Remembering Manto and wondering how he would have reacted to 'bulldozer governance' of today

Saadat Hasan Manto was born on May 11, 1912, in Punjab’s Ludhiana district. On his birthday, thoughts float to the present demolition drives and mind starts wondering how he would have reacted to it

Remembering Manto and wondering how he would have reacted to 'bulldozer governance' of today

Humra Quraishi

I’m filing this column on May 11, so foremost salaams to the greta writer Saadat Hasan Manto, as he was born on this very day. He was born on May 11, 1912, in Punjab’s Ludhiana district. His Kashmiri parents and their families had shifted from Kashmir to Punjab. Those were the good old days when religious or regional formalities cum rigidities didn’t come in way. Clans and families and individuals were free enough to move from here to there, without getting hounded or humiliated.

Saadat Hasan Manto has long departed otherwise we are not sure what disasters would have waited for him. Maybe, bulldozers at his very doorstep! As the government of the day is now known for crushing homes and much more. Maybe, Manto would have written details to his woes to the President of America but would he have bothered or even had the time to listen to any of Manto’s grievances? In today’s so called developed times, human beings are getting ruthlessly killed and crushed as never before. Even the alive ones (that is, the technically alive ones) are sitting affected with severe health problems seeing bulldozers entering their mohallas and bastis…witnessing massive destruction taking place right there, in front of their eyes!

In fact, whilst on this I have been wondering: Shouldn’t the UNHCR ( United Nations High Commission for Refugees) step in and veto the Right-Wing politicians’ reckless accusations, heaping all possible blame for all the civic woes on the hapless Bangladeshis and Rohingyas living in refuge in our country? It is actually disgusting and frightening also to see how we are hounding the hapless refuge-seekers! Under severe crisis they fled from their native home countries, seeking shelter here in our country, without realising that they would be treated in the worst possible ways. The communal virus well spread out in our country has reached such lows that even refugees are not being spared. Not to be overlooked is the fact that a great majority of the refugees from Bangladesh and Burma happen to be Muslims.

On this upcoming World Refugee day - June 20, can we please decide to go beyond speeches and receptions! Refugees must be treated with dignity. and sensitivity. He or she needs protection and security. Do remember the fact that refugees have fled their homelands in utter despair. Also, who knows about the twists and turns in our own lives; who all amongst us will be rendered refugees overnight or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow!

Goodbye, lady Aruna Paul! She passed away last week, in London

I would get to meet Lady Aruna Paul and her husband, Lord Swraj Paul at Khushwant Singh’s home. In fact, whenever the couple flew down from London to New Delhi, they would spend an evening with Khushwant. He would always host a warm cosy get together in their honour and invite close friends.

At one such get together, I had asked Swraj Paul how he manages to visit Khushwant even when he's on those flying visits from London to New Delhi. He had commented, “I look forward to meeting him, whenever I'm in India, because for me Khushwant is an institution!”

Those meetings between the two — Khushwant Singh and Swraj Paul— were not necessarily all too smooth going. At one get-together which he'd hosted for Aruna and Swraj Paul, Khushwant had vehemently disagreed with Paul on the political happenings in Gujarat, post the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. Whilst Paul had kept harping on the so-called development projects, Khushwant insisted on focusing on the dark realities that had been emerging from Gujarat. Whilst Khushwant had continued arguing with him, Swaraj had kept shaking his head rather too stubbornly and almost simultaneously rather too nervously stuffing his hands in his pant pockets. Nah, not even distracted when one of the lady guests present right there, tried to drag along distractions, telling him about some strange game: stuff pebbles in the pockets and then going on a wild search for them. Unearthing more than pebbles along the way!

Of course, Paul and his spouse Aruna laughed. They carried a great sense of humour and were cultured and sophisticated along the traditional strain. What struck me about Aruna was the fact that she never ever tried to interrupt her husband or even speak on his behalf. She kept a rather low profile and looked in awe of her husband. It was writ large that she loved and admired him… always there by his side. They seemed compatible, happy to be with each other, so much so that once when Paul came without her, Khushwant looked somewhat surprised and asked him why his wife had not accompanied him. He told us that she was caught up with some family meets so couldn’t come along. Then he started talking emotionally about his children, wife and the family.

Only once during our interactions the topic of the couple’s young daughter Ambika succumbing to cancer early in childhood came up and I still recall how immensely sad they had looked. Sheer sorrow, loss of a child difficult to cope with… In fact, Aruna and Swraj told us that their young daughter would love to go to the London Zoo and spend time there as it gave her some relief and happiness, so after her death they have tried to support the upkeep and development of the London Zoo in all possible ways.

That evening Khushwant had also looked pained and pensive. His talks dwelt on death. “Whilst on death and departures, I often tell Bade Mian (I call my Creator, Bade Mian) that He’s got to wait for me as I still have work to complete. I keep telling Him: Bade Mian abhi mera intezar karo, abhi bahut kaam baqi hai

Khushwant had recited these lines of Allama Iqbal:

Baagh –e - bahisht say mujhay hukm -e safar diya thha kyon ?/

Kaar –e –Jahaan daraaz hai ,ab mera intezaar kar.

(Why did you order me out of the garden of paradise? /

I have a lot of work that remains unfulfilled; now you must wait for me.)

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