The frivolities of justice: Manto on the court of law

Courts in British India functioned better than they do now. For us that time is distant, but for Manto, the British leaving immediately brought trouble. Now, in newly formed Pakistan, the laws became more moral and the tolerance of the state declined.

Manto was tried several times for obscenity in British India, but it was only after independence that his legal troubles sent him into despair. The essay he mentions as causing him the most trouble is called Thanda Gosht, and is about necrophilia during a riot.

Saadat Hasan Manto.

This is the first of two essays on the subject of his fifth trial. It was published in the Lahore magazine Naqoosh ('Imprints'), in its special issue of February-March, 1953. It is interesting that it was published in Naqoosh because Manto has something to say about its owner-editor in this piece, and in the next one, which we shall see next week.


Paanchvan muqaddama - (I), by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by Aakar Patel

I've been tried four times in court for my writings. A fifth trial has now begun, and I wanted to report to you how it happened and how it's coming along.
The first four short stories that attracted the law's attention are as follows:

1) Kali shalwar (Black leggings)
2) Dhuan (Smoke)
3) Bu (The odour)
4) Thanda gosht (cold meat)
5) Oopar, neechay aur darmiyan (above, below and in-between)

For Kali shalwar I had to travel from Delhi to Lahore's courts three times. Dhuan and Bu troubled me much more, for I had to travel from Bombay to Lahore. But Thanda gosht trumped them all, even though this trial happened when I was already in Pakistan and didn't have to travel for it. No sensitive man, and I consider myself one, could have gone through the experience un-scarred. A court is a place where every humiliation is inflicted, and where it must be suffered in silence.

I pray nobody has to go to that place we call "court of law". I've seen no place more bizarre than it.

I also hate the police. They've always treated me with the contempt they reserve for the worst sort of offender.

Anyway, it started the other day when a magazine in Karachi, Payam-e-Mashriq (Message of the east), published, without my permission, my essay 'Oopar, neechar aur darmiyan'.

They had lifted it from the Lahore paper Ehsan and soon after, the Karachi government issued a warrant in my name.

I wasn't home. Two sub-inspectors and four constables laid siege to the house (A flat just off Lahore's Mall Road, in a building called Laxmi Mansions, given to Manto as refugee property. His daughter Nighat still lives there. Mani Shankar Aiyar was born in the same building).

My wife told them: "Manto isn't home. If you want I'll call him over." But they were insistent that I was in fact hiding inside and that she was lying.

I was at the office of Chaudhry Nazir Ahmed, who owns the magazine Savera.
I had just begun working on a story and had written some 10 lines or so when Rashid, Chaudhry Nazir's brother arrived. After a few moments he asked: "What are you writing?"

"I've just begun a story," I said, "Looks like it's going to be a long one."

"I've come to give you some bad news," he said, "The police are at your place, looking for you. They think you're home and are trying to force their way in."

My friends Ahmed Rahi and Hameed Akhtar were with me. They were disturbed and so we all left together by a tanga. Before leaving we told Chaudhry Rashid to telephone all the newspapers so that whatever happened to me would be published the next day.

When we reached, the policemen were outside the flat. My nephew Hamid Jalal and brother-in-law Zaheeruddin were standing next to their cars. They were telling the police "Look, if you must search the house, please do so. But believe us when we say that Manto isn't home."

I also spotted Abdullah Malik chatting with some of the policemen. He's a communist, but mostly a fake one (Manto was disliked by the members of the 'progressive writers movement' who were communists. He's telling us indirectly here that Malik, a famous writer, had come to watch the show).

I learnt that the sub-inspectors had threatened my wife and my sister, saying that they would enter forcibly. Then they saw me enter the compound, and calmed down. I invited them in.

The two officers were still quite stern. When I asked what they wanted, they said they had a warrant from Karachi to search my house. I was astonished.
I'm not a spy or a smuggler or a drug-pusher. I'm a writer. Why on earth would the police need to search my property? What did they expect to find?

They demanded to know: "Where's your library?"

I said that here in Pakistan my 'library' consisted only of a few books, including three dictionaries. The rest was left behind in Bombay.

"If you're looking for something in particular I can give you the address in Bombay," I said.

The officers ignored this and began their search of my house. It's true that there were eight or so empty bottles of beer, but these were not remarked upon.

There was a little box containing papers. The policemen went through every scrap. There were some newspaper clippings. These they seized.

At this point I asked to be shown the warrant that the Karachi government had issued. They refused to give it and instead one of the constables held it out from afar saying: "Here it is."

"What is this?" I asked.
"This is the thing that brought us here," he said.

When I insisted on seeing it, he held it firmly in both hands and held it up, saying: "Read it." I quickly scanned it to learn that other than a search, the document was also an order for my arrest.

And so immediately my thoughts turned to sureties and bail. The officers were stubborn and refused to accept any of those present as sureties. My nephew was a gazetted officer, and so was my brother-in-law. "You're servants of the government," they were told, "you could be dismissed for this."

Anyway, I was arrested and then bailed and now I would have to go to Karachi and face another court of law. In past cases, I had submitted a doctor's note certifying that I was too unwell to attend, but that was over now.

One interesting footnote:

I looked for someone to bail me out but none of my friends could be found in their homes. In the end, I went to Mohd Tufail, a good man who bailed me out.
He owns the newspaper Naqoosh of which he is also the editor. He put up all the books in his store as surety, which was for Rs 5,000.

Another interesting footnote:

Tufail saheb put up the surety but wasn't convinced that I would show up in court. It's true that I didn't have money even to poison myself if I had wanted to, leave alone make the trip.

Tufail saheb came to my place at 5 in the morning the day I had to go to Karachi. He had with him two second class tickets. He was sending a friend of mine, Naseer Anwar, with me so that I would get to Karachi without fail.

He came to drop us in a tanga and remained on the platform till the train left.
What happened to me in Karachi, I'll tell you that another time. Because at the moment I'm too unwell to write further.

Updated Date: Jan 20, 2013 08:57 AM

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