Thursday, July 30, 2009

Manto 'giri'

Saadat Hasan Manto is considered one of the best short story writer in Urdu. His series of letters to Uncle Sam in which he dissects several issues are also very popular. The beauty of these letters is the fact that they are critical and show his disgust of things not discussed much among the ordinary people or even the learned. Small but pointed, they are still relevant today.

Consider this (taken from his third letter addressed to Uncle Sam):"You have done many good deeds yourself and continue to do them. You decimated Hiroshima, you turned Nagasaki into smoke and dust and you caused several thousand children to be born in Japan. Each to his own. All I want you to do is to dispatch me some dry cleaners. It is like this. Out here, many mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the after drops of urine as they resume their walk. This they do in full public view. All I want is that the moment such a person appears, I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the Mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding."

This sight which is very common in North India (possibly in other regions too) can be shocking for many who are left wondering what the person is up to. For Muslims it is necessary to ensure that no drop of urine touches the body, but the method employed (though effective) and the use of it in full public gaze can leave one disgusted.

While the stones are used to ensure 'cleanliness' and maintain the hygiene level as required, they end up showing the person as a complete garbage. And it's not just the mullah types who indulge in it. Coming back to Manto, '...use the stone to absorb the after drops of urine as they resume their walk'. It is this tendency of continuing to walk with the stone still doing, or trying, to do its job that is objectionable. The action stems from the belief that it is being carried out as a necessity disregarding the fact that in the process, the necessity has become an entirely avoidable and deplorable act.

The entire process can be completed in a more dignified way, which only demands a little amount of patience. But patience is a virtue, and even if it can lead to a more dignified act, it can be disregarded. And if people do not have patience and decency for others, the atom bombs are not far behind...

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