In one of the dialogues in Manto (2018), Saadat Hasan Manto, the writer reads aloud few lines after witnessing a horrific account of the Muslim-Hindu riots after Partition, to his friend whose family has been affected. The friend, morose and gloomy tells Manto, “For God’s sake, stop giving everything a literary spin. They are not characters from your story. They are my people. Living, breathing, real people.”
Manto was an unknown writer to me until I picked up a copy of his short stories in Bangalore airport some years ago. I suspect that bookstores started stocking his works after Nandita Das announced her plans to make a film out of his life and stories some time in 2015-16. Being a fan of Nandita Das and anything she writes, speaks or ventures into, I was quite fascinated by the film without having read Manto.
How wrong I was! When I thought that nothing about partition that could shock me, Manto came breezing by rather shockingly.
His stories are not something that one could sip tea, sit by the window and turn page after page with a pleasant smile on the face. Manto is acquired taste. At first instance, I wondered, what is so great about Toba Tek Singh that everyone sings paens about! After all it's about some lunatics belonging to Pakistan and India. I regret that quick judgement, rather immature and premature one clouded by reading many stories of partition enough to be unmoved. Nevertheless, I completed reading all the sort stories in that book. Manto, like any intoxicant grows on you slowly until you can never rid your mind of his characters.
Sometimes films add body to the literary work and Das's Manto did exactly that to me.