Volumes of praise

For someone who writes introductions for respected literati’s books, Khalid Hasan himself needs no introduction

By Saad Sarfraz Sheikh

Born in Srinagar, Khalid Hasan is a senior Pakistani journalist and writer. His journalistic legacy and proficiency as a writer began with The Pakistan Times as senior reporter and columnist in 1967. Upon Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s request, he had the prestigious honour of becoming his first press secretary. He held the additional honour of postings in Paris, Ottawa and London for five years in the country’s Foreign Service.

Khalid Hasan resigned in protest when Bhutto’s government was overthrown by General Zia-ul-Haq. Disappointed, he shifted to London and worked with the Third World Foundation and the Third World Media. Then he joined the newly-established OPEC News Agency (OPECNA) in Vienna, Austria, where he stayed for 10 years. He returned to a different Pakistan briefly in 1991 where he worked as a freelance journalist for the next two years. His prolific journey continued as he returned to Washington in 2000 as special correspondent of the Associated Press of Pakistan, which he left to join the Daily Times and The Friday Times, Lahore in 2002. He continues to work as a special Washington correspondent and columnist of these two publications. *

Khalid Hasan’s introduction to his book ‘Bitter Fruit’, published in New Delhi by Penguin in July, 2008

This collection brings together in English translation Saadat Hasan Manto’s best work. No other Urdu writer’s work has been so extensively translated in English as that of Manto. In doing Manto, I have tried to retain the bite and sharpness, no less than the infrequent but moving lyricism of his style. Manto was one of the great writers of Urdu prose and I have attempted to retain the essence of his style—or perhaps I should call it the sound of his voice—in translation.

Born in Sambrala, now in the Indian state of Punjab, in 1912, he died in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1955 at the age of 43. In a literary and journalistic career spanning more than twenty years, he wrote over 250 stories and a large number of plays and essays; but it is above all on his stories that his reputation rests.

Coming from a middle-class Kashmiri family of Amritsar, Manto showed little enthusiasm for formal education. He failed his school-leaving examination twice in a row; ironically, one of the subjects he was unable to pass was Urdu, in which he was to produce such a powerful and original body of work in the years to come. He was also to bloom into one of the language’s great stylists.

Manto entered college in Amritsar in 1931, failed his first year examination twice, and dropped out.

Amritsar (Punjab) was in constant turmoil throughout the 1920s. Manto, restless and rebellious by nature, found the situation and atmosphere intensely exciting.

The horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar had taken place in 1919, when Manto was a boy of seven (one of his most poignant stories ‘It Happened in 1919’ is based on that event).

It was during these impressionable years that he fell under the influence of Bari Alig, who was to push him towards literature and politics. Bari was the first to sense Manto’s talent, and transformed his vague fascination with revolution into strong literary commitment.

Bari began to urge his protégé to write original stories in Urdu. Manto wrote at amazing speed and never took a second look at what he had written. ‘Mummy’, one of Manto’s longest stories was written in one marathon sitting.

Manto lived in Delhi less than two years before returning to Bombay, the city he felt was his real home. He took his old job at Mussawar and began to freelance for the movies.

On the eve of independence, communal tension in Bombay, as elsewhere, was high.

With mass refugee movement, Manto’s own wife and children and some other members of his family had already migrated to Pakistan. He was in two minds as to what he should do. What decided the issue for Manto was a string of threats to Bombay Talkies management that unless it sacked all its Muslim employees, its studio would be burnt down.

Manto’s wife Safia wrote to one of Manto’s Indian biographers Brij Premi on 6 April 1968, “He was always treated unjustly by everyone. The truth is that he had no intention of leaving India, but a few months before Partition, Filmistan handed him a notice of termination and that, believe me, broke his heart. For a long time, he kept it hidden from me because he was proud of his friendship with Mr Mukerjee and Ashok Kumar. So how could he tell me that he had been served with a notice. That was when he started drinking heavily which in the end claimed his life. His health had also become poor. But one thing he did. He wrote prodigiously, almost a story a day, until the day he died. That is all I know.’

Given his abhorrence of religious intolerance and communalism, Manto packed his bags one day and took a ship for Karachi, the first capital of the new Muslim homeland of Pakistan.

Manto complained, “I found it impossible to decide which of the two countries was now my homeland: India or Pakistan? Who was responsible for the blood being so mercilessly shed every day? Where were they going to inter the bones that had been stripped of the flesh of religion by vultures and birds of prey? Now that we were free, had subjection ceased to exist?”

In ‘Siyah Hashye’, Manto’s collection of vignettes and sketches about the 1947 killings (included in entirety in this volume), none of the bloody participants is identified by religion because to Manto what mattered was not what religions people professed, what rituals they followed or which Gods they worshipped, but where they stood on a human level.

Lack of work and ill health notwithstanding, it was in Lahore in the last seven years of his life that Manto produced some of the greatest short stories written in any language.

Manto felt neglected by officialdom (he remains neglected until today as no posthumous honour has been conferred on him, no road or institution named after him, no acknowledgement of his ever having lived or written).

In a postscript to one of his collections he wrote, addressing his readers, “You know me as a story writer and the courts of this country know me as a pornographer. The government sometimes calls me a communist, at other times a great writer. Most of the time, I am denied all means of making a living, only to be offered opportunities of gainful work on other occasions. I have been called an unnecessary appendage to society and expelled accordingly. As in the past, so today, I have tried to understand what I am. I want to know what my place in this country that is called the largest Islamic state in the world is. What use am I here?

Manto wrote his own epitaph, though ironically, it does not appear on his grave because his family was afraid that if it did, there were enough mad mullahs in the country, one or more of whom would immediately declare the act heretical and the author ‘outside the pale of Islam’. Instead, the family chose a couplet from Manto’s favourite 19th century poet Ghalib to whom one of his books is dedicated; and about whom he had once said that after Ghalib, the right to compose poetry stood forfeited. The couplet from Ghalib reads: Dear God, why does time erase my name off from the tablet of the living? I am, after all, not one of those words that is mistakenly calligraphed twice and, on detection, removed. *

Khalid Hasan is a prolific writer and translator. He has published over 40 books, in Pakistan and abroad. They are:

Eleven collections of reportage, political, literary and social writings.

1. A Mug’s Game (1968)

2. The Crocodiles are here to Swim. (1970)

3. Scorecard (1984)

4. Give us Back our Onions (1986)

5. The Umpire Strikes Back (1988)

6. Private View (1991)

7. Question Time (1993)

8. The Fourth Estate (1995)

9. The Return of the Onion (1996)

10. Remembrances – personal reminiscences (2001)

11. Rear-view Mirror: four memoirs (2002)

Edited Work

12. Politics of the People (3 vols.), the collected speeches and writings of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1973)

13. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a centenary tribute (1976)

14. The Unicorn and the Dancing Girl, the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1988)

15. Memories of Jinnah, reminiscences of KH Khurshid (1989)

16. Kashmir Holocaust (1992)

17. Pakistan Rules the World: winning the world cricket cup (1993)

18. Azadi: Kashmir Freedom Struggle, 1924-98 (1999)

19. Zia Sarhadi’s Unfinished Memoir (under publication)

20. Qurratualain Hyder ke Khat ek Dost ke Naam (Urdu)

21. Jammu, a city that was (2003)

Translations (from Urdu and Punjabi into English)

22. Nothing but the Truth, short stories from Pakistan (1982)

23. The Prisoner by Fakhar Zaman (1984)

24. The Lost Seven and Dead Man’s Tale by Fakhar Zaman, (1989)

25. Kingdom’ End, selected stories of Saadat Hasan Manto (1987)

26. The Tragedy of Afghanistan by Raja Anwar (1988)

27. Partition, the 1947 stories of Saadat Hasan Manto (1991)

28. Hotel Moenjodaro, the stories of Ghulam Abbas (1996)

29. Mottled Dawn – Saadat Hasan Manto’s Partition writings (1997)

30. The Terrorist Prince, the life and death of Murtaza
Bhutto by Raja Anwar (1997)

31. Stars from Another Sky – Manto’s Bombay Cinema of
the 1940s (1998 )

32. Manto’s World (Two Vols), Sang-e-Meel (2000)

33. The Women’s Quarter and other Stories by Ghulam Abbas (2000)

34. A Wet Afternoon — Selected fiction and non-fiction of
Saadat Hasan Manto (2001)

35. Letters to Uncle Sam by Saadat Hasan Manto

36. Memory Lane to Jammu

37. Memories of Fatima Jinnah by Sorayya Khurshid (2003)

38. ‘O City of Lights’, the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (2006)

39. Selected Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto (2007)

40. Stop Press by Inam Aziz (2007)

41. Bitter Fruit, The best of Saadat Hasan Manto (2008)

42. Selected Plays, by Shahid Nadeem (2008)


43. Stylebook: a guide for writing simple and correct English (2002)



Filed under Pakistan

4 responses to “Volumes of praise

  1. Harshad Patel

    Khalid Hasan has got talent. He must spend a few years of his life (burn it)., research on R.S.S., the largest terrorist factory of the world.

    A standard reference text book on the dirty history of R.S.S. is needed. One that should be available to every student of Political Science and Contemporary History…. world-wide.

    Khalid : Expose RSS in a classic standard book. This should be your life-time’s work.

  2. I don’t know if the article above mentions his website, http://www.khalidhasan.net/ , a treasure trove of old photographs of his… I believe the photographs with Faiz and Faraz are from his website… you’ll find several pictures from his years in the Bhutto government, including a few featuring the man himself…

    His brother Masood Hasan is an excellent writer in his own right… he has a regular column in The News… Mekaal Hasan, composer/guitarist extraordinaire, is Masood Hasan’s son… lots of talent in that family!

  3. Milind Kher

    Harshad, I agree with you. The RSS is a collection of some of the worst specimens of humanity, if they can be called that.

    They are trying their level best to foster communal enmity and trigger a civil war in India.

    It is very true that they need to be exposed.

  4. saad sarfraz sheikh

    I wrote this article last year after constant contact with Mr Khalid Hasan. I share my grief with all as mr Khalid Hasan passed away yesterday at the age of 74 due to prostrate cancer. May his soul rest in peace. Amen.