Re-Membering Toba Tek Singh: Looking for Manto

Between works censored for “obscenity” and those pirated and then censored for nationalism, which censorship is more obscene?

by Huma Dar

Sa'adat Hasan Manto
Sa’adat Hasan Manto

In today’s edition of Dawn.com, Jan 1, 2012, the renowned feminist poet, Fahmida Riaz has an article, “Understanding Manto,” about Urdu literature’s enfant terrible, Sa’adat Hasan Manto.  This year will mark Manto’s birth centenary.  Thank you, Fahmida Apa, for writing this moving tribute!  Sad indeed is the day when Pakistan cannot or does not publish Manto’s work, uncensored, unedited.  Despite justified indignation, knowing our “guardians of morality and piety,” it aches my heart to confess, I am not surprised.

Ironically, the “Indian pirated edition”—even if we overlook the immense ethical difficulties with the issue of piracy, and the direly-needed resources that were (and are) thus withheld from Manto and his family—is still no guarantee of accessing the “original, uncensored text.”  Christine Everaert in her book, Tracing the Boundaries between Hindi and Urdu: Lost and Added in Translation (Brill, 2009) painstakingly records many elisions, omissions, and additions in just a few of Manto’s stories as they’re carried from their original Urdu to the [pirated] Hindi versions.  Some of these transformations are, of course, to ease the transmission of the literary register in Urdu to Hindi; others to simply make things more palatable for Indian nationalism.  (Please especially see the Chapter II of this book for many examples…)