Manto – A Retrospective

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Why Manto should not be scrapped from Academic Syllabi

 

The pity of Partition post-Independence of 1947, how does one term it as I think aloud, ‘bitter fruit’? Or ‘mottled dawn’?

How does one sum up the collective consciousness on the verdict of partition I ask myself time and time again when I see LOC’S being crossed, and violence in the name of a border that divides us all

I was introduced to Saadat Hasan Manto in School- we had a chapter in our hindi text book titled ‘Tobha Tekh Singh’, though for a child of fifteen reading holds essence and the impact of the story bewilders you, however in awakened adulthood, and more so ever in one’s thirties, you live and breathe Manto if one is a social or peace activist.

Last year at the Kolkata Literary meet, they had invited my Uncle, the Famed actor Mr. Naseer Uddin Shah(My Father’s younger brother) to do a dramatized reading on Manto, the audience watched spell bound at his reading on ‘Tobha Tekh Singh’, it was such a jaw dropping moment.

From then on my interest grew and I started reading up more on the literary genius whose end was tragic fraught with court cases and trials, defending his works, he died a lonely death torn between both the countries India and Pakistan, never once accepting the partition.

Our generation was lucky enough not to see the ugliness and witness the tragedy of partition, however we have seen riots, we have seen the Babri Masjid demolition, we have seen Gujarat genocide of 2002 and the Muzzafarnagar riots last year and we know how it can be when humanity suffers in the name of God.

After reading Manto extensively I have now come to the conclusion that ‘Manto’ remains the voice of the people who were witness to the partition and did not want it.

Open up any Manto story be it Odour(bu),Khol do, Sahay, a dutiful daughter the return or Thanda Gosht(colder than ice) one just feels the pathos of partition in one’s bones, Colder than ice leaves one’s blood curdled.

 

The best part about Manto was that that he was not preachy about the past yet, the stories are so gripping and engaging, that one just wants to delve into his mind.

Still remember his famous quote:

“If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don’t even try to cover it, because it’s not my job, that’s the job of dressmakers”



So when ‘Little Thespian’ called up wanting to do something on Manto’s 103rd birth anniversary, I happily agreed to facilitate the event further, I immediately called up my Friend Ruchhita Kazaria and she clubbed the event with ‘Aman Ki Asha’ which is a peace initiative drive between India and Pakistan.

Uma Jhunjhunwala’s and SM.Azhar Alam from Little Thespian who are also the finest theatre activists in the country finalized the venue to be Tripti Mitra Sabhaghar, Paschim Bangla Natya Academy (besides Nehru Museum)

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I then called up my senior from the theatre world, Ashoke Viswanathan three times national award winning director, film maker and actor and Bobby Chakraborty- an eminent Tollywood Actor and social activist, along with Uma Jhunjhunwala, S.M Azhar Alam and Ruchhita Kazaria-Manto a Retrospective was ideated.

 

On the day of the performance. The atmosphere was electric and perhaps all of us could sense Manto’s presence in the hall.

The evening started with the Aman Ki Asha Anthem – “Nazar mein rehte ho, jab tum nazar nahin aate”, sung by Raahat Fateh Ali Khan and Shankar Mahadevan. Lyrics by Gulzar followed by the Lamp lighting ceremony by Pritha Kejriwal,guest of honour, founder and chief editor Kindle Magazine along with Dr. Fuad Halim. Senior journalist Geetesh Sharma and SM Azhar Alam (Co-founder of Little Thespian)

Pritha Kejriwal gave a brief introduction on Manto and a lot of new facets of Manto were revealed.

The Introduction of Aman Ki Asha, Ghazal recitation on Manto was given by Ruchhita Kazaria (Written by Ruchhita Kazaria herself) who is a Peace Activist – Aman Ki Asha (Indo-Pakistan Peace Project by Times of India and The Jang Group). “Aman Ki Asha is not an NGO and is that platform which is like an umbrella to all the other forces, working towards strengthening relations between India-Pakistan. The hatred that many people, on both sides of the border, is inherited or acquired hatred. My generation did not witness the partition and I wish, the future generations are oblivious to the history and assume responsibility of fostering peace! Forces like Manto shall ensure that both the countries come together to celebrate as one whole! It is heartwarming that we are screening a Pakistani film today – Lazzat-e-Sang; with its first ever screening in India. This is a fantastic effort from Pakistan and it needs to be told and retold in future of how art manages to transcend borders and unite people!” said my Friend Ruchhita Kazaria

The evening progressed by Dramatized reading of Manto’s short stories by ~

Ashoke Vishwanathan; National Award Winning Film Maker (In English)
Bobby Chakraborty; Social Activist & Noted Tollywood Actor (In English)

My rendition of ‘The Dutiful Daughter’ was heard by the audience, with their eyes moist, so was my reading on ‘Sahay’ in hindi-urdu, Bobby, being a seasoned actor, was seen in his erudite self-reading out from ‘Khol Do’ and ‘Tobha Tekh Singh’ –  and  Ashoke, in his romantic piece, emoted more through his eyes, than his speech with his reading from ‘Missed Call’

Thanda Gosht

 

The  Play; ‘Thanda Ghosht’ by Little Thespian. Actors: SM Azhar Alam and Uma Jhunjhunwala was the highlight of the evening as it was a blood curdling performance which left the audience stunned and awed.

The evening concluded by showcasing the Screening of the Pakistani Film; ‘Lazzat-e-Sang’; A Film on Manto. Written by Mudassar Mahmood Naaru and Directed by Muhammad Nazim. Main actors being Zahid Masood, Aliya, Usman, Zoya, Shaan and Waseem Haider. Manto’s role was played by Waseem Haider. It was the first ever screening of a Pakistani film in Calcutta.

The evening met with a thunderous response from the audience who left the hall with a new learning of ‘Manto’ who lived the tragedy of two countries torn apart.

Doing this event on Manto, I am taking keen interest in reviving Manto’s works which would act as a wonderful peace initiative between India and Pakistan.

It’s surprising that both the Indian and the Pakistani government have kept a studied silence on Manto’s works, scrapping Manto from School and College’s syllabi is not only outrageous but a signal of living in denial of a collective past and shared history, which needs to be studied and carried forward to future generations.

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The Guiding Light Well all introductions fall short when we have to describe her, but if we must then Ma’am is a social activist/poet/documentary film-maker/journalist and niece of the legendary actor Naseeruddin Shah. She mentors the magazine while being a columnist for us.

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