ON the occasion of Independence Day, the president has conferred posthumous award of Nishan-i-Imtiaz to Saadat Hasan Manto for his contribution to Urdu literature (Aug 14). This award will be given to his descendants during the investiture ceremony to be held on March 23, 2013.
Manto’s stories and novels, which he wrote in colonial and post-colonial periods, were considered obscene and vulgar both by the public and the respective governments. Manto was born and lived in a conservative society where even utterance of the word ‘sex’ was taboo.
In Europe’s liberal society the two famous classics, John Cleland’s ‘Fanny Hill’ (1748) and D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ (1928) were considered pornographic novels and remained banned for a long time. Author Cleland and publisher Ralph Griffiths of ‘Fanny Hill’ were arrested and charged with “corrupting the King’s subjects” in 1749.
In the court, Cleland renounced the novel and it was officially withdrawn. However, as the book became popular, pirate editions appeared.
Ban imposed on the sale of ‘Fanny Hill’ was belatedly lifted in 1973, while ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ could not be published openly in the UK until 1960. This is human psyche that banning a book increases its popularity many times. The book invariably gets the status of bestseller after the ban is lifted. When in the early 1960s a few copies of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ became available on bookstalls in Pakistan, the curiosity and anxiety amongst college students in Lahore was at its peak to get hold of a copy.
Owing to limited availability, the book purchased by one student would be read by many and it continued to be circulated amongst them till its pages were completely torn off.
Similarly, Manto’s stories and novels were read with great interest and he got instant fame in the whole of the subcontinent. It is a pity that a creative and progressive writer like him was constantly kept under mental agony and financial strain of frivolous court cases. Nevertheless, it is heartening to note that Manto’s talent has been recognised much earlier in a conservative society than that of his counterparts from the liberal West.
Although belated, the conferment of the posthumous award by the government is laudable due to Manto’s invaluable services to Urdu literature.