Perhaps a strong reason why Manto’s attitude reflected partial ambivalence towards Pakistan’s independence was his affiliation with Bombay. From a material perspective, the city was home to his success and fame, both things lost after his arrival in Lahore. That the graves of his parents were in India could not have made the decision to migrate an easy one –leaving behind family, friends and memories only to be welcomed by an acute sense of longing in post-partition Lahore. He spoke of his predicament, saying, “Despite my best efforts, I could not dissociate India from Pakistan and Pakistan from India”[i]. But more upsetting than the ache of nostalgia was his disillusionment with the concept of liberation and its gruesome aftermath. For essentially, Manto’s contention with freedom was not one of “India versus Pakistan”; he criticized the actions of both equally, condemning them for their hawkish and inhumane actions. He believed that it was wrong to say that a hundred thousand Hindus and a hundred thousand Muslims died – “say [instead] that two hundred thousand human beings died. But this is not the biggest tragedy. The real tragedy is that both the murderers and the murdered count for nothing at all. By killing a hundred thousand Hindus, Musalmans thought they had killed Hinduism but it is alive and will remain so. By killing a hundred thousand Musalmans, Hindus were happy that they had killed Islam. But those people who think religions can be hunted with guns are stupid…” (Sahay)
Today’s Pakistan would not provide Manto with any real answers either, a fact he may already have perceived when he aptly chronicled the fate of both nations decades ago. “Hindustan had become free. Pakistan had become independent soon after its inception but man was still [en]slave[d] in both these countries – slave of prejudice … slave of religious fanaticism … slave of barbarity and inhumanity.”
Manto’s questioning of the sacred concept of freedom is probably what brought him so much ire and condemnation in the country he now claimed as his own. But the questions he asked continue to resonate today when thoughts and actions are still policed and true “freedom” of thought, expression and belief is hard to come by. The government may have given Manto an award, but as long as people run the risk of being censored, or of being branded blasphemers, it will remain at best, a hollow gesture.
Sana Hussain is Features Editor of the magazine.