Since the author is very well known, a resume on him will be more desirable before reviewing this compilation of his short stories. Manto was the most widely read and the most controversial short-story writer in Urdu. Born in Ludhiana district, he produced 22 collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, and many scripts for films. He was tried for obscenity half a dozen times. Some of his greatest works were produced in the last seven years of his life?a time of severe financial and emotional hardship for him. He died before his 43rd birthday in January 1955 at Lahore.
Born in a middle-class Kashmiri family, Manto showed little inclination for formal education. He was a boy of seven in 1919 when the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place, leaving a deep imprint on his mind. After the country'sPartition, he migrated to Pakistan. He wrote very neatly and prolifically on the forbidden territory?sex and sexual urge. When accused of pornographic writing, he is said to have asked how he would possibly disrobe a society that was already naked.
No one has written about the holocaust of Partition with greater emotion than Manto. The greatest of his Partition stories is Toba Tek Singh which recalls the madness that gripped the subcontinent at the time of Independence, permeating even lunatic asylums and inducing decision makers in the two countries to exchange their inmates on the basis of religion.
Manto'sclassic The New Constitution, written several years before Independence, is the story of a tonga-driver who hates the British passionately and beats up a Tommy who abuses him on the day the 1935 Indian Act is promulgated because he mistakenly believes that ?we are now free?. His rude awakening comes when he is told at the police station that the same old law is still in force and nothing has changed.
Manto'slight and satirical stories are a special pleasure to read. Upstairs Downstairs is a rib-tickling account of an old couple that plans to ?risk? having sex but are not sure if that is what the doctor would recommend or approve.
This collection brings together some of the finest stories of the author?ranging from his chilling recounting of the horrors of Partition to his portrayal of the underworld. Writing with great feeling and empathy about the fallen and the rejects of society, Manto, the humanist, shows how the essential coolness of the people does not die even in the face of unimaginable suffering.
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