That’s a fairly easy rhetoric with complicated reasons as answers. There’s been a lot written in recent years about Manto and his writings, which would make you feel pseudo-erudite and jump into the bandwagon of discussions. Manto’s writing is a revelation, yes. He’s been working on such gems of stories while my father was still a kid, and I was just initiated into the realm of his existence about a decade ago! Now I will confess that most of my puny knowledge bank is stuffed with inputs from Bangla Literature, including Manto. I read about him in some Bangla short story, as being referred to what a great writer he was, and was interested in finding out about his writings. It is this lack of awareness I’m not happy about. If an average Indian like me takes two decades to find out about Manto, when will we read and discern his work?
Manto is not just a writer, he’s a phenomenon. The way he did unclad our ‘modern’ subcontinent society of its taboos and prejudices is not only rare, but revolutionary. If we could, even after 5-6 decades, accept a chunk of what he wanted to convey, life wouldn’t have been so difficult. Most importantly, he lived in our favourite Bollywood and thrived there for some time in its initial prime. His views on the then stars of Hindi film industry expose a lot and yet again the hypocrisies that they couldn’t conceal beneath snow, Pometom and kohl. It’s astonishing that he is described as Pakistani in the Wiki page – you can’t contain Manto within the thin air boundaries of greater India. He has been able to shred and imbibe pieces of him through Toba Tek Singh into the hearts of all. He is indeed, the Toba Tek Singh that neither countries can digest even after decades. Banned, discerned, condescended, abused – he went on writing to his heart’s content. I think that’s what any writer dreams of, not in these bloody days of slaughter though.
I’ve read more about him than actually his stories as they’re in Urdu. The English translation by Aatish Taseer was brilliant and yet lacked the little something that makes Urdu resplendent. Since I believe in reading as many books in their original languages as I can to grasp their flavours, especially the lyrical Urdu, I will read Manto’s books in Hindi now. And may be someday in Urdu too. I’ve learned Hindi (actually Hindustani as a language) in school and college for 14 years and the beautiful Urdu words mixed in Premchand or Nirala’s stories made me fall in love with the discourse.
I’m not an expert coaching you about why read Manto. Just read, get a sneak a peek of our society some odd sixty years ago, which still hasn’t changed much.