Saadat Hasan Manto

Found a site with four letters written by the great Urdu short story/screenplay writer Saadat Hasan Manto (and translated by Khalid Hasan). They are the first four of a series of nine letters written by Manto to “Uncle Sam” in the 1950’s before he died of alcoholism at the age of 42 in 1955, and they are hysterically funny. He talks about America’s plan to provide military assistance to the fledgling nation of Pakistan*, being tried on pornography charges, his alcoholic tendencies, plastic surgery, American casual wear shirts, Packards, Buicks and Max Factor cosmetics. The letters are sharp, sarcastic, and very very witty.

I have a book which he wrote called “Stars From Another Sky” about the Bombay film world in the 1940’s. It’s a great read too, if you can find it (I had to go all the way to India for my copy). So are his short stories about Partition (you can find them on Amazon or online used bookshops).

Among the funny lines in these letters:

“Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is a Kashmiri, so you should send him a gun which should go off when it is placed in the sun. I am a Kashmiri too, but a Muslim which is why I have asked for a tiny atom bomb for myself.”

About Gregory Peck’s visit with the Indian movie star Suraiya he wrote:

“Have all Pakistani actresses croaked that they should be ignored! We have Gulshan Ara. She may be black as a pot but she has appeared as the lead in many movies. She also is said to have a big heart. As for Sahiba, while it is true that she is slightly cross-eyed, a little attention from you can take care of that.”

Now I need to track down the last five letters. I’ll let you know if I find them.

*India at that time was leaning towards communism and the Soviet Union for support—as anyone who has watched Hindi films from the late 40’s/early 50’s knows!

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9 Comments to “Saadat Hasan Manto”

  1. If you get a chance to read his short stories, please do. Excellent writer.

  2. Yes, I love his short stories. He’s so incredibly witty, it blows me away.

  3. If you can find it then do read
    About his life….
    Its opens the mind….as his short stories….

    I am a great fan of him…
    Got most of his literature with me…..

    Do read him more…….

  4. i think manto is the one of the best writer in indian language
    but its unfortunate that generaly people knows him from his popular stories but apart fron those stories he has written so many which can given the staus of master peice i.e. gormukh singh ke wasiyat, nikki, do qaumein, akhri salute, goli, etc

  5. I have two books of his short stories, and love them, and also his book about the Bombay film world of the 40s, Stars from Another Sky, which is one of my favorite books, period…he is just so very funny, but at the same time has so much to say. I am very glad that Khalid Hasan has translated so much of his work.

  6. Great find memsaab. I didn’t know about him (possibly because he is from Pakistan) and all of a sudden I’ve heard his name come up a few times this month.

  7. Dear Memsaab,
    Just stumbled across your blog while searching for K N Singh. I will take some time to conjure up words to compliment the work you are doing; notwithstanding the fact that you have added to my troubles of reading the entire collection of your posts.
    Manto, as you’d know, spent some of his most creative years in the Bombay film industry, writing films, dialogues, and making friends like Ashok Kumar, Shyam, etc. His complete set of letters to Uncle Sam and his entire oeuvre has recently been compiled and published by Rajkamal Prakashan in 6 volumes. But, it is in Devnagari script. I had a similar comment to make on Dustedoff’s post about Mirza Ghalib ( :

    Just a trivia- the story of this film was written by none other than Saadat Hasan Manto. It is one of the films that he wrote and has survived. Some of his other films survive in Pune film archives. 8 Din in which he acted is also there. The travesty is that most of his films have disappeared. Manto’s diwan (Complete works) has recently been compiled and published by Rajkamal Prakashan. It lists his complete oeuvre of films.
    Another fact about Mirza Ghalib is the renowned Urdu writer and Manto’s friend Rajinder Singh Bedi wrote the dialogues.

    • It is so sad that most of his films have disappeared, and that the ones which remain are largely unavailable (esp with subtitles!)…I have most of his literary work, and would dearly love to see his movies too.

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