Life Times and Legacy of Ismat and Manto
What “A writer picks up his pen only when his sensibility is hurt” – Manto
These were challenging times both pre and post independent India when Ismat Chugtai and Sadat Hasan Manto were creating a stir in the literary world with their singular signatures.
To curate a show on these two legends of modern Indian literary writings is in itself a challenge. In this intimate exhibition, the viewer is invited to get a whiff of the two legends.
I have simply tried to assemble rather than curate, an exhibition which attempts in a modest way to capture the ‘zeitgeist’ of the two writers.
Both born within a year of each other, Saadat Hasan Manto was born in 1912 in died in 1955 in Lahore. Ismat was born in 1911 in Badaun and died in Bombay in 1991.
Ismat literally startled readers with her iconoclasm of thought. The grand dame of Urdu literary fiction major works of hers were banned in SouthAsia. She was a rebel, afraid of no one, nothing and she spoke her mind unreservedly during a time when women were discouraged from involving themselves in intellectual pursuits. She had developed the markings of a feminist in the early forties even when theconcept of feminism was at its early stage in the West.Her short story, ‘Lihaf’ written two months before her marriage created quite a stir and it continues to be considered one of the most controversial works ever produced by a woman writer in the sub continent.
The two together were almost like two faces of the same coin. Both were rebels, scintillating, sensitive, fascinating, with a rare gift of fearlessness. They both went beyond what was deemed ‘correct’ and ‘genteel’, and spearheaded a literary revolution. Ismat broke barriers by exposing the prevalent patriarchal society of the times, while Manto combined psychoanalysis with human behaviour. Though a literary giant in his life time he was one of the most controversial writers as well. When it came to chronicling the collective madness that prevailed, during and after the Partition of India in 1947, no other writer comes close to the oeuvre of Saadat Hassan Manto.
The tragedy with followed Manto till his death in Pakistan in 1955 was that he was never accepted as their own in either country. In Pakistan to which he migrated in 1947 he was regarded as an Indian writer and in India as a Pakistani writer. Compared to D.H. Lawrence since he wrote on themes which were social taboos. On his writing he often commented, "If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth"
Both Ismat and Manto were associated with the Bombay film Industry, and each of them wrote scripts for films.
Bombay of the 1940’s and 1950’s where the two lived , their paths crossed , is a slice of their life times and legacy is what I am attempting to capture. The time when the arts, ie painting, theatre and cinema was radical, political and always provocative. It was the time when the “progressives’ laid out the charter in Bomaby. The Indian Peoples Theatre Association, the Bombay progressive artists like F. N. Souza, M. F. Hussain, Gade and Kishen Khanna broke new ground in their personal quest for freedom as Ismat and Manto did. The pain of partition too was very much in the collective consciousness particularly in Northern part of the land.
The pictures of partition as captured by Margaret Bourke White, and a re reading of the portraits of Ismat and Manto by the two contemporary artists Sidharth and Rohit Sharma help us to re fresh our minds.
The voice of the two writers is still lives as is evident through the exhibition.
Dr. Alka Pande