August 15, 1947: it was not just a day of joy and celebration; it was also a day of pain and loss. Did Partition divide only the geographical territory? Or, did it also fragment and brutalize our consciousness? We could not escape this question. And even after seventy years of Independence, the trauma of Partition continues to haunt us. Have we really learned any lesson? Or, is it that we are still thirsty for blood, and obsessed with narrow religious identities?
Saadat Hasan Manto’s stories, essays and reflections—written with a splendid mix of hard realism and human sensitivity—make us realize what communal violence and politics of hatred could do to us—the way we lost humanism, and allowed the brute power to darken our consciousness. For our alert readers, we have chosen a set of four brief reflections made by one of the finest Urdu writers in the subcontinent.
At six in the morning, the man who used to sell ice from a pushcart next to the service station was stabbed to death. His body lay on the road, while water kept falling on it in steady driblets from the melting ice.
At a quarter past seven, the police took him away. The ice and blood stayed on the road.
A mother and child rode past the spot in a tonga. The child noticed the coagulated blood on the road, tugged at his mother’s sleeve and said, ‘Look, mummy, jelly’.
‘Hey, you there, speak at once, who are you?’
‘You offshoot of the devil, at once…are you Indoo or Musalmeen?’
‘Who is your Prophet?’
‘OK, let him go.’
OUT OF CONSIDERATION
‘Don’t kill my daughter in front of my eyes.’
‘All right, all right. Peel off her clothes and shoo her aside.’
The rioters brought the train to a stop. Those who belonged to the other religion were methodically picked out and slaughtered. After it was all over, those who remained were treated to a feast of milk, custard pies and fresh fruit.
Before the train moved off, the leader of the hosts addressed the passengers: ‘Brothers and sisters, since we were informed late of your train’s arrival time, we were not able to offer you the kind of hospitality we would have wished.
SOURCE: Khalid Hasan (edited and translated), The Very Best of Saadat Hasan Manto, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2008