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151 2 OnthePostcolonialMoment There was a deadly calm in the air . . . like the doleful screams of eagles flying aimlessly in the sky at the onset of summer; even the slogans “Pakistan Zindabad” and “Quaid-­i-­Azam Zindabad” sounded sad and cheerless to the ear. The trees in Lahore, the famed city of gardens, wore the look of naked children. Refugees had stripped off the branches to keep warm in winter and feed their hunger. The buildings appeared to be in mourning; their bereaved inhabitants might laugh, play, and go to work occasionally, but there was a palpable sense of emptiness.8 Life in Pakistan was unlike anything Manto had known. The impact of partition was everywhere, as if an earthquake of great force had left everything in ruins, disconnected and disorderly. A few people were delirious about their ill-­ gotten gains. Most others were distraught and pensive, since they had lost everything in the upheaval and were reduced to living in extreme destitution in refugee camps. It was as if two streams 152 III Histories were flowing side by side, one of life and the other of death. Manto met his old friends Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi and Sahir Ludhianvi and found them to be as disorientated and mentally incapacitated as he was. So he started loitering about on the streets, silently listening to what others were saying. Gradually the weight lifted from his mind, and he decided to write light and humorous essays for Imroze. Soon he was composing fast-­paced and sarcastic pieces that were much appreciated and later published in a collection named Talkh, Tursh aur Shireen (Bitter, Acrimonious, and Sweet).9 Manto still could not bring himself to return to writing fiction . He considered the short story to be a “very grave” genre. Pressed by Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi to write a story for his newly launched journal Naqoosh, Manto procrastinated until their friendship was on the line. To please Qasimi, he wrote his first short story in Pakistan, “Thanda Gosht” (Colder than Ice). Set against the backdrop of partition violence in Punjab , it is a chilling drama about an illiterate and hypersexed Sikh, Ishwar Singh, who becomes impotent, to the chagrin of his oversexed partner, Kalwant Kaur, after a psychologically crippling incident. An active participant in the disturbances, he kidnaps a beautiful teenage Muslim girl after killing half a dozen members of her family. Flinging the girl over his shoulder , Ishwar Singh heads toward the city canal near the railway tracks, lays her down under some bushes, and is about to force himself on her when he is shaken to the core to discover that shehasalreadydiedoutofsheerterror.IshwarSinghisinacute emotional agony, not because he has killed innocent people but because he cannot get over the girl’s cold flesh. Faced with his lover’s jealousy, he tells her the painful story with teary eyes, and suddenly dies—­his hands colder than ice.10 153 On the Postcolonial Movement Qasimi liked the story but declined to publish it, fearing it was too hot for Naqoosh, a collaborative endeavor he had initiated with the board for the promotion of Urdu in Pakistan. Manto took back the story quietly and told him to come back the next evening. When Qasimi returned the next day, Manto was writing the climax of “Khol Du” (Open It). Qasimi had to wait a long time, as Manto took extra care in writing the crucial final lines of the story. Based on partition violence, like “Thanda Gosht,” “Khol Du” is the story of Sirajuddin, a Muslim father frantically looking for his kidnapped daughter, Sakina. A group of eight young Muslim men working as volunteers in the refugee camps offer to help him locate her. On finding Sakina, they gang-­ rape her and leave her lying unconscious near the railroad tracks. She is taken to a camp hospital, where Sirajuddin eventually finds her, lying motionless like a corpse. When a doctor comes in and feels the girl’s pulse, he motions toward the window and tells Sirajuddin, “Open it.” Upon hearing the doctor’s words, the half-­ dead Sakina responds mechanically, opening the knot of her trousers and pushing them down her thighs. Sirajuddin’s wrinkled face lights up as he cries, “My daughter’s alive”; the doctor breaks into a sweat.11 Demolishing the myth of religiously motivated violence, the story tears at the heart and silently jeers at the unquestioned idioms of statist nationalism. Manto watched Qasimi quiver as he read the last lines before mustering...


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MARC Record
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