Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal on the great short story writer, Saadat Hasan Manto, whose birth centenary was celebrated this year.
Saadat Hasan Manto ... once remarked that any attempt to fathom the murderous hatred that erupted with such devastating effect at the time of the British retreat from the subcontinent had to begin with an exploration of human nature itself.
For the master of the Urdu short story this was not a value judgment. It was a statement of what he had come to believe after keen observation and extended introspection. Shaken by the repercussions of the decision to break up the unity of the subcontinent, Manto wondered if people who only recently were friends, neighbours and compatriots had lost all sense of their humanity. He too was a human being, ‘the same human being who raped mankind, who indulged in killing' and had ‘all those weaknesses and qualities that other human beings have.' Yet human depravity, however pervasive and deplorable, could not kill all sense of humanity. With faith in that kind of humanity, Manto wrote riveting short stories about the human tragedy of 1947 that are internationally acknowledged for representing the plight of displaced and terrorised humanity with exemplary impartiality and empathy.