Friday, 1 January 2010

DEGENERATION AS IN MANTO’S SHORT NARRATIVES


Iram Saba Amin
Research Scholar, Dept. of English,
B.H.U., Varanasi.  

Independence also brought with it partition. The division of the country into India and Pakistan cast a tragic shadow over the subcontinent. The riots on the eve of independence gave birth to a widely different and ominous situation where the decline and fall of human nature made many values and things questionable, and a literature based on communal tension, on mass massacres, arson, and on the refugee camps, emerged under the stress of a large scale migration of people from one dominion to the other.
Even as they shared in the elation of their countrymen, many writers turned their attention to the degeneration caused by the violence and turmoil that accompanied mass migrations across the newly demarcated borders in Punjab and Bengal. It was a highly distressing state of affairs, and along with it a new brand of fiction appeared, which is generally known as Partition Literature, and describes the holocaust of Partition. Manto’s  writings belong to the same genre of writers and his works echo the same theme and tone.
This paper deals with the degeneration as depicted in the partition narratives of Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) who is acknowledged by everyone in the Indian subcontinent to be a writer of extraordinary brilliance and had the courage to present his milieu in ways which were radically different from writers who were his contemporaries. Most of the Urdu and Punjabi writers who wrote during the times were too close to the scenes of partition and they were themselves a part of the tale of sadness and misery and this familiarity reflected in their works and more often than not their works were biased or distorted or failed to depict a non partisan, balanced tale. Indeed, Manto’s strength lies in his ability to gaze hard at the real world without sentimentality, illusions or hope. He could have a detached view of the genocide on both sides of the border. He is painful precisely because he doesn’t suggest a religious, political or ethical solution to misery. The tone of his stories is sardonic and nasty, the actions of many of his characters are loathsome and the sufferings he describes are not a part of some useful ethical scheme to persuade us to act justly but sufferings which do not let us to rest in peace.
Manto was able to turn pain giving events into great literature. He remained impartial, took no sides, and wrote with detachment about the atrocities committed in a state of utter madness. As a matter of fact, the crises in human behavior during those early years of independence form the structure of Manto’s stories about Partition. His power as a writer lies, perhaps, in the fact that he found himself in opposition against those “forces of tradition, conservatism and especially religion,”1 which he felt were responsible for the horrors.
II
Manto voiced one of the most acid criticism of Partition and his stories about the common man who did not understand the actions of the governments and to whom the slogans which instilled a sense of hatred between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs  did not make any sense. He is sympathetic to the plight of the average man who was forced to do the most heinous of crimes in the name of religion which made little or no sense to them. His characters are more in sync with the times and are given in to the same frailties and passions like any other ordinary man. Unlike other writers he does not fall to the hero cult per se. It was these realistic and earthly works like “Siyah hashiye” (Black marginalia), “Thanda Gosht” (Cold Meat) and “Khol Do” (Open It), which articulate all the terror, irrationality, brutality and inhumanity that the partition had projected in every sphere of life.
“Siyah Hashiye” (Black Marginalia), in Khalid Hasan’s English translation under the title Partition: Sketches and Stories,2 comprises of thirty-two anecdotes of varying length. If some of them are of several pages each, there are others which are not even one page long and in very many cases the sketches are not more than five or six lines in length, yet they bring out the enormity of the tragedy set in motion of the great divide. So overwhelming is their impact and chilling their effect that they leave, irrespective of their size, the reader with no option but to look for what lies beyond the texts. For example, in “Modesty”, there is no intervention or delineation of characters, or any context provided, leave alone a comment. Manto is simply reporting an anecdote, telling it like it is:
The rioters brought the train to a stop. Those who belonged to the other religion were methodically picked out and slaughtered. After it was all over, those who remained were treated to a feast of milk, custard pies and fresh fruit.
Before the train moved off, the leader of the assassins made a small farewell speech: “Dear brothers and sisters, since we were not sure about the time of your train’s arrival, regretfully we were not able to offer you anything better than this most modest hospitality. We would have liked to have done more.3
At the first instance, the tone seems journalistic. Unlike other writers of Partition Literature, Manto’s aim is not to move the readers through sentiment or emotion. such was the enormity and inhumanity of the partition riots that they cannot be expressed in sentiments. By juxtaposing massacre with feast in the above example, he is using irony to communicate the extent of social breakdown that the riots entailed. This is also evident in his dedication of “Siyah Hashiye” (Black Marginalia):
This book is dedicated to the man who, when recounting his many bloody deeds, said, “But when I killed that old woman, I suddenly felt as if I had committed a murder.”4
These narratives do not tell us that these individuals are behaving in this way because of partition. There is no attempt to justify their animalism. Manto, therefore, is outlining human depravity.
III
“Thanda Gosht” (Cold Meat)5 is a narrative of male trauma triggered by female sexual violence, but this story is recounted from the perspective of a perpetrator who is confronted with an unforeseen and undesirable knowledge about the object of his violence. By means of this narrative, Manto powerfully bears witness to a world lost in the midst of anomie and violence- a time when the boundaries between victims and perpetrators often became blurred. “Cold Meat” is the deathbed testimony of a rapist who is belatedly rendered impotent in a potent instance of the visceral transmission of trauma from victim to perpetrator.
In a shocking and gruesome confession, Ishwar Singh, a Sikh man, recounts his active participation in the brutalities of Partition to his wife Dulwant Kaur. He had slaughtered six members of a family with a kirpan and the seventh, a beautiful woman, he carried away only to discover during the sex act that she was already dead, i.e., cold meat that he himself becomes at the end of the story.
Violence as the sole leitmotif of the story permeates every aspect of its structure and texture. If looting, plundering and killing comprise its nightmarish history; impotence, hacking and blood-curdling screams are aspects of its catastrophic sexuality. Manto’s own assertion;
“... even at the last limits of cruelty and violence, of barbarity and bestiality, he does not lose his humanity. If Ishwar Singh had completely lost his humanity, the touch of the dead woman would not have affected him so violently as to strip him of his manhood.”6
Shows that the nightmarish and catastrophic message of the story is overwhelming. Whether this last glimmer of remorse can provide sustenance to a life convulsed with violence is problematic. To derive from it the possibility of a new range of experience and new horizon of the hope is to transfigure a glimer into revelation.
IV
More excruciating than “Thanda Gosht” is Manto’s story “Khol Do” (open It)7 in which the predatoriness that marked the formation of Pakistan under the ruse of Koranic dispensation is laid bare with brutal lucidity. The story revolves around Sirajuddin who had come as a refugee or rather a dazed and confused survivor to Mughalpura, a place in the city of Lahore in Pakistan from Amritsar in India. Lying unconscious on the ground at a camp, when he finally wakes up he con not really understand the reason behind the berserk-ness that is apparent all around him with everyone shouting, crying, and running in a state of utter disarray. It is only after a while that he recuperates from his state of shock and recalls the happenings of the previous day. It occurs to him that while he was in the process of boarding the train form Amritsar, his wife had been killed and his only daughter Sakina had been separated from him for he had stopped to pick her dupatta which had fallen on the ground. What happened next eluded him. He could not remember what came of her, whether she boarded the carriage with him or got killed or got caught at the hands of the rioters.
After days of trying to search for her and failing to find any whereabouts, Sirajuddin comes across a group of eight armed men who own a lorry and are supposedly in Charge for bringing abandoned women and children from India to Lahore. He beseeches their help by describing to them how his daughter looks.
After ten days of praying and waiting, the old man finds himself by the side of the unconscious body of a girl whom the rioters had found on the roadside several days earlier. During those days they had presumably gang-raped her. The doctor checks her as dead and orders the windows to be opened for clean ventilation. “Khirkiyan khol do” (Open the Windows)... But may be all wasn’t over; these familiar words “Khol do” were recognized by the girl, and her almost dead body shows sign of some life, as she slowly takes her hands towards the salwar, loosens it and lowers it down. Though the doctor is shocked and ashamed, the old man is beside himself with joy when he realizes that his daughter is alive.
Thus, the community of the trusted protectors is an illusion, a monstrous fraud, for the fence eats the field and the revolution devours its own children. It is ironical that the brute characters and the outraged woman are both of the same religion. If religion is the cause of all the trouble, then why is the outraged Sakina not safe at the hands of fellow believers? Or is it that barbarism and savagery know no religion?
V
Through his stories Manto has created a niche amongst the writers of that era, he took a third party neutral account of the madness that was prevailing out there and how people on both sides of the border were made to suffer in the name of senseless partisan politics of the insane leaders who were leading them. He was tried many times for his vitriolic criticism and rather cold graphical account of the butchery that was rampant on the streets. His critics branded him an impressionist who stoked up frenzy in the name of literature but they cannot take away from Manto the honesty and compassion with which he has talked about one of the saddest moments of Indian History.
Manto shows the real picture of the Partition and makes one think and reflect on the basic human qualities which were at an all time low during those days and how the common masses divided by the boundaries of religion, nationality and lineage were suffering and leading a sad, pitiful and depressing life. Manto was a consummately humane artist whose best work deals with inhumanity, particularly the horrors of Partition.
References:
1. E.J. Hobsbawn, The age of Capital. London: Sphere Books, 1977, p. 304.
2. Khalid Hasan, Partition: Sketches and Stories, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1991.
3. Ibid, p.27.
4. Ibid, “Manto’s Dedication”.
5. Stories About the Partition, Volume I,II,III edited by Aloke Bhalla. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1994 “Thanda Gosht” figures in the first volume under the title “Cold Meat” on p. 91-97.
6. “Riots and Refugees: The post-Partition Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto”, paper resented at the 4th Punjab Studies Conference Columbia, 12-14 April 1973.
7. Alok Bhalla, Vol. II, pp. 69-73.