Urdu writer Saadat Hassan Manto is as relevant today as was he during the first half of the last century. His stories are as meaningful today as they were during his lifetime. Manto wrote with such eloquence and artistry that upon starting a story, the reader is compelled to read it to the end in one sitting.
There were riots happening during Manto’s times too. Muslims killed Hindus and Sikhs and in return, Sikhs and Hindus killed Muslims without any remorse and without sparing children and elderly. Women got abducted and were raped by rioters.
Manto was a witness to all this mayhem and bigotry. How humans turned beasts overnight and bloodied the earth with innocents’ blood, Manto and his stories are witnesses to all of it.
The short story “Open It” ( Khol Do) is not only one of the best stories on partition and communal clashes of Manto, but also holds a high place in world literature.
Old man Sirajuddin loses his daughter Sakina and with it, he also loses his senses. Sakina’s mother died during the riots but before dying, she had told Sirajuddin:
“Leave me here and run away from here with Sakina.”
Sirajuddin couldn’t understand where his daughter has gone and in what condition must she be in. Then after some time, he comes into contact with volunteers, who promise him that they will find his daughter. The volunteers are able to find Sirajuddin’s daughter, but she falls prey to their lust and Sirajuddin only gets the living corpse of his daughter and astonishingly, he is happy that his daughter is alive, forgetting what his daughter has gone through.
Here, Manto has shown how during communal clashes, humans lost there humanity and are turned into beasts; how hate and bigotry trample everything which comes in their way. And, the ghastly treatment meted out to Sakina is proof of the same. Manto has depicted this beastliness of volunteers and haplessness of Sakina’s father very artistically in these lines.
“The doctor turned towards the girl and took her pulse. Then he said, “Open the window.”
The girl on the stretcher stirred a little.
She moved her hand painfully towards the cord holding up her salwar.
Slowly, she pulled her salwar down.
Her old father shouted with joy, “She is alive. My daughter is alive.”
The doctor broke into a cold sweat.”
The Gujarat riots, Muzaffarnagar riots and now Delhi riots have shown how neighbours turn beasts in no time and lust blinds human beings. Politics of hate wreak havoc upon humanity. And like Sirajuddin of “Khol Do”, we find hundreds of Sirajuddins and Sakinas created by this bigotry, hatred and religious extremism.
Then there is another story “Mozel” in which love has been shown surviving all odds. In his short story, Manto has shown how love triumphs every other emotion in the end. This is a story about people, who turn into beasts overnight and bay for each other’s blood. Mozel, a Jew, loves Trilochin, a Sikh man, but at the same time hates his religious showoff, his beard, his clothes for she thinks that it is this religious extremism and bigotry which has caused much harm to humanity and spilt blood on the streets.
Mozel has seen killings in communal clashes and now, he doesn’t want to see another. And we find Mozel’s resonance in two Delhi men, Mohinder Singh and Inderjit Singh who saved 60 to 80 lives on their motorbikes and kept them at a safe location. They risked their lives during the worst riots since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, to not only save the people of the different faith but to save humanity. They showed how love and humanity can triumph and can surpass hatred and bigotry and prove there is humanity still alive. And here is Manto’s Mozel:
“Mozel got up and, in her alluring way, shook her well-trimmed brown hair. “Shave your beard and let your hair down. If you do this, guys are going to wink at you—you’re beautiful.”
These words actually show Mozel’s hatred for bigotry and religious extremism, but not for any particular religion. She believes in humanity. Mozel helps in saving Kirapal Kaur during a communal clash but ends herself from being killed. Nearing death, these line of Mozel bring out her hatred for religious extremism.
“Mozel removed Trilochan’s turban. “Take it away—this religion of yours,” she said, and her arm fell dead across her powerful chest.”
And we have enough Mozels today who can put their lives in danger, even sacrifice their lives for the sake of humanity. And we have here Ravi Prashar, who removed the saffron flag, a symbol of bigotry and hatred from a mosque and showed the path of love and how to survive during these tough times. And who can forget Mamta Singh, whose son Manish Singh was killed by rioters, and instead of fueling the Muslims mudslinging and hatred and bigotry, showed us that humanity is still alive. And like Manto and Mozel she also believes and rightly so:
“ Hindus and Muslims have not died. Innocents have died.”
Manto through his stories have shown us the path of humanism, but at the same time disclosed the bitter truth of riots, how hatred and bigotry consume humanity, and how religious extremism is anathema to a society full of diverse people with different faiths. Manto’s hate is not directed against any particular religion, but against those who want to use religion for their nefarious ends. His short stories have artistically demonstrated this. And in these stories lies Manto’s greatness.