Prostitutes and priests: Manto on dubious definitions of morality


In his works starring Socrates (which is all his books with the exception of The Laws), Plato uses dialogue to clear up the narrative and move it forward quickly.

His books end without clear solutions and Socrates is always unsatisfied with the debate's outcome. Something is always unclear and knowledge is never actually arrived at - as befits a great seeker of truth. In Pasmanzar, the only piece Manto wrote in this literary form, he was clear about the end.

His stories about prostitutes and barbarism and necrophilia did not go down well in pious Pakistan. He became a very public target for moralists.

Angered by days spent in courtrooms where he is treated poorly, and once also convicted for obscenity, he tears into his critics by contrasting their morality with his in this piece. His frustration and his bitterness show through, and that is unusual for Manto. He also takes a swipe at Jinnah's Muslim League, and he was among its first and most devastating critics.

I'm not sure if someone actually published this piece in a journal or whether it was just found in his papers, written for himself one drunk afternoon, and sent for his collected works.

Pasmanzar (The background), written by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by Aakar Patel

"Have you heard the latest?"

- From Korea?

"No, not that."

- About the Begum of Junagadh?


- Some sensational murder again, is it?

"No, actually about Saadat Hasan Manto."

- Why? Did he die?

"No, he was arrested yesterday."

- For obscenity?

"Yes. They searched his property too."

- Did they find any cocaine? Some contraband booze perhaps?

"No. The newspapers say nothing illegal came to hand."

- The bastard's existence is itself illegal, I'd say.


- Then why did they not charge him with that?

"We should leave that to the government. It knows how to fix people like him."

- No doubt, it does.

"So what do you say? This time Manto must hang for sure."

- I hope he does. That'll shut the bastard up once and for all.

"You're right. After what the high court said about 'Thanda Gosht' (AP: a short story in which a rioter has sex with a woman's corpse), he should have hung himself."

- And if he'd failed in the attempt...

"He would be charged with attempted suicide and locked up anyway."

- I think that's why he didn't try it. Else he's quite an extreme fellow.

"So you think he's going to keep writing his pornography?"

- Yaar! This is the fifth case against him. If he wanted to behave, he'd have stopped after the first case and taken up something respectable.

"True. Become a government servant perhaps, or he could have sold ghee. Or, like Ghulam Ahmad from Mohalla Pir Gilaniya, he would have come up with a miracle cure for impotence."

- Yes. Many respectable things are open to him. But he's a godless man. Mark my words - he'll go back to writing pornography again the moment he can.

"Do you know what will come to be finally?"

- I forsee something quite bad.

"There will be six cases against him in Punjab, 10 in Sindh, four in the North West Frontier and three in Pakistan. He'll go insane just from the proceedings."

- He's already gone mad twice, the newspapers reported the other day.

"That was him being farsighted. He was rehearsing so that when he actually does go nuts he can spend his time in the asylum at ease, already accustomed to it."

- But what will he do there?

"He'll try to bring the lunatics to their senses."

- Is that a crime?

"Not sure. Only a lawyer can say if there's a section in Pakistan's Penal Code for this. I think there should be. Bringing the insane to their senses is punishable under Section 292 (AP: The section regulating obscenity in India and Pakistan)."

- In its judgment on 'Thanda Gosht' (Cold Meat), the high court said the law has nothing to do with the writer's intent, or what his character is. It must only see if there is filth in his writing.

"That's precisely why I was saying that whatever the intent be in bringing the lunatics to their senses, the unnatural aspect of the whole thing should be considered."

- These are legal things, sub judice as they say - we should stay away from them.

"True. It's good you reminded me. I think it's a crime even to discuss them in private."

- Tell me, if Manto really does go mad, what happens to his wife and children?

"They can go to hell! What has the law to do with that?"

- Yes, but do you think the government will step in to help them?

"The government should do something. It should tell the newspapers it is considering the matter."

- And by the time they've 'considered' the thing will be settled. Brilliant.

"Obviously. That's how it has been, always."

- Let Manto and his family go to hell. Tell me this, how will the high court ruling affect Urdu literature?

"Let Urdu literature also go to hell."

- Don't say that! I'm told that literature and culture are a nation's assets.

"I only consider cold cash an asset - something physical and lying in a bank vault."

- That's a clever way of putting it. But if this is so, then Momin, Meer, Ahsan, Shauq, Saadi, Hafiz etc - will all of them be wiped out through Section 292?

"I believe so. Else why should the law exist?"

- All the poets and writers should come to their senses and take up respectable professions.

"Join politics, perhaps?"

- Only the Muslim League, right?

"Of course. That's what I meant. To join another party is to spread obscenity."

- Absolutely.

"There are, of course, other respectable things they could do. Put their writing talent to use by sitting outside post offices and writing letters on behalf of other people. In chaste language, naturally. Or they could scrawl advertisements, you know those random ones that walls are full of. It's a brand new nation with thousands of vacancies. They could fill some of them."

- Yes, there's also much vacant land they could till.

"I hear the government's thinking of setting aside some of it on the Ravi River, and banishing all the hookers and whores there. Far from the city. Why not include these poets and writers and pack them off there as well?"

- Splendid idea! They'll certainly be at home there.

"What do you think will happen?"

- What else? They'll rot there. Wallowing in the filth.

"It'll be fascinating. I think Manto will be delighted with all the material around him."

- But that fellow will write about the whores rather than sleep with them. He'll give us their stories.

"True. What he sees in the wretched of the earth, why he insists on ennobling them, I have never understood. The rest of us see them with contempt and disgust. How can he bear to embrace them?"

- His sister Ismat (AP: Ismat Chughtai, the Indian writer also charged with obscenity in Lahore) says that he's fascinated by things that repel other people. It's true. Where everyone is dressed in spotless white, he wants to go covered in mud and slime and make a nuisance of himself.

"His brother Mumtaz Hussain says he sets off every morning looking for goodness in the stomach of such a person as you might never expect."

- That's quite obscene if you ask me. To expect goodness instead of intestines.

"And what about spreading muck on those clothed in pure white?"

- Obscene too.

"Where do you think he gets so much slime from?"

- No idea. He finds it somewhere.

"Let's pray that god deliver us from his contemptible filth. This might be good for Manto also."

(They pray)

"Lord! You're merciful and gracious. We're sinners both but we ask that Saadat Hasan Manto, son of Ghulam Hasan Manto, a good and pious man, please be taken away from this world.

He has little use for it. He eschews the fragrances of your world and runs towards it odours.

He shuts his eyes in the lights and goes in search of the darker corners. He wants to see the raw and the naked. Sweet things he dislikes, he delights in the bitter.

He finds nothing of virtue in housewives and seeks the company of sluts.

He bathes in filth. When we cry, he giggles. When one is meant to laugh, he howls.

He insists on wiping soot from the blackened faces of the immoral and on showing their faces to us.

He's forsaken you, Lord, and worships the devil.

O Master of the universe! Rid us of this man who insists on making evil normal. He loves mischief - the courts' proceedings are proof of this. Try him in your eternal court that justice finally come to him.

But be careful, Lord! He's very wily. Make sure you're not snared by one of his wiles. Of course, you know it all, but we're just reminding you.

We ask only that you remove him from our world. And if he should remain, then remain as one of us - we who hide the world's filth and carry on like all is pure.


Updated Date: Dec 17, 2012 14:34 PM

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