Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955), one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century, once stated that he was forced to write to earn bread and butter for his family. He also stated this is the only thing he is capable of doing and that is why he used to write. Maybe that's the reason why from Partition to prostitution, politics to cinema, society to family and graveyard to cigarettes, everything was in the bucket of his writing.
Why I Write by Manto is a collection of essays published in different newspaper and magazines of his times, translated from Urdu to English by Aakar Patel.
Through the lens of Manto's non-fiction, the history of Partition, anecdotes of his personal life, his struggle as an editor and writer, his beloved Bombay, his identical crisis as an Indian and getting identified as a Pakistani as well and all the other unfavourable paths that he walked have been translated meticulously, where the true essence of the original did not get lost in translation.
Manto, who lived the heaviest of life among his generation, the agony of living in Pakistan far from Bombay remained as an internal condition for him as long he lived. Yet his agonized soul is vivid through anger and satire in his writing.
'Hindi or Urdu' is one such piece where he settled a conversation between Hindi and Urdu speaking Munshi Narayan Prasad and Mirza Mohammad Iqbal – both of them made valid causes for speaking their own language. Through this Manto proves that these are inseparable languages and language can never be attributed forcefully. 'How Arms Controls Work' is another sarcastic piece which hilariously simplifies this politicised subject.
Being an Indian Manto felt trapped in Pakistan. Manto as a person was so content with his writing that his identity as a writer was inseparable from his being. What Manto hated the most was being identified through his religion. The most sarcastic of his essays on the conflict of religion and Partition and on the formation of the new Pakistan were 'God is Gracious in Pakistan', 'A Stroll Through the New Pakistan', 'A News of Killing' with these he foreshadowed the newly born Pakistan is going to be a radicalized country.
Manto's immense love for the city Bombay and Indian culture was inexplicable. He came to the city from Amritsar, after being dropped out from Aligarh Muslim University, to become a journalist. Manto wrote about the violence in Bombay during Partition like nobody else did, mentioned by historian Ayesha Jalal, his niece. Loving, living and leaving Bombay made him write 'Bombay in the Riots', 'Bombay During Partition', 'Save India from its Leaders', 'The Guilty Men of Bombay.' These are the pieces which are raw and naked with the truth of Partition, religious division, and corrupt political leaders. Being a keen observer Manto was terrified and confused about the communal violence in Bombay.
According to Manto court worked better in British India more than it did in the newborn Pakistan. Though he was tried for obscenity in British India, his legal disparity got started in Pakistan after independence. His writing on necrophilia, prostitution, and rape caused him several trials and made him become the target for moralists in new Pakistan. Though he fought in the court, his frustration and bitterness was evident on the pieces of essays of his trials. In his own words, "The courts know me as a pornographer."
There are quite a few anecdotes on the film industry of India he wrote in a very playful manner 'Virtuous Women in Cinema', 'What Bollywood must do', 'Why I cannot stand Bollywood. Though he criticised many of the aspects of Bollywood, he loved working for it and felt remorse while had to leave to Lahore. He always wanted films to be the strongest medium to give a message to the audience.
'Why I Write' and 'The Story of My Wedding' are among those essays where readers get the opportunity to meet a lighter version of Manto who lived the 'early Bombay dream'. They also provide a sneak-peak of his house in Lahore, his wife Safia and his daughters Nuzhat, Nusrat and Nighat.
Manto is the one who suffered the Partition and suffered the harassment in the name of religion in Pakistan. The question would arrive then why Manto did not move back to India? That is where the irony readers perceive in his essays. After knowing his fictions or even vice-versa, it would make the readers feel that they have also walked the same tormented roads as him.