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Born 100 years ago on May 11, 1912, Saadat Hasan Manto is experiencing a rare if subdued revival in newspapers, magazines and even, although to a much lesser extent, on television.

Manto is not like other writers and poets, who while persecuted in their lifetime for their revolutionary or ‘anti-state’ writings, have been wholeheartedly embraced by the general public. Poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, for instance, were hounded and jailed for verses criticising the state of affairs but their works were, and continue to be, celebrated.

Manto’s, on the other hand, are not. That is because he hits a bit too close to home when condemning the world we live in. His stories do not lay the blame on the doorsteps of the government, for instance, but squarely on ours. There is no rallying cry for change in his works and hence no chance of redemption. We are looters, murderers, rapists, he says, and there is little evidence that he felt we could ever change.

In fact, many feel that he could foresee the further destruction towards which we were headed. His stories simply held up the mirror as we squirmed, and in our guilt tried to hide them, and their writer, out of sight. As he said in his own defence when tried (multiple times) for obscenity, he cannot expose a society that is already naked. As for attempting to clothe it, that is not his job, he said, but that of tailors. No wonder then that the birth centenary of one many consider the greatest short story writer of the Subcontinent is being observed rather quietly.

Although he died at the age of 42, after spending only seven years in Pakistan, Manto left behind a treasure trove of short stories, sketches, films and radio plays. Given that things have not changed for the better, his writings remain as disturbing and unsettling to read today as when they first pulled the veil from our pretensions of respectability and godliness.

– Rubab Karrar

First published in the Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on May 20, 2012.

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