To be certain, in a world full of uncertainties the path that leads to humiliation, violence and fear is not an easy one to travel. History is filled with far too few who have truly rebelled against social convention and whose ideas still hold currency today. South Asian fiction’s most beloved bête noire remains Saadat Hasan Manto, the unofficial patron saint of all who believe in their own kind of liberty. Even occasional fiction readers recognise the impact of Manto’s short stories: from the flurry of punctuation to words running into one another before suddenly breaking apart. Thus through the opulence of his words, at once able to convey solace and plenitude, is he able to reel in the reader through this delicately spun web. It seems as if Manto was a man seeking liberation from the socially constructed mainstream narratives and orthodoxies of his time. For him, such deliverance was akin to salvation. Indeed, this has been a recurring theme for other writers, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, whose Morning of Freedom (Subha-i-Nau), echoes Manto’s idea of intellectual freedom. This stained light, this night-bitten dawn — this is not the dawn we yearned for. this is not the dawn for which we set out so eagerly ~ From “Morning of Freedom” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (translated by Daud Kamal) After migrating to Lahore in 1948, Manto wrote a series of letters to Uncle Sam, in which he describes himself as “a bird whose wings had been clipped”. As a rebel humanist, Manto’s notions of liberty were never received in the same way as those proffered by some of his more conventional contemporaries. Indeed he was charged with penning salacious and immoral stories that shocked 20th century South Asian society to its very core. In such ‘boldness’ did Manto find his true calling. Full of rebellious enthusiasm, he based his tales on moral and even cosmic principle; thus are his stories constantly exhorting us to be original, independent and self-reliant. His scorn was reserved for everyone who took refuge in received ideas and traditional values. Manto’s message was as simple as it was universal. Each and every human, by virtue of the species he was born into, had an obligation to bring about positive societal change instead of trying to brush aside ugly truths Manto’s message was as simple as it was universal. Each and every human, by virtue of the species he was born into, had an obligation to bring about positive societal change instead of trying to brush aside ugly truths. This was his inherent progressiveness. And it was something that he took as a fundamental; its existence not being of any additional value. He possessed an uncanny talent for uncovering corrupt characters of his time. This he did by telling the stories of the abused, the pitiful, the feeble and the misled. And then there was his defiance of national and religious identity both; something that still resonates today. The contemporary South Asian fiction writer owes much to Manto Sb. For he was a true pioneer. Not for him any of this skirting round issues or expressing oneself by way of arcane narratives. A reading of Khol Do (Open) or Bu (Odour) or Thanda Gosht (Cold Meat) is essential if one is to understand the social picture that Manto was determined to sketch. Indeed, his entrenched humanism extended way beyond any religious dogma and, as such, was more important to him than any notion of perceived liberation. To the point that society, for him, became little more than in inescapable blot on the universe of his morality. The latter being a place where imposed conventions could be resisted; a place bequeathed by fathers but populated by sons. And when it came to penning his own epitaph, Manto made sure he had the last laugh. “Here lies buried Saadat Hasan Manto in whose bosom are enshrined all the secrets and art of short story writing. Buried under mounds of earth, even now he is contemplating whether he is a greater short story writer or God.” The writer is a professor of Political Science and Pakistan Studies at Kinnaird College for Women. She can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, October 28th 2017.