Zafar Iqbal Mirza > Last Man In > Part One



Of a Forgotten Uncle and a Forgotten Nephew

I HAD been looking for the Manto Number of the magazine  Naqoosh , published by that wonderful man, the late Mr. Mohammad Tufail, who has done more to serve the cause of Urdu literature than any one else I know.

          A very dear friend obliged me some time back by getting me a copy to my very great delight and everlasting gratitude. Unfortunately, however, the magazine is undated which robs it of considerable value as a collector's piece.

          Manto Number contains no life sketch of the famous storyteller, so you don't know when and where he was born and brought up and when and where he died. Again, a major flaw.

          There is a small tribute from Hamid Jalal, Manto's nephew which says that he heard of his uncle's death while in the commentary box when India were playing Pakistan in Bahawalpur on their inaugural tour of this country in 1954-55.

          I consulted Wisden and it told me that the Bahawalpur Test match of the 1954-55 series was played on January 15, 16, 17, and 18, 1955. But to add to the confusion, the Manto Number  also includes a letter written by the author to Mr. Mohammad Tufail and it is dated April 20, 1955! I will have to consult other sources to find out the exact dates of Manto's birth and death.

          Otherwise, the Manto Number  is a treasure trove except for the twenty stories he wrote in twenty three days between May 11 and June 2, 1954, and which were, until the coming out of the commemorate collection, unpublished. They are obviously hurriedly written, rather in the manner of newspaper columns with little regard for style. But even so, they have substance.

          Of course, most of us have read Manto. I want to share with you the little account Hamid Jalal wrote of his uncle's death and which, as I have told you, is included in the Naqoosh Manto Number . It is very difficult to translate from one language into another but let me give it a try.

Titled Manto Mamoon k i Maut , it reads:

  Sometimes I wonder what shall I say to him, should one day Manto Mamoon decide to return home from the Miani Sahib Graveyard. I am sure that ignoring the miracle of his resurrection I'II tell him only this: "Of all the irresponsible things you have done, Manto Sahib, the most irresponsible was your decision to die."

        The second Test match between Pakistan  and India was on in Bahawalpur. I was there at the Dring Stadium (since renamed), trying to assist Talayar Khan in giving a running commentary (for radio listeners). It was there that I received a phone call from Lahore  to be told that Saadat Hassan Manto had died. I wasn't overwhelmed with grief. On the contrary, the news made me greatly angry. How could Manto Mamoon do this to his wife and children? I asked myself. But I didn't share this feeling with anyone. And when I spoke back to the caller, there was great worry in my voice. "Where did he die?" I asked, "at home," I was told.

        This gave me great relief because I had feared sudden death outside of home . . . he could have died in a Tonga , in a restaurant, in a publisher's office, in a film studio, anywhere. . . .

        When I returned to my seat in the commentators' box, fellow-commentators asked in sign language what had happened. I wrote on a piece of paper: "The umpire has finally given Saadat Hassan Manto out. He died this morning."

        Several appeals had been made to the umpire to give Manto Mamoon out but each one of them had been turned down. But now his impatient and foundering innings had come to an end. I can say it with certainty that had he been a cricketer, he would never have been as clever or as careful as Hanif Mohammad, whom he was desperately keen to see in action in Lahore. I came to know of it when I returned home 24 hours after his death. This was one of the last two things he wanted to do. He had told a friend in a restaurant a day before his death: "let Hamid Jalal return. I'II see Hanif Mohammad play the ( Lahore ) Test match in his company."

        The second thing he wanted to do was to write a short story on the hapless woman whose naked body had been recently found by the roadside near Gujrat. Newspaper reports had said that the poor woman and her little child had been abducted from the bus stand. She was gang raped by about half a dozen beasts. When at last, she managed to escape; she hadn't a shred on her person. Mother and the child died in freezing cold.

        The tragedy had moved Manto Mamoon greatly. Later in the evening, some people from Gujrat called on him and gave him further details of the matter which must have agitated and angered him, and I think that after this Manto Mamoon must have had more than his normal quota of alcohol which proved fatal.

        He returned home late in the evening and vomited blood a short while later. My six-year old son, who was standing close by, pointed at the bloody streak (on his shirt). He dismissed the matter by saying that it was betel-leaf spittle. He also told my son to keep the matter to himself. He then had dinner as usual and went to bed. No one in the house knew that something unusual had taken place in the family, perhaps Manto Mamoon himself felt there was nothing to worry about since my son had kept the secret to himself. Even otherwise, he didn't like to share such things with the family because then there would be great pressure on him from everyone for abstinence. Late that night, he woke up his wife to tell her that he was in severe pain and that he had lost a lot of blood. He thought his liver had packed up. His wife, sensing that she could not handle the situation by herself, woke up the rest of the family and soon a struggle was on to save his life. Since he had won several critical bouts of ill health no one could imagine that there was death at the doorstep. In fact, the umpire had started to raise his finger the moment he first threw up blood.

        According to what I have heard of Manto Mamoon's last moments, he himself was not sure that the end was at hand. After the doctor had given him a shot, he didn't lose hope for an hour or so. But the slide continued with the pulse sinking. There was increasing pain and the blood vomit wouldn't stop. In the morning, the doctor advised that Manto Mamoon be taken to hospital.

        Up until at that moment, Manto Mamoon was in full control of his senses. No sooner did he hear of hospital than he said: "It's too late for that. Let me lie here in peace."

        When the women around him started to cry, Manto Mamoon roared in rage: "Let no one dare cry here," and put his quilt over his face. This was the true Manto. Every facet of his life was known to the world. How could a man like him tolerate that others should see him die? Manto Mamoon was in great anger. One wonders whether he was angry with himself or with alcohol, which was the cause of his premature death.

        Before the ambulance arrived, he uncovered his face once or twice to say: "I am feeling cold all over. Perhaps even the grave won't be colder than this. Put some more quilts on me."

        After a while there was a stranger glint in his eyes. "There are three-rupees-and-a-half in my coat pocket. Put some more money in and get me something to drink. . . ."

        He continued to call for alcohol until the family was obliged to secure a quarter-bottle. He looked at the bottle with stranger peace in his eyes and said: "make me two drinks" even as a fresh paroxysm of pain shook him.

        Even then, there was no pity for him. He knew it was all over but not for a second did he allow himself to be overcome by self-pity. He did not call his children or anyone to his bedside. He did not believe in last looks or last words. For people like him the line between life and death is ambiguous and unclear. And this is how it should be for men such as these who have already transferred their souls to their books. Once there, they are assured of immortality laughing, talking, and loving in eternity.

        On his deathbed, Manto Mamoon asked for nothing but alcohol. He had known for years that alcohol was a deadly enemy. Indeed, he had come to regard it as a synonym for death over which physical conquest was not possible. He was as helpless against alcohol as anyone else would be against death. But since he was always a rebel, he rebelled against death also and he hated defeat even at the hands of death. That is why he wanted an in camera duel with death so that no one should see him die, see him vanished.

        A smaller man than Manto would have wanted a dramatic death so that after he had gone, people should talk of him, write on him and his friends and family be able to say that though they didn't like what he did while he lived, he had redeemed himself by dying. But Manto was no hypocrite. He resisted such desire sternly. There was only one dramatic demand for alcohol. But only the central figure of the play could benefit from this demand because only he knew what he was doing by calling for alcohol.

        Had I been by his side in his last moments, I might have persuaded him to unbend himself to a certain extent. And this wouldn't have been any too difficult. All he had to do would have been to ask me not to forget the story of the man and the snake. I would have nodded agreement and given him his last drink. This alone would have sufficed. 

        The story of the man and the snake is quickly told. A man acquired a poisonous snake and kept it as a pet against the advice of friends. One day, the snake bit its master and injected all its deadly poison into him. The man tracked the snake down and severed its head.

        As soon as the ambulance arrived, he once again called for a drink. A spoonful of whisky was poured down his throat. He could take only a drop. The rest spilled as he lost consciousness for the first time in his life. He was put in the ambulance and taken to the hospital. Manto Mammon was pronounced dead on arrival.

(Translated form the original Urdu.)