Saadat Hasan Manto stories belong to disturbing times and are but obviously set in those times. Partition of India and Pakistan is the setting for most of his stories and they aren’t pretty. I used to read Manto a long time ago and then I stopped reading his works. They made the hair on my back stand up and only to think that human beings are capable of the worst behaviour, made me sometimes lose all faith in the human race.
I come from a family that experienced partition. My grandmother still recollects stories of those times and how the entire family had to flee Pakistan and come to India. How her home wasn’t her home anymore and the neighbours and friends she knew, would never be hers again. I think somewhere deep down in her heart she still yearns to go back to Karachi and she cannot.
The Return (Khol Do) is a story of a lost daughter when a train going to Lahore from Amritsar is stopped mid-way and attacked by the rioters. The story is of shame and the descend of human character and how sometimes the very saviours can turn out to be the perperators. The father is searching for his daughter and finally finds her. His only relief comes from the fact that she is alive. Nothing else seems to matter. That was the irony of the situation then, I guess.
The Return had a deep impact on me. The questions that arose: Can one human being ever trust another? Where is the line drawn between one who saves and that same person then does not? Who decides the integrity of people? Is there any left at all?
Saadat Hasan Manto’s writing is never sugar-coated. He always wrote the way he saw and what he experienced. By now you would have realized that I would definitely recommend his writing to everyone who reads. He is the master of Urdu literature and I am only too glad that his writing has been available to all since decades.
The translations by Khalid Hasan and Aatish Taseer are worth reading.