Manto in his own village

Courtesy Amarjit Chandan 

Timeless storyteller little

remembered in his own village

The Tribune

May 11 2012

In the non-descript village of Paproudi in Samrala [District Ludhiana], Sadat Hasan Manto is an unfamiliar name. The works of this noted Urdu writer —”Toba Tek Singh“, “Thanda Gosht”, “Tamasha” — are even more unfamiliar. The villagers cannot relate to any of these. But there’s a quiet realisation among them that the village is in the spotlight because of him.

Manto was born in Paproudi on May 11, 1912. He spent most of his teenage in Shimla and Amritsar. He migrated to Lahore after Partition.

An old man in his late 70s is sitting on the village roadside.The way to Manto’s house? “Manto? I don’t know. Better ask the sarpanch…Yes, I’m from this village…But Manto?”. He looks puzzled.

Manto’s house has seen several renovations and nothing is left of its original form. Only a dusty street, where the gate of Manto’s two-room house once opened, is intact. Manto’s schoolmate Ujagar Singh makes an unobtrusive entry. A year short of a century, this school dropout studied with Manto till Class I. If he’s to be believed, Manto was an unlikely hero some 90 years ago.

“Manto’s family was called the Kashmiri family in the village. As kids, we enjoyed saag and makki di roti. A fruit called ‘phut’, that I hardly get now, was our favourite. I had no inkling that he would be a great writer one day,” he says.

“Manto was an avid footballer. He was strikingly good looking. We’d keep visiting his maternal aunt’s house at Shamspur village,” he recalled.

Did he ever get a glimpse of a rebel in Manto? “Not the faintest when he was a child,” he says. Ujagar sees Manto through the eyes of a 10-year-old. There’s a ring of sincerity and affection when he talks of Manto. It’s a friend’s tribute, not a fan’s adulation.

“In the past 90 years, everything has changed. The village well has long dried up,” says Ujagar, turning pensive.

“In the 1960s, Manto’s kutcha house was auctioned by the government for Rs 400. But it was no small amount at that time,” he says.

He says he is looking forward to the Lekhak Manch, Samrala, cutting a cake and then holding a candlelight march in Manto’s memory.

Manto’s epitaph, that he wrote a few months before his death, reads: “Here lies Sadat Hasan Manto and with him lie buried all secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tonnes of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: God or he.”

Lekhak manch

Ujagar Singh at the makeshift library at Paproudi village. Photos: Inderjit Verma

The Lekhak Manch, Samrala, is celebrating the birth anniversary of Sadat Hasan Manto at his village. “Way back in 1988, we started the Manto Memorial Cultural Club. Last year, we opened a small library with the help of Punjabi writer Gulzar Sandhu,” says manch president Daljeet Singh Shahi. The ‘library’ is restricted to a shelf in a room at Kalgidhar Gurdwara. “We hope that within a few months, we would have a separate room to house the library,” he adds. Rajwinder Samrala, general secretary of the manch, says they plan to get Manto’s rare book “Siyah Haashiya” reprinted.

Gracious Offer

“I’ll donate the house if there are any plans to preserve it as a national heritage building,” says Ram Singh, owner of the house that once was Manto’s. He says his grandfather had bought the house in the 1960s.

[Report: Minna Zutshi

Ram Singh, present owner of Manto’s house and

a billboard in Samrala mentions Manto Utsav to be held on May 13.