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Business of blasphemy: Manto on Pakistan's colourless future

by Aakar Patel  Feb 22, 2013 13:31 IST

#Manto'sMusings   #Pakistan   #Saadat Hasan Manto  

Saadat Hasan Manto.

Saadat Hasan Manto.

If ever there was a prophetic piece on Pakistan it is this one.

I find it astonishing that it hasn't been translated till now.

Manto sketches an apocalyptic, Mad Max-type future for Pakistan in this essay, as he began to recognise its Orwellian trajectory. Who can say he had it wrong?

As they blow themselves up in acts of piety, taking offence at blasphemy, at infidelity, at apostasy and at heresy, Pakistan is acting out its laws on its streets.

It has moved along the cultural path that Manto saw it taking. This was published in the compilation Oopar, neechay aur darmiyan in 1954. There is no chance that something like it can again be published in Pakistan.

(Allah ka bada fazal hai by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by Aakar Patel)

God is gracious, ladies and gentlemen.

There was once that time of barbarism when we had police stations in every neighbourhood. We had the high courts. There were government offices and chowkis. There were jails filled with prisoners.

There were clubs where people gambled, and where they could get a drink or two. There were dance bars and discotheques. There were cinema halls and art galleries.

There was all of that nonsense.

But now, praise God!, now we can find neither poet nor musician. Allah help us, their music was the most debased thing. Are humans meant to sing? Sitting with their tanpuras and wailing away. And singing what?

Malkauns and Darbari Kannada and Miyan ki Todi and God alone knows what.
Someone should have asked: "Look, what benefit has ever come to mankind from your raags? Do something that people will remember you by, that you'll be blessed for. That will make you feel less fearful of the grave."

But God is all grace, ladies and gentlemen. These vulgarities are all gone now. Abolished. And, if God is gracious enough, this vulgar existence of being will also be taken away from us slowly.

I mentioned poets - what strange people they were. Neither mindful of Allah nor fearful of his Prophet. Forever referring to their lovers, some Rehana, some Salma.

And, Allah forbid!, all this stuff about praising hair and cheek. All this dreaming of 'union'. How filthy their minds were. Hai aurat (oh woman) all the time they went.

But now, by the grace of God, we've got fewer women among us, or at least it seems that way, because the ones we have are secure inside their homes. And the poets are gone.

Ever since Pakistan has been cleansed of poets, the very air around us has become pure and unpolluted.

I forgot to say - in the last days of poets we had those who wrote, instead of love and their women, instead of this they wrote of labour and labourers.
Instead of hair and skin, they praised sickles and hammers. Thank God, we're now rid of them and their labourers. Bastards wanted revolution, you know? To overthrow government, to get rid of the state. To take over the economy and religion.

God's grace ensured that we were delivered from these barbarians misleading the innocent people. They kept demanding, illegally I might add, their rights as human beings.

With their ridiculous flags in hand, they wanted to instal a secular government. God be praised, none of them is now among us. And, a thousand praises to Allah, now Pakistan is an Islamic state ruled by mullahs. Every Thursday night we treat them to halwa. You will be disturbed to know that in those days the very existence of halwa was in threat.

The poor mullahs - may God give them a thousand lives in heaven! - used to pine for it. And every hair of their lustrous beards demanded the banishing of razors. God be praised! Their prayers were answered. Now, try as you might, you cannot find a razor anywhere.

But halwa, the religious nourishment of our mullah representatives, can be found anywhere you want.

God be praised, nobody sings Thumri or Dadra any longer. Bollywood songs are gone too. The funeral of music has been led out, and it has been buried with such thoroughness that no messiah can resurrect it.

What a curse this music was. People said it was 'art'. What rubbish. Is it an art that you listen to a song, hum it, and for a few moments forget the torture of existence? Is it art that a song makes you come alive? That sends you into the world of beauty and love?

No, Allah be praised, art can never mislead in this fashion. 'Ghoonghat ke pat khol', 'Payal baji jhan-jhan-jhan-jhan', 'Babul banhar mora chuto jaye', 'Ratiyan kahan gawayen re'.

Is there any decency in these lyrics? Allah be praised, all of this is gone now. There is only qawwali. Listen to it, chant its words and be blessed.
Painting is no less sinful, mind you. All these pictures were once made, some naked, some half-so. The artist put all his effort into the depiction of beauty. But this is kufr - outside of religion.

Creation is the preserve of Allah, the only one allowed to be called Creator, and not the business of his servant, man. Painting is sin.
All praise to God, then, that no artist exists among us now. Those who remain have had their fingers cut off, so that they stay clear of mischief. And now you cannot find even a straight line drawn anywhere in this, our nation.

Nobody remains to put down the glory of the setting sun on paper or canvas. Truly, that desire of studying beauty itself is extinct now, leave alone the actual creation of it.

Pictures of naked women were painted and statues of them sculpted in those days. What can I say? They were set up with love on the pedestals of museums. Their painters and sculptors were rewarded and acclaimed. Yes, can you believe that? Rewarded. Given money, retainers, shown kindness and affection and praised: "Mr Artist, Sir! How well you have reproduced the female form... These breasts..."

Lord have mercy, what did I just say. Please excuse me while I wash my mouth.
I gargled, but the bad taste hasn't left my mouth. Please forgive me for using that obscenity (AP: When Manto was tried for obscenity in Lahore, one of the words said to be obscene was "breasts").

But of course you don't know what that word means because every filthy and obscene word has been removed from the dictionaries.
Now what was I saying? Oh yes, Allah be praised that there are no museums and art galleries left. No places where naked pictures - or for that matter any pictures of 'art' - may be seen.

All the museums have been torn to rubble and the rubble thrown into the sea for good measure. And this rubbish wasn't limited to painting and sculpture, oh no. It had spread to poetry and fiction. Ghazals and short stories that depicted physical interaction between man and woman were in great demand.
What a sick mindset those people had! They never thought of the spirit. Speaking always of the earth, what about the seven heavens above us? They had no idea of that. They thought only of the hunger of the body. They were clueless about the higher pangs of the soul.

God be praised! Hunger of the body has been eradicated. And if God is merciful, we'll be rid of our filthy bodies entirely and only remain as wandering, pure spirits. What a beautiful and sinless world that would be!

Then there were all those magazines writing on literature. They carried much material to mislead people and make them question virtue. What this 'literature' nonsense is, I never quite understood. Was it anything worth teaching and spreading?

Those stories, poems, essays, critiques published in the name of literature - they held no lessons for the young on how to respect and submit to their elders. Nor did they teach people how to fix those westernised liberals among us. That of course is an art that only comes with practice. But there wasn't even any instruction on growing beards and trimming moustaches in those rags.

Literature was reduced to this alone - the interaction of man with woman. Allah help us, the psyche of those writers - trying to peek into the true nature of our bodies. Stories of romance, set in beautiful places. An evening in Awadh, a morning in Varanasi. All of this sketched out in words on paper. Flowers, bulbuls, koels, sparrows - words praising them blackened a thousand pages then.

But ladies and gentlemen, praise is owed only to Allah, who made the world. And thanks to him now neither bulbul remains nor flower. We killed off the flower and the bulbul disappeared of itself. And many other things besides we have been rid of in this land of Pak, the pure.

I was telling you about 'literature'. I forgot to say that an entirely new form of it had been created. People called it 'realism'. Putting down what you see in front of you.

Think about it. If at this moment, you were to sneeze, what cause have I to write about this unfortunate, and frankly ill-omened, moment and present it to others as literature?

The sneeze was on its way, it came. What's the point of examining this event? Is there any beauty or virtue in this describing of the real world? All things come from God and go to him.

Thank the Lord, there is no more 'literature' and no more writers in Pakistan. No more essays are published, praise Allah. In fact, even newspapers are not to be found. When the government needs to tell us something, they print a few pages. God alone knows best. The government prints that paper, perhaps once a year or so, when it's needed. What's there to report in any case? Nothing worthy of being news ever happens in Pakistan. Nothing for people to discuss.

All that happened in another time, ladies and gentlemen, and people were idle then. Sitting around in coffee shops and their home, handling those enormous broadsheets and discussing them for hours. Which party's policies are right? Which leader to vote for? Why aren't the city's streets cleaned properly? Why aren't more art schools being opened? Shouldn't women have more rights? And God alone knows what other rubbish.

But, all praise to Him, now our nation is free of such bothersome questions. People eat, they remember God and they sleep.
And people! I forgot entirely to talk about science. This was the mother of literature. God save us from this 'science'. They wanted to reproduce heaven on earth, these scientists. Bastards. They made claims rivalling God's.

They thought of lighting up the world so that there would be no darkness. Of making it rain when it was needed. Of finding a cure for cancer. Such insolence! They were trying to put men on the surface of the moon and make babies in test tubes!

No fear of Allah at all.

Now of course we have been rid of all this devilry. Now there's peace everywhere. No disturbances, no incidents, no poets, no painters.
Time passes like it doesn't pass at all. All of it is now saved. From birth to death, a steady flow of pure beings through this nation. The people are in a trance. And, tell me truthfully, don't you want to be in such a state too?

And... Hey... Where did this newspaper come from? Oh, we were asleep. The government must have sent it. It's come after a really long time. Let's have a look. The old days were bad, people, but there was one thing about them. They say the writing and printing of newspapers was very beautiful in those days. But what's the big deal about beauty, eh?

What's this...? Wait a minute. My eyes aren't decieving me. Yes, it's quite clear here. A man has been... arrested. Arrested!?
He was wandering about everywhere shouting that he did not want to live in a country where there was God, but no devil.

Allah save us.

They say that when he was brought before the authorities, he began screaming: "Bring the devil here at once or I'll go mad!" In his defence he had Allama Iqbal's poetry to back him, which also said that both devil and God were needed.
But this couplet is nowhere to be found in the official book of Iqbal's poems. And the government of Pakistan has been publishing his works regularly under its own supervision.

It's absolutely clear, then. This fellow, he's playing a game. Let's see what else the report says about this. The charge against him is grave and the government is figuring out how to put this fellow on trial.

But there are no courts. There is no jail. The state is thinking of setting up a court, a lock-up and a jail for him. Alllah be praised, Pakistan will figure out a way to keep such people out of mischief.