Manto and the Indian Partition

A Pakistani writer, author and playwright, Manto; was born in Ludhiana Punjab in 1912.
A Pakistani writer, author and playwright, Manto; was born in Ludhiana Punjab in 1912.


The Partition of 1947 not only created new borders and borderlands but also resulted in mass migration, displacement, loss of life, murder, abductions, sexual assault and mayhem. The dominated hegemonic structures have propagated and indoctrinated nationalism in the public memory sidelining the voice of a common person. Over the years, the government has quantified the pain, turning the suffering into mere statistics. The focus on the particular, in the literature provided alternative histories by presenting the lived reality, it also questioned the high politics of partition. While poems such as ‘The Dawn of Freedom’ by Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s , Amrita Pritam’s ‘Frenzy’,  Gulzar’s ‘Toba Tek Singh’ put forward subjective voices that question the nationalism supported by religion, novels such as Basti by Intizaar Hussain, Train to Pakistan by Kushwant Singh, Pinjar by Amrita Pritam put forward the perplexity of the common person who became an involuntary participant in the partition struggle. The short story form also made its mark and left the reader with questions that they had hitherto ignored or pushed back into their subconscious.
The reader is provided ample space to question and find answers for the self. Short stories on partition such as ‘Alam’s Own House’ by Dibyendu Palit,’ ‘Malbe ka Malik’ by Mohan Rakesh, ‘For Freedom’s Sake’ by Sa’adat Hasan Manto bring out the helplessness of the characters as their lives are being dictated by someone else.

Sadat Hasan Ali Manto is one famous name when we talk about partition and literature. Recently, Nandita Das’ ‘Manto’ highlighted the writer’s life while bringing in snippets from his short stories.
Manto himself was a participant in the partition struggle and had to migrate to Pakistan. Manto’s short stories related to partition include ‘Toba Tek Singh’, ‘Testament of Gurumukh Singh’ ‘Frozen’, ‘The Last Salute.’ What is common in all short stories by him is a matter-of-fact tone. He is concise and precise, his stories are clearly structured.
Manto was also a part of the Progressive Writer’s Association (PWA), the members of which were influenced by Marxist ideas. Like the PWA writers, Manto believed that literature should reflect life. Manto was a socialist Marxist and his short stories are realistic and always find a common person at its centre. There are other similarities that can also be noticed and parallels can be drawn between the short stories by Manto.  
Manto’s ‘Toba Tek Singh’ narrates the story of Bishen Singh Sahini, an inmate in an asylum.

Manto’s story, ‘The Last Salute’ records the exchange between two friends who are fighting for
their two nations respectively. In ‘Toba Tek Singh’ by Manto uses the metaphor of madhouse which becomes a microcosm of the nation. The protagonist, Toba Tek Singh uses unintelligible language to curse the vivisection of the nation that he has known. As a mad man he presents simple questions that the ‘sane’ man fails to answer; in the story ‘The Last Salute’ the protagonist thinks of similar questions but quickly pushes them back, he does not voice them because he does not fully understand what is happening around him, to remain sane he avoids accountability and follows the fervor of nationalism as propagated by the hegemonic narratives only to find himself against a friend. Sanity and insanity thus become subjective. In Agyeya’s ‘Badla’ the partition unsettles a Sikh so much that he spends his remaining days traveling on a train from Aligarh to Delhi, and back again. Thus the sanity or insanity of a person was decided if the person was in consonance with the behavior as directed by the high politics of its nation.

Partition created a mayhem, neighbors killed neighbors, brother killed brother. Humanity is questioned and animalistic instincts are highlighted. Manto does so explicitly in ‘Frozen’, wherein Eshar Singh recollects how he raped a corpse.
Women were one of the worst sufferers during partition. In his stories, Manto, usually, presents strong women characters. In his story ‘A Tale of the Year 1919’, he presents women who decide to work to earn their livelihood instead of mourning for their brother. In various partition stories, such as Manik Bandhopadhyay’s ‘The Final Solution’, women are forced to make extreme choices. In stories such as Manto’s ‘Open It!’ Manto portrays the horrifying condition of women during the partition.
All the mayhem, the harassment, the rapes, the murders had a long psychological impact on people as well. Sanjeev Jain and Alok Sarin’s ‘The Psychological Impact of the Partition of India’ is the first book that talks about the psychological impact of partition through medical and psychiatric perspective. The psychological impact of partition was not given much space, for a very long time, however, it was there. It is clear in Manto’ story ‘Toba Tek Singh’ by the final gesture of Bishen Singh of falling on the ground.
It has been established that partition created a raucous among the life of the people. Gulzar’s poem ‘Toba Tek Singh’ shows how the effects of partition have not yet subsided. The fights for Kashmir continue, Gulzar’s ‘Toba Tek Singh’ brings out explicitly the past that never ends.

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