Saadat Hassan Manto-A writer of fierce candour

Remembering Saadat Hassan Manto

Saadat Hassan Manto: A language is not made, it makes itself, and no amount of human effort can kill a language.

Saadat Hassan Manto: A language is not made, it makes itself, and no amount of human effort can kill a language.

MAY 11th was the centenary of the birth of Saadat Hassan Manto—storyteller, Urdu scribe, and a refugee of India‘s bloody partition. A handful of newspapers have paid tribute. Writers and playwrights, in India and Pakistan, marked the date in their own way.

Born in colonial India in the lush western state of Punjab, Manto translated Russian and French novels into Urdu, wrote radio plays and Bollywood films, and produced one of the subcontinent’s most potent collections of 20th-century fiction. But few seem to recall him in India. Is it because he was a Muslim who left Bombay for Lahore after partition? Or is it because he wrote in Urdu, one of India’s many languages and the national language of Pakistan?

Although Manto is remembered as a writer of short fiction, Ayesha Jalal, his grandniece and a historian, described him as a “terrific writer of memoir”. His punchy stories are a mix of experience, imagination and fierce candour. For example, “Khol Do” (or “Open It”), considered to be one his best works, is a horrifying tale about cross-border violence among refugees. It considers the fate of a father who has been desperately searching for his daughter. When he ultimately finds her on a hospital bed inside a refugee camp, he assumes she is dead. But when the doctor enters and asks him to open the windows (“Khol do” he says), the “body” moves. Responding to the doctor, the girl’s “lifeless” hands untie the cord that holds her shalwar (pajamas) up and she “weakly” pushes it down her legs. Her father is jubilant: “My daughter is alive” he exclaims. The doctor, aware of the misunderstanding (and its implications for what she has suffered), breaks out in a cold sweat.

Manto’s work made many people uncomfortable, including fellow Urdu authors within the Progressive Writers Association, who used their work to advocate for social justice. He was frequently charged with obscenity. If my stories are intolerable, he told college students in Bombay in the early 1940s, it is because the world that I write about is intolerable.

His stories about the partition were particularly distressing. In “Thanda Gosht” (“Cold Flesh” or “Cold Meat“), a rioter recounts the story of how he abducted a “beautiful” woman only to discover later that she had been dead for sometime. The story, like his harrowed memory, is fractured: it’s up to the reader to conclude when the man realised he had abducted a dead body.

Manto left Bombay, where he was a popular scriptwriter, for Lahore in 1948. Like his character in “A Tale of 1947″—the young, troubled Mumtaz—he did not choose to leave. He left, like many at the time, because of a deep sense of loss and insecurity. He has since made a comeback in India via translations, mostly in English. But aficionados of Urdu lament that the language he wrote in is no longer courted with the reverence it once enjoyed. After Independence Urdu, the preferred language of Muslim royalty and the mother-tongue of many Muslims in India, was targeted by right-wing Indian nationalists. Hindi, India’s official language, was “revived”, scrubbing it of Urdu with which it had shared an indistinguishable vocabulary (if not script) for centuries.

Yet this doesn’t seem to have worried Manto. “A language is not made, it makes itself,” he wrote. “And no amount of human effort can kill a language.”

A heavy drinker, he died in Lahore of liver cirrhosis in 1955. (courtesy: A.A. & The Economist)

The Tribune 130 Years: A Witness to History

The Partition affected people and institutions alike. This excerpt from The Tribune 130 Years: A Witness to History authored by V. N. Datta traces the newspaper’s tumultuous passage from Lahore to Chandigarh.

IT speaks volumes of the strength and resilience of The Tribune that it resumed publication soon after the Partition. It had stopped publishing for 40 days. After the Partition, the first issue of the paper appeared from Simla on September 25, 1947. The Tribune had to find a suitable place for its publication. Amritsar was sulking on the border, and was not considered the right place for the publication of the paper. Ludhiana was not developed, and Ambala city had water problems.

A small printing press near the Ridge known as Liddell’s was available, which The Tribune trustees secured through the aegis of the Punjab government. A large bungalow ‘Bantony’ on the Mall was obtained for providing accommodation to The Tribune office and staff and some other employees, who occupied three rooms on the first floor. The Tribune began to function under difficult circumstances because of the small printing press, inadequate staff, and financial crunch.

Mercifully, cash reserves approximating to Rs 10 lakh had been transferred from the Punjab National Bank, Lahore, to its Delhi office three days before the Partition. The Tribune also held securities worth nearly Rs 25 lakh. Vallabhbhai Patel, the Home Minister, asked the Minister of Rehabilitation, K.C. Neogy to ‘give all facilities to The Tribune to resume publication’.

Later, owing to the initiative of the Chief Minister, Punjab, Gopi Chand Bhargava, the special representative of The Tribune,A.C. Bali, went to Lahore at his personal risk and succeeded in bringing back The Tribune records, The Tribune files since 1881, and some library books in five trucks provided by the Pakistan government with a police escort for their safety till the Indian border. Excerpted from The Tribune 130 Years: A Witness to History by V. N. Datta. Hay House India. Pages 380. Rs 500.

Read the full review: Journey of a newspaper


Bejewelled, beautiful courtesans, a la Madhubala or Aishwarya Rai, are just an indulgence in Mughal nostalgia. Hira Mandi, once a place of culture and tradition, has now been transformed into Lahore’s brand new Food Street.

The painter Iqbal Husain converted his mother’s home in Hira Mandi to a restaurant, Cooco’s Den. Facelift of the street has been at the cost of culture.

Nirupama Dutt

WHEN Urdu writer Ghulam Abbas wrote a classic Urdu short story called Anandi way back in 1939, and inspired a memorable film by Shyam Benegal called Mandi in 1983, was he playing the role of a clairvoyant? Well, if one looks at the fate and fortune of Lahore’s Hira Mandi one would certainly believe so. Well prophecy does accompany major literary endeavour but it was more a case of understanding human nature and power games. The story is a satire on politics and prostitution, both professions having many common principles, in which a brothel occupied by sex workers in the heart of the city is chosen by some politicians for its prime locality.

A lifetime later, Hira Mandi of Lahore seems to have become the target of the politicians’ imagination and the area known better for its sex and sleaze in present times is now the place for the rich and famous to dine on the choicest delicacies of Pakistani cuisine and pay a pretty packet for the fare.The new Food Street is the realisation of Pakistani Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s dream to replace the Food Street created by his predecessor Pervez Elahi’s at Gwalmandi in president Pervez Musharraf’s times. The V-shaped offshoot of the road connecting the Mandi to the Fort opened as Fort Road Food Street, with 27 buildings acquired for the project, opened business a couple of months ago. The old buildings have been renovated, painted and decorated to supposedly resemble the Mughal architecture of yore and Pakistani newspapers report that concentrated here are the business interests of multinational companies, business tycoons and others close to the ruling party.

Maryam Rabi, an architect at the Agha Khan Cultural Service, Pakistan, working on the walled city of Lahore, criticises the makeover in a blog for The Dawn: “On visiting the Fort Road Food Street, one would expect to be introduced to the true culture and experience of the walled city – the project, however, rarely brings forth that opportunity and instead presents a ‘Disneyfied’ version of itself to the public. The words, conservation, restoration and protection are widely misunderstood in most of Pakistan. What has been implemented on the Fort Road is merely a superficial facelift and a complete disregard for its historic context and cultural value.” French journalist Claudine Le Tourneur d’lson, who recently released her novel called Hira Mandi in India and Pakistan, disparages the appropriation of the buildings, and says her 1988 visit there showed how the red-light area of Lahore was different from those of Mumbai or Cairo: “There can be no comparison. In Mumbai or Cairo all you see is flesh trade. Nothing more, nothing less. In Hira Mandi you saw colour, you saw dance, you heard music. There was a culture to it. Sadly, it is no longer there. The girls have mostly gone to the UAE, where they make more money and where there is no moral police. The ones who have stayed behind practise their profession in posh localities of Lahore or are at the beck and call of hotel guests.”

Hira Mandi, which came up as the bazaar of the courtesans during the Mughal period and was reduced to the red-light area in modern times, is certainly in the royal neighbourhood just behind the grand Badshahi Mosque built by Emperor Aurangzeb. While some of its sanctity was lost in colonial times, it yet retained its grandeur, giving some great singing stars to the radio and films. Pran Nevile, the chronicler of Lahore, describes it thus: “It would be a mistake to take Hira Mandi for a prostitute’s street, which certainly it was not, even though some of its inmates carried on the world’s oldest profession for a living. The courtesan’s home was essentially a place of culture when some of the singing and dancing girls found their place into the royal court.”

The settlement came to be known by this name after a General of Maharaja Ranjit Singh called Hira Singh Dogra who lived in the vicinity. Many an exceptional musical talent was nurtured in the kothas here, including Noor Jahan of theAwaaz de kahaan hai-fame who rose to get the title of Malika-e-Tarannum in Pakistan. She is remembered well for her sonorous rendition of the poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Sardar Bai is still remembered. There were others who made it to Hindi films like Mumtaz Shanti, Shamshad Begum and Khurshid and others who were a hit on the radio, including inlcuding Umra Zia who became a radio star of the 1930s, singing Mera salam le ja, taqdeer ke jahan tak. Nevile has fond memories of Gulzar Begum,daughter of the accomplished tawaif Sardar Begum, popularly known as Tamancha Jaan, radio star of the 1940s, whom he went to meet in Lahore when he took a pilgrimage to the past in 1997. “Most of my patrons were Hindus and Sikhs and they left Lahore with the Partition. Soon I shut down my salon and stopped singing and educated my children.” Munni Bai, who supported by singing on kothas the music career of Ustad Amir Khan, one of the greatest exponents of Hindustani Classical music and founder of the Indore Gharana, was originally from Hira Mandi.

Courtesy: The Sunday Tribune

Classical arts lost out to popular folk and film numbers and the era of ‘keeps’ or ‘mistresses’ ended and vulnerable sex workers grew out of the Mandi, with little protection and no patronage. And now their habitation is valuable real estate and up for grabs. Perhaps even the writer Ghulam Abbas could not envisage way back in the 1930s that the Mandi would come to such a pass.

Penning their lives

SELLING love and saving dreams in the Pakistan’s ancient pleasure district was the poignant sub-title of British sociologist Louise Brown’s book The Dancing Girls of Lahore,published in 2005. The past decade has seen several women writers from Pakistan and abroad picking up the pen and telling the dismal stories of their sisters in Hira Mandi. Brown, a lecturer of sociology in the University of Birmingham, spent four years in Hira Mandi studying the wretched the lives of the descendants of the women of culture and grace before picking up the pen to tell their stories.

The latest addition to the tales from these lanes and alleys is a novel called Hira Mandi by French journalist Claudine Le Tourneur d’lson and it is inspired by the life of the area’s well-known artist Iqbal Hussain, who was the son of a sex worker who studied art and became a teacher at the National College of Art, Lahore and realised his dream of freeing his sister and aunt from the bondage of selling their bodies night after night. He was also the first to convert his mother’s abode to a restaurant called Cooco’s Den. The story begins at the time of Partition and spans the next five decades during which Hira Mandi deteriorated from being a refined part of town where elegant courtesans and dancing girls held court to a crumbling red-light district.

Faryal Gauhar’s novel The Scent of Wet Earth in August came out in 2002 and it was based on her film Tibbi Gali. Teaching film-making at the National College of Art she told a poignant tale of a mute girl who yearns for a better life as she is caught in the dark world of her drug-addict mother and aunts who once sold their bodies. In telling this story she brings out many moving stories from the neighbourhood.

Social activist Fouzia Saeed’s book Taboo that also came out in 2002 takes an ethnnographic look at the sex workers of the Mandi. The book is a journey of discovery into the infamous red light district of Lahore tracing the phenomenon of prostitution coupled with music and dance traditions of in South Asia.

Lahore (Lavpuri) named after its founder Prince Lav

Lahore is one of the oldest city in the subcontinent. Till this date we don’t know when it was founded. Some historians says it’s almost 4000 years old but proved evidence suggests that lahore is at least 2000 years old. Hieun tsang famous Chinese pilgrim visited lahore in 700 A.D. and wrote about city in his journals.
Oldest authentic surviving document was an anonymous document written in 982 and translated in 1927 by Vladimir Fedorovich Minorsky. The document is called HUDUD I ALAM which means regions of world. This document described lahore as a shehr or town with. Marvelous temples, huge markets and spacious orchards. This document is now present in British Museum.

Lav Temple In Lahore Fort

Ptolemy, 2nd century famous Egyptian astronomer and geographer mentioned a city between river Indus and patna that might be Lahore.
According to oral legends, In ancient times Lahore is know as Lavpuri means city of Lav in Sanskrit because it was founded by Prince Lav or Loh, the son of Ram, hindu deity, while Kasur was founded by his twin brother Prince Kush. To this day Lahore Fort has a vacant temple dedicated to Lav or Loh, hence Loh-awar or Fort of Lahore. Hence the name Lahore came into existence. courtesy: Dr Owais Karni‘s blog

Pakistan’s senior journalist Murtaza Razvi (DAWN) assassinated !

Murtza Razvi, senior  journalist and magazine editor of  daily Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper.

Murtza Razvi, senior journalist and magazine editor of daily Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper.

Murtaza Razvi, a senior assistant editor and head of magazines at Dawn, was murdered in the early hours on Thursday, in Karachi.

According to police, Razvi’s body was found from an office apartment in the Defence Housing Authority area. His hands were tied and his body bore torture marks and he had apparently been strangled to death. However, the real cause of his death will be established after the postmortem has been performed, police said.

The late journalist’s family has said that he did not have any personal enmity with anyone. They have requested the media not to speculate until the police apprehend his killer(s).

Murtaza Razvi was one of the most highly-qualified journalists, with over two decades of experience. He had worked at a number of renowned publications before joining the Dawn Media Group, where he also held the post of Dawn‘s Resident Editor in Lahore.

Later on, he had moved to Karachi to take over as Dawn’s magazines editor.

He is survived by his widow and three daughters.

He also authored two books, ‘Musharraf: the years in power’, a political biography of former president Parvez Musharraf, as well as ‘Ordinary People’ which comprised interviews with ordinary citizens of Pakistan about history, society and culture.

Razvi held a master’s degrees in Ancient Indian and Islamic History from the University of Punjab, Lahore and Political Science & International Relations from the US.