By Sana Hussain
This stained light, this night-bitten dawn –
this is not the dawn we yearned for.
this is not the dawn
for which we set out so eagerly
~ from “Morning of Freedom” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (translated by Daud Kamal)
The pall that stretches over the horizon of a newly liberated country in Faiz’s “Morning of Freedom” is also echoed in Saadat Hasan Manto’s perception of this freedom. Manto lived most of his life in Bombay before migrating to Lahore in 1948. After the move, he described his predicament in the first of a series of letters to Uncle Sam as being like “a bird whose wings had been clipped”, never coming to termswith the inhumanity and bloodshed he witnessed during partition. The brutalities humanity inflicted upon itself were permanently etched onto his consciousness and are communicated vividly in much of his work; lacking a better coping mechanism in dealing with the sadism shown by both countries during partition, for a man as insular as Manto, there was only one way to comprehend the madness: rendering his horror into his work.
As a humanist, Manto’s idea of freedom never quite matched the conventional perception of his contemporaries. Even today, despite their author posthumously being given the highest national award for his contribution to literature by the Government of Pakistan, Manto’s stories continue to be considered salacious and immoral, shocking twenty-first century readers with their progressiveness. The idea that prevails in Pakistan is that Manto was against independence, and consequently against Pakistan. This, however, is untrue. He was against the damage the War of Independence unleashed: the senseless killings, irrepressible hatred, opportunistic plundering, and brutalities against both women and children. In his short story For Freedom’s Sake, Manto, through his protagonist, voices his indignation, saying “To strive for freedom is fine. I can even understand dying for it. But to turn living people into mere vegetables, without passion or drive, is beyond me. To live in poor housing, shun amenities, sing the Lord’s praises, and shout patriotic slogans– fine! But to stifle the very desire for beauty in humanity! … Students coming out of these madrasas and ashrams look like the udders of a cow from which every drop of milk has been squeezed.” In retrospect, it is perhaps not completely incomprehensible that the conservative, orthodox citizens of the country declared Manto an anti-state, anti-Islam reactionary.