Of Nandita Das’s Manto, Pak Tea House, and Foggy Winter Mornings
Watching Nandita Das’s “Manto” brought back memories of Lahori winters, foggy mornings, Pak Tea House, steaming mugs of coffee and of course, reading Manto. My first introduction to Manto was through the collection of short stories, ‘Tairan Afsane’. The satirical tone of Toba Tek Singh provided a much-needed break from the oppressive sadness of the other short stories in the collection. Manto’s subject matter – the human condition, has never been light. However, Toba Tek Singh was written in a lighter note even though its subject matter was still as grave.
The other pleasant surprise for me was the balanced portrayal of the blame-game that the partition of India and Pakistan has become.
Violence was insinuated, but mercifully, not shown.
I expected the movie to be heavy, to come back scarred by the violence surrounding the partition, seared by a realisation of how much had been lost. And while of course, the feeling of loss was there, it couldn’t not be, the absence of violent scenes (that has almost become an integral part of partition stories), was a welcome relief. Violence was insinuated, and talked about but mercifully not shown and that helped to focus on the loss that played such a huge role in Manto’s life: the loss of his beloved city, the loss of friendship that religion, and then distance had torn away from him and finally the loss of his writing that spiraled into the loss of his life.
Manto has risen above the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh subject matter.
The movie mirrored Manto’s perspective on the partition of 1947 and depicted a balanced portrayal of the post-partition blame-game between India and Pakistan. His protagonists were sometimes Sikhs like Ishwar Singh, who ended up raping a girl in ‘Thanda Gosht’. Or a group of Muslim social workers who rape and almost kill a young Muslim girl in ‘Khol do’. A Jewish girl who helps a Sikh couple escape a violent Muslim mob in ‘Mozelle’. It was refreshing to see that the movie had risen above the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh subject matter to provide an insight into Manto’s real inspiration for writing – human beings, and in particular the hypocrisy in religious sentiment that had become the dividing force in the very fibre of society.
For most of us who have been touched in one way or another by the partition of 1947, Manto was a reminder of the inheritance of our loss.
A reminder of our inheritance of loss.
The movie might appear a little disjointed for someone who isn’t acquainted with Manto’s work or the history of the Indo-pak subcontinent as it transitions between his life and his writing. This movie is an inspiration for those who aren’t familiar with Manto, to read and discover an insightful and prolific writer. But for most of us who have been touched in one way or another by the partition of 1947, this was a reminder of our inheritance of loss. The movie seamlessly wove Manto’s life into his stories, showing the man and his art as interconnected, interdependent entities. Through his story came the clear message of the need for acceptance and respect for difference- whether it is gender, class or religion. Movies like these are a call to tolerance that writers like Manto stood for.
A must-see movie in this age of item numbers and chick flicks!
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Shafaq holds a Masters Degree in Philosophy and Literature from the University of Warwick, UK. She currently works as a lecturer in Philosophy at Singapore University of Social Sciences.
Shafaq grew up in Pakistan but spent a significant amount of time studying and working in London. She is passionate about South Asian literature. Amongst her favourite reads – Hanif Kureishi and Rohinton Mistry.
When she is not carting her three children around the island, she loves to read Sufi poetry to rescue herself from the crazy world we live in.