ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Siachen in the Time of Manto

Tributes to Saadat Hasan Manto are flooding the press in India and Pakistan as they celebrate his birth centenary. In truth, Manto belonged to neither India, where he was born in 1912, nor to Pakistan, where he died in 1954. He belonged to both countries. His conviction in the essential unity of the subcontinent is an essential aspect of his oeuvre that comes through in his haunting short stories that are truly vignettes of the violent times in which he lived his tragically brief life. Manto excelled in a natural aptitude for structure and economy of words, racing ahead in his short stories to reach their denouement or surprise ending. A wry sense of humour led him to conclude his own epitaph with the words: “Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short-story writer. God or he, Saadat Hasan Manto.”

The tragedy that gripped both newly born nations in 1947 finds vivid reflection in his short story “Toba Tek Singh”. Readers would recollect its outlines. It seems India and Pakistan decided to exchange the inmates of their lunatic asylums after they had exchanged their prisoners. Accordingly, Bishen Singh, named Toba Tek Singh after his village, was to be transferred to India from Lahore. Much tumult and confusion resulted in his mind as he could not understand how he could be in Pakistan today when he was in India the day before even though he had not travelled. Also he could not understand why he should go away after having lived his life in Toba Tek Singh.

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