one level translating Saadat Hasan Manto into English is not very difficult. As
a storyteller he never retreats from the complexity of lived experience to find
easy refuge in political posturing or moral and religious sermonising. That is
why the style of his best stories, devoid of all metaphoric excess and sentimental
inflections, is always precise, bare-boned and conversational. Most of his narrators
are either hard-drinking and whoring men who live in cities which have neither
space for graciousness nor time for romance, or are men who have seen so much
horror that they can only offer a disenchanted and cynical vision of the world.
Their descriptions, ironic and cold-eyed, seem to be authentic versions of life
at a particular historical moment because they have the feel of the real and the
pitilessness of stone. It should not, therefore, be impossible for a translator
to find verbal and cultural equivalents for his stories in English.
Structurally, Manto's tales are idiosyncratic but should not
make a translator anxious. Manto often disrupts the linear and chronological flow
of his stories by, using the same kind of parenthetical interruptions, digressions
or elisions that are common to all ordinary conversations. Since he is not conducting
political and ethical arguments, he doesn't worry about constructing well-argued
paragraphs whose internal coherence is essential to convince us of the truth of
some abstract proposition. Instead, with the fine cunning of a master storyteller,
at times he disrupts the narrative to increase suspense or breaks the story's
spell to remind us that life always frustrates our longing for completion; at
other times, he offers different narrative possibilities within the same story
and invites us to puzzle them out or merely writes a fragment which emerges from
silence like a scream. That is why, his stories seem to have the structural sharpness
of barbed wires and broken shards -- and like them they can wound those who are
not alert to their existence. Instead of being problematic, the narrative quirkiness
of his stories ought to be exciting for any contemporary translator who is conscious
of their jaggedness and fissures, their sudden shifts and silences, their blank
spaces and absences.
There is, however, one aspect of Manto's
literary intelligence, which can prove fatal for any translator of his stories.
Manto's language may be economical, but it has the sting and precision of a whiplash.
An English translation of his stories may be accurate, but may still fail to capture
the grating roughness of his diction, the sardonic irony of his images and the
harsh rhythms of his prose. In order to be effective, it would have to cause the
same nightmarish pain, the same sharp lacerations on the reader's soul as Manto's
Urdu original. Otherwise, Manto can appear to be either sentimental, or merely
obscene and cynical, instead being a writer who has a deeply troubled, but profoundly
moral, concern with human experiences and actions in a world, which has lost its
political sense and social reason.
Khalid Hasan is the best
known and the well regarded of the translators of Manto into English. Unfortunately,
his collection, Mottled Dawn: Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition, by Manto,
is deeply flawed. There are two serious problems with the book. One, its translations
are highly inaccurate and disfigure the original. Two, it has no recognisable
editorial policy. The result is a lazy and an unimaginative book, which fails
to deal with the range of Manto's responses to the partition. If his initial response
to the partition was that of disgust at the brutality, he later tried to make
a more historically self-conscious attempt to understand its causes, and then
find a way towards a different kind of politics which could assert that citizenship
is the right of anyone who has lived for long within certain boundaries and feels
at home within its cultural spaces.
Mottled Dawn is, with one minor change,
an unrevised reprint of Partition: Stories and Sketches published by Penguin in
1991. It contains only one new text - "Mere Sahib" (Jinnah Sahib). Otherwise,
the new edition retains all the problems of the previous version. Hasan makes
no attempt to explain his selection of stories nor does he offer any explanation
for his radical transformation of their structures into their new avatars. Thus,
for example, we are not told why the story "Naya Kanoon" (A New Constitution)
has been included even though it has nothing to do with the partition. The story
was written in 1937, a few years before the demand for Pakistan was raised in
1940, and refers to the promulgation of the India Act of 1936. What makes the
choice strange is the fact that well-known pieces about the partition like "Gurmukh
Singh ki Vasihat," "Ramkhilavan" and "Shahay," find no
place in the volume. Since the selection is obviously whimsical, it is not surprising
that Hasan chooses not to translate Manto's later and more complex stories. He
doesn't, for example, include "1919 Ke Ek Baat," a difficult and bleak
tale in which Manto seems to conclude that, despite the presence of Gandhi, the
foolish and the brutal characterised every instance of our nationalist past. Nor
does he include tales like "Fauda Haramda" and "Shah Dauley Da
Chuha," where Manto suggests that a disparate group of exiles, who have neither
shared myths nor a common language, can never come together to form a nation;
carrying nothing more than their different memories, they can only live in the
half-lit spaces of nostalgia.
What is editorially most puzzling, however,
is the manner in which twenty-eight of the brief and fragmentary sketches included
in the volume are presented. Hasan doesn't mention the fact that they form a part
of a strange and unique text called Siyah Hashiye (Black Margins), which is actually
made up of thirty-two pieces designed to be read together. There is, of course,
no reason given for the exclusion of the remaining fragments. Hasan's procedure
is misleading and damaging, because Manto deliberately composes a splintered text
in order to convey his terrified sense that the partition was a time of phantasmagorias.
All the thirty-two pieces in Siyah Hashiye together create a nightmare landscape
of random violence; a scandalous world where victims and predators interchange
places endlessly and unpredictably. To present them as unrelated and individual
sketches is to rob them of their cumulative irony and their abrasive force.
If Hasan as an editor offers us a Manto whose writings on
the partition are considerably diluted, as a translator he recreates for us a
Manto who is substantially compromised and damaged as a writer. Not only does
he give to Manto's stories English titles which have no recognisable relationship
with the original ones in Urdu, he also dismembers and scramble their structures,
deletes paragraphs, summarises significant dialogues, omits details about characters,
transforms long monologues into comfortable paragraphs, converts broken sentences
and hesitant speech into smoothly flowing prose, and adds information about Islamic
history and the formation of Pakistan for kafirs, so as to make Manto both into
a communal partisan and a weak storyteller. Hasan doesn't trust Manto. He forgets
that Manto, at his best, knows the measure of a story and is always cautious not
to reduce the difficult craft of storytelling into one of the duller forms of
politics and theology. Manto's mode of narration is not separable from his vision
of our moral condition during the partition; it is rather a part of his exploration
of the social and psychological conditions, which can lead all of us into evil.
Hasan's violations of Manto's narrative strategies so distort the originals as
to nearly succeed in making his sardonic and complex responses to the partition
seem ordinary and predictable. Manto survives the translation because his stories
are powerful and disturbing. There ought to be, however, a minimum ethic for every
Hasan's translation of some of the brief pieces
in Siyah Hashiye provides examples of the problems with his method. Manto's text
is made up of a series of instances of atrocity; each new atrocity merely replaces
the previous one and is equally unprecedented. Given the fact that Manto wants
to record the randomness of terror, it is obvious that these brief tales cannot
be arranged in any recognisable order. Yet they must be read together, for only
then can they create a phantasmagoric landscape where there is neither reason
nor hope. Many of the fragmentary pieces are deliberately constructed out of broken
sentences or simple words so as to suggest that they have been carefully incised
on the page -- like epitaphs on tombstones. Their brevity of form and their restrained
tone are continuously threatened by the frenzy of the events described. One is
forced to read them with slow and painful deliberation. Only then does one notice
how single words or sentences fragments in one line crumble into the words in
the next line, before finally collapsing into sneering laughter or horrified silence
or screams. Hasan's prose translation, without Manto's careful lineation, in which
words simply slide into one another as in any conventional sentence, erases the
spasmodic quality of these tales, and, thereby, denies them of their vituperative
Take, for instance, the text entitled "Sorry"
in the Urdu version the original is arranged as follows:
paet chak karti hui
naaf ke neeche tak chali gai izarband kat gaya.
Churi maarnevale ke
Chi, Chi...mishtake ho gaya."
- (Dastavez, vol. 2, p.304)
translates it as follows:
belly cleanly, the knife moved in a straight line down the midriff, in the process
slashing the cord, which held the man's pyjamas in place.
The man with the
knife took one look and exclaimed regretfully, 'Oh no! ... Mishtake!' (p. 207)
It is amusing to note that Hasan 'translates' the original
title "Sorry." What is involved here is more than an error of judgment.
By changing the title of the story -- "Mishtake" -- Hasan suggests that
Manto is doing nothing more than casually recording a grotesque incident as an
example of the quirkiness of those fateful days. The change, unfortunately, turns
a grim story into an anecdote. Surely, it is obvious from the careful manner in
which the lineation of the text has been crafted, that Manto is not merely taking
a note of a singularly absurd event, but is trying to draw attention to an infinite
series of mindless and anonymous killings, which have made life into a nightmare.
The new title suggests that Hasan's attitude towards the text is flippant. Indeed,
one suspects that Hasan changes the title partly because he wants to snigger rather
arrogantly at the lumpenisation of language, and partly because he thinks that
Manto wants to point to the murderous propensities of the Punjabis in order to
affirm ethnic stereotypes (the inability of many Punjabis to pronounce 's' has
been the subject of countless jokes).
Manto's title, however, is quite deliberately
chosen. It is rather unbecoming of a translator to reduce the text, which is a
serious attempt at analysing human behaviour during times dominated by mob enthusiasm
and misrule, to the level of a racial slur. One of the characteristic features
of Manto's stories about the partition is that they refuse to pass communally
or ethnically charged judgments. That is why Manto either erases all religious
or regional markers, or makes one uncomfortable with them wherever they occur.
His attitude towards the partition, and of the capacity of human beings to deal
with crises, is utterly cynical. He is convinced that there are times when appeals
to reason or morality can do nothing to prevent human beings -- Hindus, Muslims
and Sikhs equally -- from becoming murderers and living like fools. The title,
"Sorry," therefore, seems to have been deliberately chosen. On the one
hand, its formality is mocked by the coarseness of the last exclamation of the
killer. On the other hand, it warns us not to snigger at the assassin's inability
to pronounce a simple word, lest we forget his victim and become accomplices in
the slaughter. If we have to retain our humanity, we have to feel shocked and
ashamed at the casual murder and the equally casual apology for having killed
the wrong man; we cannot turn away without remorse and laugh.
In the structural arrangement of the original text the object which is given priority
is 'the knife'. It hovers like a threatening presence over the text and controls
it thematically. Manto deliberately places it in an isolated sentence surrounded
by empty spaces so as to make it a metaphor for the partition as an annihilating
event. What makes the knife terrifying to contemplate is that it has a remorseless
and mechanical force of its own; it requires no human agency and it kills automatically,
pitilessly and repeatedly. The man who wields it is merely a part of its mechanism
of slaughter; he has no will of his own and no religion or nationality, which
defines him. And the victim, whose body it cuts open, is only a cadaver. By making
the knife such a powerful presence, Manto wants to suggest that the partition
has nothing to do with freedom or religiosity. He is sure that those who want
partition are only concerned with power -- with all its intoxication, pride and
humiliation. It is because of his strong condemnation of the partition as a political
act, which trifled with the life, religion and culture of a people that the protagonists
of the Pakistan movement still continue to find him difficult to deal with.
Hasan, however, shifts the attention away
from the knife. He removes it from its predominant position in the original, and
slips it into one of the secondary clauses in a tedious sentence made up of melodramatic
assertions. Instead of gazing at the knife with fear, we are made to watch, rather
voyeuristically, the quivering flesh of the victim being slit open. The suspense
of the original is created out of a series of brief, harsh and brutally factual
sentence fragments. The translation slides along casually from one phrase to the
next, describing how the man's pyjamas are held up by a cord and the knife rips
through his belly "cleanly." Manto is a better storyteller and more
subtle a thinker than the translator. He understands the economy of words, and
doesn't pause to give explanations or information. A story of violence requires
a certain degree of asceticism of language. It is precisely Manto's restraint
which makes the original so disturbing. Manto also understands that in times of
extreme violence, instruments of torture and murder acquire a life of their own,
and people who use them become servile to them. By discarding the lineation of
the original text, Hasan destroys it's meaning and ruins its dramatic impact.
Perhaps, the first sentence of the story could have been translated more effectively
Plunged into the stomach
Ripped through the abdomen
string of the pyjama.
second sentence is equally poorly translated. Manto intentionally breaks it up
into five distinct and fragmentary units. The first three lines are sharp, harsh
and spasmodic. Their quickness of movement dramatises both the wild plunging of
the knife and the shocked surprise of the killer -- it is typical of Manto's irony
that the victim is left unacknowledged; he merely strays into a lethal historical
time. The convulsive quality of the writing makes it apparent that for the knife
wielding man, killing is merely a reflex action and the partition an excuse. In
the original, there is no hint that he is capable of expressing "regret"
or remorse -- terms, which give him a capacity for moral judgment and atonement.
Manto is sure that the partition is neither a result of some recognisable ethical
impulse nor of some profound religious need. Indeed, what is always scandalous
about Manto is that, against all the weighty arguments in favour of the partition,
he is willing to take the risk of asserting, with mordant laughter, that a whole
civilisation was ripped apart for something extremely trivial and obscene -- that
the only way of distinguishing a 'true Muslim' from a 'true Hindu' was a man's
foreskin. Therefore, the translation should suggest that when the killer realises
that the victim belongs to his own community, he is either 'aghast' or 'disgusted'
-- words which are closer to the original and indicate that during the partition
murder was no more than an instinct, a mindless passion, which hardly left a trace
of remorse in the killer.
The sense that the man kills because he is moved by some innate bestial urge is
affirmed by the last exclamation, when he splutters incoherently, "Chi, chi,
chi..." The vulgar and aggressive theatricality of the expletives cannot
be replaced by the decorous and effete, "Oh, no..." Manto, unlike Hasan,
understood that the partition not only deformed men, it also debased language.
Indeed, one must hear the slow spitting-round of "Chi, chi, chi..."
before one reaches the slurred consonant in "mishtake." The catch here
is: should one laugh at the lumpenisation of language, or feel ashamed at the
pornography of casual murder. Hasan, obviously, chooses easily and opts for the
Further, Hasan, in keeping with his normal practice,
underplays all religious references which Pakistani nationalists or Muslim fundamentalists
may find problematic. That is why, one suspects, that he ignores the complexity
of the fourth line and erases Manto's bitter mockery of communal politics. By
refusing to find an imaginative way of translating the compound phrase, "Kalma-i-taassuf,"
he directs attention away from the strong religious undertow in the phrase. sIt
would surely have been pointless for Manto to write about the massacres during
the partition without clearly indicating, with all the contempt at his disposal,
that the killers belonged to religious communities -- that killing gave them a
sense of identity and of destiny. The partition may have, to some measure, been
a result of economic concerns or political fears, but it was primarily caused
by religious intolerance and contempt -- a fact which has yet to be fully investigated
by the historians of the period. Manto would have read with grim laughter the
recent assertions by some Pakistan critics like Muhammad Umar Memon and Salim-ur-Rehman
that, for the Muslims, 1947 was a moment "filled with grace," and that
they rejoiced in the partition because it was "the telos of burgeoning historical
expectations." Manto would have found this language, as all of us must, morally
disgraceful. He would have rejected, with equal vehemence, the claims of the Hindu
fundamentalists that they alone were the embodiments of culture and holiness.
Indeed, if ethicality can only be tested in the visible civil and political spaces
of a society, such apocalyptic statements about the partition should be made in
the middle of streets littered with corpses -- then at least we should know that
doom is a part of all such teleological dreams.
There is, hence, a deliberateness of purpose
in Manto's use of the phrase "kalma-i-taassuf." The liturgical ring
of the phrase calls attention to itself because it is placed between the dramatic
briskness of the previous lines and the staccato sounds, which follow. It is a
sonorous phrase which acquires a strange preternatural force because of its ironic
placement between a brutal murder and its casual dismissal; all the shards of
reasons for the partition seem to gather around it and make the partition into
a shameful, causeless and demented historical event. (A historian like Ayesha
Jalal thinks of the partition merely as "the theater of the absurd"
-- a metaphor which accepts the partition as politically senseless, but fails
to acknowledge the enormity of the human suffering involved.) Fiction writers
like Manto, however, insist that any action should be judged by its moral consequences.
We must ask, for instance, if we can approve of a political demand, which leads
to genocide. What makes the usage of the phrase "Kalma-i-taassuf" even
more interesting is that it persuades us to think about the ritual repetition
of holy words uttered to save us from following the path of sin (the Hindi editors
of Manto's Dastavez notice this, but they seem to be alone in doing so). The words
which the killer utters, however, indicate how completely incapable he is of reciting
the 'Kalma'; how far removed he is from grace.
damage Hasan does to Manto is to communalise him. He does so systematically, with
design and in bad faith. In nearly every story Hasan translates there is an apparent
communal purpose behind his omissions, shifts and quiet additions. Take for instance
the translation of "Thanda Gosht," a story which got Manto into trouble
with the new Pakistani government for obscenity. Hasan translates the title as
"Colder than Ice," instead of the more obvious "Cold Meat"
so as to avoid Manto's blunt association between sexual sadism, necrophilia and
the politics of 'saving' women. Unlike Hasan, Manto is neither a moral prig nor
is he afraid of giving offense (there are other instances of Hasan's concern with
the censors. He translates the title "Mootri," as "Three Simple
Statements," instead of "Urinal," the title "Khol Do,"
which in the story refers to the automatic response a rape-victim makes by lowering
her pyjamas and spreading her legs when she hears those words, as "The Return,"
etc.). What is, however, more disturbing about Hasan's translation is that he
slips in phrases which are not there in the original so as to give the story a
nasty religious edge. Manto is painful to many because for him murder is murder,
and no amount of religious mantras can swindle him into believing otherwise. Yet,
Hasan would have us believe that "Thanda Ghost" is Manto's particular
condemnation of Sikh atrocities against the Muslims. Consider the following confession
Ishar Singh makes to his wife in the Urdu version:
meri jan! Main tumhein nahin bata sakta, mere saath kya hua...? Insan kudiya bhi
ek ajeeb cheez hai... Shahar mein loot machi to sabhi kee tarah mainey bhi usmein
hissa liya... Gahne-patte aur rupaiye-paise jo bhi hath lagay, veh maine tumhein
dey diye... Lekin ek baat tumhein na batae..." (Dastavez, 2, p. 272)
edits out Ishar Singh's general assessment of human nature and omits stating that
everyone was looting. Instead, he assumes that Ishar Singh is talking about targeting
the Muslims and becoming a member of one of the gangs engaged in causing all the
torment. His translation reads as follows:
jani, you can have no idea what happened to me. When they began to loot Muslim
shops and houses in the city, I joined one of the gangs. All the cash and ornaments
that fell to my share, I brought back to you. There was only one thing I hid from
you." (Italics added, p. 28)
Even from the fragmentary
example taken from the Urdu text, it should be clear that Manto's concern is not
with laying blame on a particular community, but with trying to record a world
in which anyone can drift into cruelty and slaughter. He crafts nightmares, not
communal texts; he is difficult precisely because he doesn't suggest a religious
solution to the politics of pain that was enacted during the partition.
The trivialising impulse in Hasan is at its demonstrative best in his translation
of "Yazid." This is a pity because "Yazid," which is an enduring
story, has rarely been translated. Included in the last collection of stories
Manto published in his life-time in a volume entitled Yazid (1951), it marks a
major departure from the mournful and damning stories he had written about the
partition earlier. "Yazid" signals both an end to a long period of mourning
over the partition and a search for a new secular faith in life-giving energies
and associations. What makes the story deeply interesting is that, while Manto
refuses to take his eyes off the actualities of suffering, he offers a fine reformulation
of 'faith' as that which human beings do out of affectionate regard for each other.
This shift in the definition of 'faith' enables him to suggest two things. One,
that we give up our rage for ritual and religious identities, in order to escape,
both from the fated programmes of life we think are inscribed in religious texts
and the melodramas of power; and, two, that we begin to regard our little rituals
of marriage, childbirth, friendship or burial as acts of moral care which are
sufficient for our common survival. "Yazid" is a compelling and a brave
story because it is Manto's most convincing refutation of the 'two-nation theory'.
Hasan changes the title of the story and calls it "The
Great Divide." By doing so he radically alters the essential thrust of Manto's
text. The phrase, 'the great divide,' is a cliché commonly used to argue
that, since there was a long history of irreconcilable differences between the
Hindus and the Muslims, the demand for Pakistan was historically inevitable and
politically necessary. Hasan's title suggests that the story is important, not
because it makes a moral and an existential investigation of the ways in which
we can stop living theologically and mythically, and hence less fatally, but because
it offers yet another legitimisation of Muslim League politics. Hasan tries to
divert attention away from Manto's harsh assertion that religious bigotry destroyed
communities which sustained Hindus and Muslim together, in order to persuade us
that Manto only wants to describe the plight of a few Punjabi villagers in Pakistan
living in fear of renewed Hindu aggression a few years after 1947. As usual, therefore,
he simplifies Manto and transforms the story into an anecdote. He fails to notice
that the real significance of the story lies in the fact that Manto, who sees
himself as an exile, is moving toward a new ethical position which is radically
distinct from ideas he has held before: that those who have suffered great political
wrong have a responsibility to ensure that caritas is never erased from our visible
civil spaces; that migrants from a past of nightmares must cease to be fascinated
with their own weakness and refuse to surrender ever again the autonomy of the
self either to nostalgia or to hate; and, that it is possible for exiles of the
partition to remake their communities provided they give up their dependence on
that which is merely religious or political, and instead ask themselves what it
is that is immediately necessary and what will suffice to sustain life in a community.
By calling the story "Yazid,"
Manto draws upon one of the foundational events of Islam. In Islamic history it
is said that during the battle of Karbala, Yazid denies water to Hasan, Hussain
and their followers, and so ensures their defeat and death. Like Satan and Ravana,
he is the figure of primal evil, the demon of unreason who threatens with destruction
all that is virtuous. Manto invokes Yazid and the origins of Islam for two complex
and interwoven reasons. One, he uses Yazid analogically in order to reexamine
the historical assertion that hatred between the Muslims and the Hindus is a fact
which has always defined the relations between them from the very beginnings of
their contact with each other in the India subcontinent. Two, he uses the figure
of Yazid ethically so as to reject the claim of the protagonists of the two nation
theory that their migration was a hijrat in search of an Islamic homeland free
from the threat of contamination by the Hindu Kafirs (Yazids), just the wanderings
of the earliest disciples of Mohammed were an aspect of the necessary rites of
passage towards a sanctified place. Manto, in contradiction, wants to suggest
that Yazid is not out there in a community whose faith is different from the Muslims,
but a part of each of us, Hindus and Muslims alike -- that we are Yazids when
we refuse to take responsibility for our actions or when we dream of killing as
a way of proving our holiness; and, that the history of relations between the
Hindus and the Muslims was as complicated a mixture of harmony and antagonism
as is the case with any group of people who have lived together for ages. Thus,
he uses Yazid, not to strengthen the historical or religious claims of a few survivors
of the riots in Pakistan, but to replace the language of religion by the practice
of a mode of analysis which is concrete, moral and psychological, and in the service
It is difficult to enumerate the variety
of ways in which Hasan's translation damages the text of the story. His changes,
additions, deletions, misreadings and summaries are so extensive and arbitrary
that the English version of the story resembles the original only in its essential
outlines. It is, however, worth describing a few of Hasan's intrusions and elisions
which twist the story in ways antithetical to Manto's intentions.
In the opening sentence, the narrator (who is not necessarily Manto -- he is after
all not writing an autobiographical anecdote but a work of fiction) suggests that
the troubles of the partition were disruptions in the daily lives of the villagers;
they came and went like a few days of unseasonable weather in any normal cycle
of seasons. The context of the story makes it clear that the narrator's reasons
for making an equation between the riots that disturbed the peace in 1947 and
unexpected hours of inclement weather are two-fold: he is offering his own version
of Fernand Braudel's notion of the 'long duration' of history in which 1947 seems
to be less atrocious than it does to those who are caught in the immediate catastrophe;
and, he is hinting at the singular ability of the central character of the story,
Karim Dad, to deal with suffering as an integral part of the process of living,
and to assert that in any life there are seasons of sorrow and seasons for celebration.
The opening sentence, thus, provides the historical and ethical presupposition
of the story and is crucial for our understanding of Karim Dad's actions.
In the original the opening sentence reads as follows:
saintlees ke hungamey aaye aur guzar gaye, bilkul usee tarah jis tarah mausam
mein khilafe-mamool chand din kharab aayein aur chale jayein..
(Dastavez, 2, p. 183)
translates the sentence as follows:
1947 upheavals came and went, much like the few bad days you get in an otherwise
sunny Punjabi winter (p. 132)."
translation of the sentence is deaf to its nuances and its fictional purpose.
Without any sanction from the original, he converts it into a localised observation
about "a few bad days you get in an otherwise sunny Punjabi winter."
He, thus, transforms an important statement about character and history into a
personal report on provincial weather. There is no mention about sunny winters
of Punjab in the Urdu text, nor does the narrator address any listener or reader
directly in order to seek his approval of or complicity in his trite observation.
In any case, Manto knows better than to provoke us to ask who the pronoun "you"
refers to and where is he located in the fictional structure. The narrator's statement
is addressed to anyone who has meditated upon human affairs, and perhaps sought
consolation by locating them within the larger stability of either nature or culture.
Such thinking, he knows, doesn't lessen the suffering or erase the memory of loss,
but it does make sorrow a little more endurable.
with the usual intelligence of a good short story writer, that cadences of speech,
qualities of diction and action are inextricable aspects of making a character.
Hasan, on the other hand, with his continuous disregard for the requirements of
fictional narratives, thinks that a few random verbal strokes, made without paying
attention to tone and diction, are sufficient to indicate a character's role in
carrying the action forward. The fact that the purpose of the story may not lie
only in the incidents described, but in the character's complex presence within
them is of no consequence to him. Thus, in the original, after Karim Dad buries
his father, who dies fighting during the riots, he stands by his father's grave
near a village well and says: "Yaar, tumney theek nahin kia...Mainey tumse
kaha tha ki eik-aadha hathiyaar apne pass zaroor rakha karo...!" (Dastavez,
2, p. 183) If one has to convey the coarse poetry and informality of Karim Dad's
speech in English, one should perhaps translate it as: "Yaar, what you did
wasn't right...Didn't I tell you to keep a weapon or two with you...!" Hasan,
however, translates it prosaically as an address to no one in particular: "He
should have listened to me. Didn't I tell him one must keep at least one weapon
on one's person these days" (p.133)? The original is a direct admonition
to his father as a familiar and a friend. There is sorrow in it, but there is
also a jauntiness of spirit and ability to accept life's difficulties -- indeed,
all the qualities which later enable Karim Dad to find the resources within himself
and his immediate surroundings to leave his memories of pain behind. Hasan's translation,
on the other hand, is cliché-soaked. It flattens out the rhythmic particularity
of Karim Dad's speech which distinguishes him from his neighbours who are equally
distraught. Hasan drags him down to the level of the common-place and so produces
a disjunction between what Karim Dad appears to be now and what he will do later.
Like all finer works of fiction, "Yazid"
is shaped by paradoxes which undermine the expected and the ideologically determined.
In nearly every story about sexual desire which Manto wrote before the partition,
he presented sexuality as an extension of the loathsomeness of the social realm.
In "Yazid," surprisingly, he writes a rare story in which the erotic
is joyous and exuberant. In the midst of the unreality of the partition, he describes
the immodesty of love-making. Casual delight, he seems to suggest with a deliberate
wink at the clergy and the judge, may be the earthly equivalent of grace.
In the story, Karim Dad insists, even before the villagers have completed the
rites for the dead and ceased to weep, on celebrating his marriage with lights
and music. Others are still absorbed by their fears, which make them once again
susceptible to jingoism, indoctrination and hysterical action. They think that
his marriage procession is a march of ghosts through their village community.
Karim Dad knows that, in their refusal to make a rational analysis of the actual
relations between the Hindus and the Muslims, they had once confused the ghosts
of history and religion with reality which had caused the partition and its agony.
He, therefore, laughs at them and refuses to make religion and hate the basis
of his new existence. Instead, he attempts to remake his life through sexual and
familial love. His wonderfully gross language, which mixes crude sensuality with
tenderness, sets into motion the celebrative process of generativity. Hasan's
translation retains some of the gentleness of Karim Dad's love for Jeena (whose
names means 'life'), but makes it sentimental by deleting long sections in which
Manto insists on revealing how desperately hard-won their love for each other
really is, how long a period of mourning they have to work through in order to
win for themselves some "moral time" for pleasure, irreverence, laughter
Manto inter-cuts the description of their maturing
love, with constant reminders of the massacres of their relatives and friends,
in order to show how they come to realise that the claims of human desire are
far more worthy than the claims of religious texts and tribal identities. Hasan
not only edits the text in order to tell a simple love story, he also adds a long
paragraph explaining who Hasan and Hussain were and how Yazid had caused their
defeat, in order to give an Islamic frame of reference to the narrative. If in
Manto's version Karim Dad and Jeena, slowly and painfully, learn through experience
to make a commitment to a moral life, in Hasan's version they become a part of
a Muslim narrative and a political statement.
Just as he longs for a life of fulfilled
desire, Karim Dad also longs for a life of social coherence. Given the history
of recent times, he understands the fragility of civil reason, yet he seeks to
recreate life around traditional institutions of marriage and village community.
Driven both by, what Robert Jay Lifton calls, the self's instinctual urge for
immortality, as well as his own worldliness and realism, he argues with his friends
and neighbours who have survived, that their present suffering is as much a result
of their own logic and decisions as it is of the action of the people they now
regard as their enemies. He urges them to understand that the partition is a social
and political event, instead of thinking about it as a religious melodrama in
which Hindu villains are fated to play out their role as killers. Political history,
he tells them, is radically different from a mythic narrative. In the first, antagonism
of the moment has historical causes and one can find a solution to it; in the
second, deliverance from evil is impossible and all one do is either pray or curse.
The argument between Karim Dad and the villagers, about the
untrustworthiness of the Hindus and the necessity of revenge, is an elaborate
one. It is conducted in the village square, through a series of brief exchanges
which are colloquial, robust and earthy. While the village headman, Choudhry Nathoo,
is jingoistic and abusive, Karim Dad speaks with irony and humour, cold logic
and frankness. Manto crafts the dialogue between them and others very carefully
in order to show how important it is to restore civil spaces where people can
begin to learn once again that any moral and political dialogue can always be
conducted without the use of force or the language of self-righteous anger. What
is important here is to notice how Karim Dad's voice of calm reasonableness begins
to be heard over the noisy rhetoric of the Choudhry, and finally gains a hearing.
Unfortunately, Hasan radically rewrites this section of the
story. He cuts and pastes the original text so drastically that it is impossible
to compare his version with the Urdu one in any meaningful way. He deletes the
gestures Karim Dad repeatedly makes, which not only establish him as a man of
self-assured grace and friendliness, but also affirm that he has worked his way
towards a sense of psychic and communal confidence. Further, he transforms Karim
Dad's insistent voice of reasonableness, which tries to persuade others dialogically,
into a sermonising voice, which imposes itself through assertion.
The section is too long to quote here in its entirety, but what is distressing
in the last conversational cluster in the translated text and the manner in which
it ends, is that Hasan almost completely edits the presence of Karim Dad's childhood
friend, Meeranbuksh, out of the debate. Hasan's decision to do so both distorts
the way the dialogue progresses and ends, and alters the basic intention of the
story. In Hasan's text, Nathoo withdraws from the discussion pleading helplessness
to offer any further argument, while Karim Dad merely gets up and leaves. The
last part of the conversation reads as follows in Hasan's version:
are talking nonsense," was all that the headman could counter Karim Dad with.
But Karim Dad had not finished. "It just so happens that
the Indians are now in a position to take our water away from us. So, let's do
something about it, instead of sitting here and abusing them. Don't expect the
enemy to dig canals for you and fill them with milk and honey; expect him to poison
your water so that you drink it and die. You will call it barbarism. I don't.
If it is war, then war it is, not a wedding contract with pre-conditions and the
rest of it. You can't say: all right we will go to war, provided you don't starve
us or take away our food. If you must fire at us, use only a certain brand of
cartridge. Be reasonable."
"And how do I do that?" Choudhry
Nathoo asked. Karim Dad did not answer, but rose and left (p. 141).
original text, however, is radically different and reads as follows:
bhin gaya: "Yeh tu kya bakwas kar raha hai?"
Meeranbaksh ne bhi
haule-se Karim Dad se pooccha: "Par yaar, yeh kya bakwas hai?"
"Bakwas nahin hai Meeranbuksha..." Karim Dad ne samjhane ke undaz mein
Meeranbuksh se kaha, "Tu zara soch to sahi ladai mein dono phareek ek dusarey
ko pachchadney ke leya kya kuchch nahin kartey...Pahalwan jab lungar-lungot kaskey
akhade mein uttar aatey hain to unhain har daav isteymaal karney ka haq hota hai."
Meeranbuksh ne upna jhuka sir hilaya : "Yeh to theek hai."
Dad muskaraya: "To fir dariya band karna bhi theek hai...Hamarey leya yeh
zulm hai, magar unkey leya rava hai."
"Rava kya hai...Jab teree
zeeb pyas key marey latak kar zameen tak aa jayegi to phir main puchchoonga kay
zulm rava hai ya narava... Jab tere baal-bachche anaaj kay ek ek dane ko trarasaingey
to phir bhi yahi kahena ki dariya band karna bilkul theek tha."
Karim Dad nein upney khushk honthon par zabaan pheri aur kaha: "Main zab
bhi kahoonga Choudhry... Tum yeh kyon bhool jaatey ho ki sirph veh hamaarey dushman
nahin, hum bhee to unkay dushman hain...Agar hamarey ikhtyaar main hota to humnein
bhi unka dana-pani band kar diya hota...Aab jaab ki veh aiysa kar sakta hai, aur
karneywala hai to hum zaroor uska koi tord sochainegey...Bekar galiyan daney se
kya hota hai...Dushman tumahre leeya doodh ki nahrein zari nahin karega Choudhry
Nathoo...Us sey agar ho saka to veh tumhari paani ki har boond mein zahar mila
dega...Tum us sey zulm kahogey, vehshiyanapan kahogey, is leya ki marney ka yeh
tareeka tumhey pasand nahin...Ajeeb si baat hai ki ladayi shuroo karney sey pehaley
dushman sey nikha ki si shartein banvayi jayen...Us sey kaha jaye ki dekho, mujhey
bhookha na marna...Bandook si aur veh bhi itney bore ki bandook se, albaata tum
mujhey shock se halal kar saktey ho...Aasal bakwas to yeh hai...Zara thandey dil
Chaudhry Nathoo jhunjhulahaat ki aakhari haad tak pahunch
gaya: "Baraf la ke rakh mere dil par."
bhi main he laun?" Yeh kehkar Karim Dad hansa. Veh Meenabaksh key kandhey
par thapki deykar utha aur chaupaal sey chala gaya
(Dastavez, 2, p. 189-90)
section can, perhaps, be translated as follows:
Chaudhry Nathoo said, "You are talking rubbish."
said quietly, "That's right, yaar, you are talking rubbish."
am not talking rubbish..." Karim Dad said, trying to make Meeranbaksh see
reason. "Why don't you understand that in a war enemies try to do everything
possible to defeat each other...When a wrestler tightens his loin-cloth and steps
into the wrestling pit, doesn't he have the right to use any subterfuge, any hold...?"
Still tense, Meeranbaksh nodded his head in agreement, "Yes,
he has the right."
Karim Dad smiled, "Then it follows
that an enemy also has the right to dam a river...We may think it's unjust, but
he thinks it's just..."
"How is it just...? When your mouth is dry
and your tongue hangs down to the ground, then I'll ask you if it's just or unjust...I
hope that when your children are dying for a grin of wheat, you'll still say that
it's just to dam a river."
Karim Dad ran his tongue across
his parched lips, "Even then I'll say it, Choudhry! You forget that if they
are our enemy, we are their enemy too...If we had the power, we'd also dam their
river and destroy their crops...Since they can dam the river, and are about to
do so, we should do something about it...There's no point in cursing...Your enemy
will not dig a canal for you and fill it with milk, Choudhry Nathoo...If he can,
he'll mix poison in every drop of water you drink...You may think it's barbaric,
because you don't want to be killed like that...But isn't it strange that, even
before you go to war, you want to lay down conditions, as if you are negotiating
a marriage contract...? You want to plead, don't let me starve to death. Shoot
me but only with a gun of a certain size...That, surely, is rubbish...Think about
it with a cool head."
By then Choudhry Nathoo was at
his wits end, "Why don't you get a slab of ice and place it on my head!"
"Am I supposed to do even that?" Karim Dad laughed.
Then he patted Meeranbaksh on his shoulder, stood up and left the village square.
version, Karim Dad's attempt to find a language of community-making is suddenly
aborted. There is no sanction for such an abrupt end to a dialogue whose texture
and intention clearly suggest that Manto is exploring the possibilities of human
renewal. Nor is there any sanction for naming the Indians as enemies. In Manto's
version, Karim Dad doesn't walk away in triumphant silence. Instead, his witty
repartee and final gesture ensure that the village square remains open for companionship
and conversation. It is clear, as he teases Nathoo, that he knows how difficult
it is to convert men like Nathoo to the side of reason -- if the task was easy
then the horror of the partition may never have happened, nor would the continued
history of communal violence have demanded our attention. Without the last smile
and embrace, "Yazid" as story remains an interesting addition to Manto's
fictional history of a time when religion clawed its way across all that culture
had created, instead of being what it significantly is -- a fine meditation on
the fate of reason and sympathetic imagination in times of political and moral
The importance of Manto's stories about the partition lies in the fact that he
is neither a moralist nor an ideologue, neither a sermoniser nor a nationalist.
Like a good fiction writer, he refuses to turn his gaze away from what he sees,
even though he is bewildered and shocked by the pain human beings, in their frenzy
of small claims and neurotic resentments are willing to inflict on each other.
The best of his partition stories surprise one by bringing together, in darkly
illuminating moments of existential understanding, terrible violence and the beauty
of the human yearning for sex, children, home and community which refuses to yield
its instinctual energy to the death-traps religious fanaticism and extremist politics
lay for us. It is, therefore, important to translate his stories with care in
order to reveal how they are constructed out of a complex variety of strong voices
-- voices of protest and anguish, mockery and nostalgia, mourning and longing
-- voices which clash against each other and jostle for a hearing. Khalid Hasan's
translation, unfortunately, is much too weak and sentimental, partisan and censorious
to show us why Manto is the kind of witness whose work may help us understand
our shattered past.