ‘Ek Kutte Ki Kahani’, on the eve of his birth centenary.
Two films entitled ‘Manto’ has been made based on his life, one in 2015 by Pakistani director Sarmad Khoosat and a Bollywood film in 2018, by Nandita Das and starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
His favorite dish was Gaajar Ka Halwa (An Indian dessert made of grated carrots).
He liked to write with Sheaffer pens.
He preferred wearing Gold embroidered shoes most of the time.Bombay was his revered destination.
He preferred to complete a story entirely in one sitting.
Just a few months before his death, Manto wrote his epitaph, which would have been read as, “Here lies buried Saadat Hasan Manto in whose bosom are enshrined all the secrets and art of short story writing. Buried under mounds of earth, even now he is contemplating whether he is a greater short story writer or God.” It was never imprinted on his tombstone later on.