By Dr. Brij Premi
addicted to drinking in his early boyhood at Amritsar. At that time he had
become friends with the scion of a rich family, Hari Singh Amritsari by name.
Later he got in touch with some such companions who loved to drink and gamble.
During this period Manto was trying hard to pass his F.A. examination and had
failed to get through for 2 years. In college he would remain busy with things
that were clearly naughty and mischievous. The difficult atmosphere at home
would also disturb him considerably. Because of his continuous unsuccess in the
examination all his plans had become awry. He was now disgusted with studies.
Therefore, there was a need for him to find some new avenues when he got in
contact with spoilt rich brats like Hari Singh, it was natural for Manto to
indulge in drinking. In the neighbourhood there was also a thriving gambling
den. Mentally and emotionally frustrated young Manto found some relief in
gambling activity. But the sport of gambling could not satisfy him. Saadat was
an exceptionally ambitious lad. He had aspiration and dreams galore though he
experienced numerous disappointments and obstructions. Under such circumstances
he would go astray and sometimes even get caught up in a mess. At times thoughts
of rebellion caught his imagination. On other occasion he occupied himself in
some kind of versification. Imaginary beloveds haunted him in his thought.
Referring to those days Manto himself wrote.
the time when I lived in a state of aimlessness. My mind would always be
restless. A sort of confusion gripped me so intensely that I was ready to taste
anything, however, hard and bitter it might be".
of spoilt rich brats did not however appeal to Manto for long. He would visit
graveyards and several dens of vice and indulged himself in alcohol and drugs
like charas and cocaine. In this state of mental and spiritual anguish he had a
close brush with the seamy side of life which provided him with a vast and rich
treasure of experience about life and its realities.
student days Manto had to face great financial difficulties. His father had
married twice and as such he had several children to look after. He had paid
proper (special) attention to his children from first wife. As a result, after
his father's death, Manto's mother was left with only meagre resources to bring
up her two children. Thus right from young age Manto had witnessed shadows of
poverty and penury in his home. This feeling thus became a part of his
consciousness and the circumstances of his life further intensified the feeling
of his misery and helplessness. It was then that habit of drinking came to him
as an escape route from the difficulties of life he was faced with. Manto
himself writes on this:
financial condition was already quite grave, circumstances around us were very
depressing. Our sources of income had shrunk further. In order to forget my
worries I drowned myself in drinking. I would often remain away from home
in the company of my drunkard friends. These people had not even the slightest
inkling of any art or literature".
time Saadat Hassan Manto's restless soul had found a new escape route. The late
Mr Bari? had found some sense in Manto's restless madness of those days
and even co-operated with him. Manto returned his courtesy by naming his own
room as "Darula Hamar" (The Abode...) wherein for hours and days
together they would indulge in fantasies about revolution. In this room Mr Bari
and his three obedient disciples, namely Hassan Abbas, Abu Syed Qureshi and
Manto would draw up a world of schemes for making a better world. Mr Bari would
call this the group of "free thinkers". The various schemes that came out
from his brain would represent a philosophy of life which he incidentally
labelled as 'DaraLahamar' school of thought. That was the time when the concept
of the progressive group of writers had not yet seen light of the day. Manto's
room in those days was littered with the books of Russian authors. Manto had
begun writing under the preudonym of "Comrade", "Mufakir"
and "Witnam". During this very time he also suffered from severe
chest pains. As he did not have money for medical treatment, he started taking
cheap country liquor. Under the circumstances he considered this as the best
possible treatment for his chest trouble. A full bottle of liquour would always
be there in 'Darula Hamar" placed on the uppermost niche in the wall,
judiciously concealed from direct view by a hanging calender. While drinking,
the bottle would be hidden under the low writing desk in the room. In his last
days when Manto had become a recognised alcoholic, he would hide the bottle
under the commode of his toilet and sip from it from time to time by making the
pretence of visiting the lavatory.
friendship of Mr Bari (Alig) however proved quite useful for Manto. Manto
himself admitted this in so many words saying that it was Mr. Bari who put him
on the road to becoming an author. It was under his advice that Manto with the
help of a dictitionary took up the translation work of Victor Hugo's famous work
"Last Days of a condemned Prisoner".
beginning whenever he faced difficulties in translation work, he would resort to
drinking, thinking that this would unlock his mental faculties.
addiction to drinking grew as he moved to Bombay and Delhi. After his migration
drinking however, became his biggest weakness and ultimately proved fatal to his
life. In 1940 when Manto came to
as an employee of All India Radio, on his first meeting with Krishan Chander he
offered the latter a drink. Krishan Chander who had professed himself to be a
great lover of drinking was floored only after taking the first cup. At this he
delivered a long lecture to Krishan Chander impressing upon him that it was very
important in an author's life to drink wine. Krishan Chander has himself
described this event in detail. Here is an extract:
floored soon after I had taken the first peg. I did not go for the second round.
Manto also did not insist upon it because he had noticed my condition. I
confessed that I was drinking alcohol for the first time. At this Manto began to
count many blessings of wine. The taste of sin, he said, lies in wine.
One can discover feminine mystique here. There is essence of art and literature
to be found in each cup of wine. Above all, wine is a source of liberation too.
My dear, how long will you keep behaving like a Pandit? After all, you are going
to produce literary works and not teach school children. You have to go close to
life. You have to experience sin, you need to have close encounter with death.
You have to taste sorrow. And this you cannot do without drinking. So long as
you do not take Solan Whisky No: 1, you shall not be able to write any
above it becomes clear that the habit of drinking which he acquired in his early
youth from his wayward friends and which at a later stage he had used as anodyne
for his chest pain had now become an inseparable part of his life at Delhi. Now
he would drink not just for the heck of it but to discover the taste of
literature, beauty of women and the beauty that is in life. And this is a fact
too that under the influence of wine he wrote some stories which are master
pieces of Urdu literature. According to Safia Begum, Manto's wife, at this time
Manto, in fact, wrote for wine not as in early days when he drank only to write.
In a letter Manto's friend Dewan Singh described his Delhi days thus: "When he
he would drop in at my residence almost every day. If he came at noon, he would
drink beer. But when he come in the evening he liked to drink Brandy with me. I
often wanted that like me he should not drink more than one peg. But Manto
always crossed the limit".
Bombay and Delhi Manto's earning was
substantial so that it was never a problem for him to buy his drink. But after
economic condition became very bad. All the promises made to him were broken. He
was reduced to penury. In
friends had hurt him. In
he felt completely disillusioned. The blood bath witnessed during the partition
of the country had shattered his psyche. Despite accepting Pakistani citizenship
he held the common heritage of Indo-Pak culture dear to his heart. When he
expressed these sentiments in his fresh writings in Pakistan he was viciously
attacked. This compelled him to drink heavily and eventually it killed him.
This great artist and fighter had lost the final battle of his life before wine.
He was devoid of any will to live.
usually drank in the evenings and would sometimes get tipsy though he himself
regretted that he never got sufficiently intoxicated. In the last days of his
life, he would however, remain drunk for all the 24 hours of the day. First
thing he would do after getting up from bed was to look for his drink. He had
lost interest in all other activities. Fear of family members made him hide his
bottle behind the leaking commode in the lavatory. It was here that he from time
to time took his drink secretly, free from the gaze of others. Hamid Jalal has
described this situation thus "Uncle Manto would drink from the bottle itself
that had been concealed somewhere behind a dripping commode in the toilet. It
was impossible for him to curb his constant craving for alcohol".
alcohol was running like poison in his veins, the power of his pen was getting
depleted. But he could not really stop his urge to write. He began writing
stories on an almost daily basis. Wine which once upon a time had expanded the
frontiers of his mind was gradually killing him by inches. Thus the stories he
wrote in the last phase of his life are worthless. They were written just for
wine. These stories lack both in art and craft. In his book Mohammad Assad Ullah
writes "Safia (Manto's wife) says that earlier, she would read the works of
Manto only. But the stuff that he writes now is just trash. It tarnishes his
image as an author. He now writes only to buy his drink. I do not get even a
single penny from his current earning".
excerpt from Mohammad Assad Ullah's book "A tonga would be brought. Its
destination was Maktaba carvan, the house of Chowdary Hamid, MA philosophy. At
the approach of the tonga Chowdry would take out twenty rupees. He would give
these to Manto after taking a story from him. After saying salams to him Manto
would direct the tonga to English wine House. He would buy a bottle of liquor
for 13 and a half rupees. He would pay a rupee to the tongawalla, buy Capstan
cigarettes for a rupee and also some raddish for 8 annas".
short stories of that time were hardly any stories. The real Saadat Hassan Manto
was already dead. The Manto that had once upon a time blazed the literary
circles with his genius as a writer had become a helpless creature due to his
excessive addiction to drinking. His creativity and its sources had dried up. In
the last days of his life when Naresh Kumar Shad came to see him, Manto instead
of offering hospitality to the visitor demanded some money for him to buy wine.
Later in a broken voice he confessed", I am sorry that instead of extending my
hospitality to you, I made you to spend some money on me. By God, this Saadat
Hassan Manto is a wicked man".
was established, Manto's migration to that country really proved fatal to his
life. The increasing communal tension in Bombay, the impact of Hindu communal
politics on film industry and the threatening letters challenging the very basis
of his integrity as a human being, the hope of a brighter future in Pakistan
compelled the humanist Manto to leave India. But the idea of
after he reached there completely disillusioned him. On this subject he then
"I do not
know whether my homeland is India or Pakistan. I also do not know whose blood it
is that is being shed mercilessly everyday. Where were those bones cremated or
buried, whose flesh it was that was torn by kites and vulture. Hindus and Muslim
were getting killed at an alarming rate. How were they dying and why were they
dying? All these questions had different answers.
There was a
separate Indian answer and a separate Pakistani answer as well. There was a
British answer too. But if somebody questioned the truth of these answers, there
was no answer at all. Some said the answer lay in the mutiny of 1857. Others
said that East India Company was to blame for the present carnage. Some people
would go further in the past and blame the Mughal dynasty. Every body was going
back while the murderers and arsonists were advancing everywhere."
Manto's only religion. For him Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jews etc.
were all one. This was the reason why in his fiction all his characters
belonging to various religions looked so real and life-like. But having said
this, Islam had a place of deep respect and reverence in his heart. He never
began a writing without 786, a numeral sacred in Islamic thought. Although he
was fond of drinking yet even under the influence of wine he never remained
indifferent to the Islamic faith. Once he attended a singing and drinking spree
at the house of a film actress Paro Devi's home. Many film personalities of the
day were drinking with gay abandon. Paro sang many thumries, gazals and other
songs and at the end began singing a naat, a devotional Islamic hymn. Manto,
even in his state of drunkenness objected to this item saying: "Paro Devi, this
is a meeting of pleasure seekers. A drinking party is on here. It would be
better if you do not touch the subject of holy prophet in your songs here".
Manto was not able to write anything for a pretty long time. Then he began
writing articles on some light subjects. Later, his mental block got lifted for
some time and masterpieces like "Thanda Gosht". "Toba Tek Singh", "Khol
Do" poured out from his pen in quick succession. But this did not
satisfy Manto. His economic position became worse. Despite hard work, he could
not improve his living standards. The members of his family became resentful. He
pulled on for some time with the support of his in laws which hurt his ego
considerably. Realisation dawned upon him that he was living an abject life. All
this goaded him to drink very heavily with terrible consequences for his
creativity. Now his stories originated directly from his pocket rather than from
his heart and soul. His wife insisted that he should give up writing and take up
some other job to earn a living. At this Manto's drunkenness grew at an alarming
speed. To cure him of his addiction he was even sent to an asylum for a short
period of time. But on being released from this place he exclaimed, "From a
small mad-house I have now come to much bigger mad house."
could not live without liquor. The massive addiction to drinking had ruined his
health. He had become extremely weak. He was hospitalised a number of times
where under medical treatment he was brought back from the brink. But after
every recovery he would again resort to drinking. During this time his most
favourite daughter fell ill with typhoid. Money was urgently needed for her
treatment and there was not a single penny with him. Manto raised a personal
loan. But he purchased whisky with it instead of medicines for his daughter. His
addiction to drinking had literally paralyzed his sensibilities. Even when he
decided to quit drinking, some of his friends would make him break his pledge by
making him drink again. These people, according to Maulana Salahuddin Ahmad
would then make this boast, that they had been drinking with Saadat Hassan
nephew and brother-in-law, Hamid Jalal has written in an article that one day
some people had discovered corpses of a woman and her young daughter in Gujrat (Pakistan).
Earlier they had been abducted from a bus station. About half a dozen men had
ravished them. Their clothes were badly torn. Their bodies were frozen with
cold. This incident shocked Manto a great deal. He wanted to write a story on
this tragic happening. But before doing so he drank quite excessively and this
proved quite fatal to his health.
A day before
his death, Manto went round the entire city of Lahore. He joined his friends
over some banter in a restaurant. When he returned home in the night, he
vomitted blood. Probably his liver had burst. The doctor was called in. He give
him some injections and advised his immediate hospitalisation. But Manto
interjected "It is too late now. Don't take me to the hospital. Let me remain
here in peace". Manto was certain that his time in this world was up. He was now
waiting for death to come with great patience and calm.
state, he said "I have three and a half rupees in my pocket. Add a little money
to this sum and buy me a bit of whisky". Subsequently, he was given a drink. As
he lay dying in the ambulance he asked for a pint of whisky for the last time. A
spoon of whisky was then put in his mouth. It had not yet gone down his gullet
when he lost consciousness and then his eyes closed for ever. Hamid Jalal writes
: "On his death bed Manto asked for nothing except liquor. He knew it for long
that alcohol was his enemy number one. It was the angel of death whose force or
power he could not avert now. Uncle Manto was completely helpless. But since his
temperament was basically that of a rebel, he revolted against death with this
*(Translated from original Urdu text by Prof. R.K. Aima)