We are fortunate that Manto brought his skills as a writer and an observer to the days of Partition in Bombay.
So little is known about the atmosphere and the happenings of those crucial days, obscured by the jubilation of independence from the British. There is some material in the autobiography of the judge, MC Chagla and in the writings of Rafiq Zakaria. However Manto brings an immediacy which makes those days come alive. Indians will not realise how divide their cities were in that period, and this essay will take them by surprise.
Manto then tells us, through his experiences in Pakistan, how silly the whole enterprise is.
This essay was published in the compilation “Oopar, neechay aur darmiyan” in 1954.
Yom-e-Istiqlal, written by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by Aakar Patel
When India was partitioned I was in Bombay. On the radio I heard the speeches made by Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah and Pandit Nehru. And I saw the chaos that came to the city.
Before this, I had read news of Hindu-Muslim violence in the papers daily. Some days five Hindus would be cut down, other days five Muslims. In any case, it seemed to me that equal blood was drawn and shed by both sides.
But now, at partition, it was different.
Let me tell you how through this story.
The newspaper man would throw the ‘Times of India’ through the kitchen window every morning. One day, it was just after a riot, the newspaper man came to the door and knocked.
I was alarmed. I walked out and saw a stranger holding out the paper.
I asked him: “Where’s that man who delivers the paper daily?”
“He’s dead sir,” the stranger replied, “He was stabbed in Kamatipura yesterday. Before he died, he gave me a list of people to deliver the paper to and collect the money from them.”
I can’t express what I felt on hearing this, so I won’t try to.
The next day I was at Claire Road, near my house, when I saw a body near the petrol pump there. It was the corpse of an ice-seller, a Hindu, whose cart was next to him. The ice was melting. The drops mingled with the blood that had coagulated around him. It looked like jelly.
Those were strange days. There was chaos, mayhem, panic everywhere and from the womb of this anarchy were born two nations. Independent India and independent Pakistan.
Many wealthy Muslims in Bombay took a flight out to Karachi, hoping to see the celebrations of the founding of an Islamic republic. The rest cowered in fear, hoping only that nothing terrible would happen to them. The 14th of August arrived.
Bombay, always beautiful, now looked as gorgeous as a bride. It was glittering with lights, so many that I think the city had never spent so much on power as it did that night.
The Bombay Electric Supply and Tramway Company, called BEST, had decorated one of their tram cars for the festivities, covering it entirely in lights so that it resembled the tricolour of the Congress. It roamed the city roads the whole night.
Many buildings were also lit-up, especially the shops owned by the British, like Whiteways and Ewan Frieze’s.
Now listen to what was going on in Bhendi Bazaar. This is a famous market area dominated by what are called in Bombay’s language Miya Bhais – Muslims.
It has countless hotels and restaurants, some called ‘Bismillah’ and others called ‘Subhanallah’. The entire Quran is to be found in the names of this place.
Bhendi Bazaar is Bombay’s Pakistan. Here, Hindus were celebrating the freedom of their Hindustan and Muslims of their Pakistan.
I of course had no idea what to make of any of this.
The few Hindu shops in Bhendi Bazaar displayed the tricolour. Everywhere else you looked were visible the Islamic flags of the Muslim League. When I went there in the morning I noticed something bizarre. The bazaar was covered in green flags. There was a painting of Jinnah (made by an amateur) which was put up in a restaurant. I cannot get these sights out of my mind.
The Muslims were ecstatic that they had got their Pakistan. But where was this Pakistan? Not in Bhendi Bazaar. And what was this Pakistan, if not India? This they did not know.
They were happy, perhaps for no reason other than they finally had a reason to be happy about.
At the Rampur Dada restaurant, many cups of tea and Passing Soap cigarettes were consumed amid delight at the creation of Pakistan.
As I said, I had no idea what to make of it, but the strange thing is that on August 14, nobody was killed in Bombay. People were busy celebrating their freedom.
What this freedom was, how it had been achieved and what it would mean to their lives – not much thought was spent there. There was only shouting. “Pakistan zindabad!” on one side, “Hindustan zindabad!” on the other.
And now listen to something about our new Islamic republic.
On last year’s independence day, a man was cutting down the tree in front of our house. I said to him: “What are you doing? You’ve no right to cut this tree.”
He replied: “This is Pakistan. It belongs to us.”
I had no reply to this.
Once upon a time, before Partition, our neighbourhood was very pretty. Now the park in it is dry and in it naked children play vile games and scream abuse.
A large ball belonging to one of my daughters was lost. I thought it must be somewhere in the house, and forgot about it. Four days later, I saw the boys playing with it. When I confronted them, they said: “It’s ours. We paid one rupee and four annas for it.”
It had cost me four rupees and 15 annas. But apparently it’s finders-keepers were in Pakistan so I left my little girl’s ball with them for they had a right to it.
Another story about the neighbourhood. A man was removing the bricks from the path to our house. I went out and said: “Why are you doing this to us?” He replied: “This is Pakistan – who are you to stop me?”
I had no reply to this either. I had sent a radio for repairs and forgotten. When I remembered a month later, I went to pick it up. The man said: “I waited for you, and then I sold it to recover the cost of repairs.”
And recently, I got a notice from the government. “You’re an unwanted person,” it read, “vacate the house that has been allotted to you as refugee property or tell us why we shouldn’t evict you from it.”
If I am now declared an “unwanted person” perhaps the government also reserves the right to declare me a rat and exterminate me. Anyway, for now I’m safe here in Pakistan.
In the end I want to tell you this important story.
When I left Bombay at Partition I came first to Karachi. Things were so nasty here that I immediately decided to flee to Lahore. I went to the railway station and asked for a first class ticket to Lahore.
The booking clerk said: “All the seats are booked, there’s no ticket for you.”
Now I was used to the environment of Bombay, where everything is available for a price. So I said “Look, why don’t you take something and give it to me.”
He stopped his work and looked at me. He said in a stern voice: “This is akistan. I would have done such a thing before, but now I cannot. All the seats are booked. You can’t get a ticket at any price.”
And I didn’t.