Saadat Hassan Manto is deeply admired across the subcontinent for the gruesome scenes of partition that he portrayed so poignantly in his prose. While over the years his stories have been adapted into many plays, films and art, his satirical letters have not gotten the attention they deserve.
In his collection of ‘Chacha Sam ke Naam Khat’ (Letters to Uncle Sam) that he wrote in the 1950s soon after partition, he addresses the United States of America and talks of many things out of which we picked the lines that address his hearbreak over leaving behind his homeland and his beloved city, Mumbai.
“This letter comes to you from your Pakistani nephew whom you do not know, nor does anyone else in your land of seven freedoms.
You should know why my country, sliced away from India, came into being and gained independence, which is why I am taking the liberty of writing to you. Like my country, I too have become independent and in exactly the same way. Uncle, I will not labour the point since an all-knowing seer like you can well imagine the freedom a bird whose wings have been clipped can enjoy.”
In his typical fashion, Manto blends political satire with personal tragedy; his lines will make you smile but also leave you with a tinge of sadness.
“My name is Saadat Hasan Manto and I was born in a place that is now in India. My mother is buried there. My father is buried there. My first-born is also resting in that bit of earth. However, that place is no longer my country. My country now is Pakistan which I had only seen five or six times before as a British subject.”
In the letters, he also talks about his dubious fame, the obscenity trials and his near impoverished state.
“I used to be the All India’s Great Short Story Writer. Now I am Pakistan’s Great Short Story Writer. Several collections of my stories have been published and the people respect me. In undivided India, I was tried thrice, in Pakistan so far once. But then Pakistan is still young.”
“That section of my country’s population which rides in Packards and Buicks is really not of my country. Where poor people like me and those even poorer live, that is my country.
These are bitter things, but there is a shortage of sugar here otherwise I would have coated my words appropriately.”