The Place of Translation in a Literary Habitat and other Lectures
The Politics of Translation: Manto's Partition Stories in English

On one level translating Saadat Hasan Manto into English is not very difficult. As a storyteller he never retreats from the complexity of lived experience to find easy refuge in political posturing or moral and religious sermonising. That is why the style of his best stories, devoid of all metaphoric excess and sentimental inflections, is always precise, bare-boned and conversational. Most of his narrators are either hard-drinking and whoring men who live in cities which have neither space for graciousness nor time for romance, or are men who have seen so much horror that they can only offer a disenchanted and cynical vision of the world. Their descriptions, ironic and cold-eyed, seem to be authentic versions of life at a particular historical moment because they have the feel of the real and the pitilessness of stone. It should not, therefore, be impossible for a translator to find verbal and cultural equivalents for his stories in English.

Structurally, Manto's tales are idiosyncratic but should not make a translator anxious. Manto often disrupts the linear and chronological flow of his stories by, using the same kind of parenthetical interruptions, digressions or elisions that are common to all ordinary conversations. Since he is not conducting political and ethical arguments, he doesn't worry about constructing well-argued paragraphs whose internal coherence is essential to convince us of the truth of some abstract proposition. Instead, with the fine cunning of a master storyteller, at times he disrupts the narrative to increase suspense or breaks the story's spell to remind us that life always frustrates our longing for completion; at other times, he offers different narrative possibilities within the same story and invites us to puzzle them out or merely writes a fragment which emerges from silence like a scream. That is why, his stories seem to have the structural sharpness of barbed wires and broken shards -- and like them they can wound those who are not alert to their existence. Instead of being problematic, the narrative quirkiness of his stories ought to be exciting for any contemporary translator who is conscious of their jaggedness and fissures, their sudden shifts and silences, their blank spaces and absences.


There is, however, one aspect of Manto's literary intelligence, which can prove fatal for any translator of his stories. Manto's language may be economical, but it has the sting and precision of a whiplash. An English translation of his stories may be accurate, but may still fail to capture the grating roughness of his diction, the sardonic irony of his images and the harsh rhythms of his prose. In order to be effective, it would have to cause the same nightmarish pain, the same sharp lacerations on the reader's soul as Manto's Urdu original. Otherwise, Manto can appear to be either sentimental, or merely obscene and cynical, instead being a writer who has a deeply troubled, but profoundly moral, concern with human experiences and actions in a world, which has lost its political sense and social reason.

Khalid Hasan is the best known and the well regarded of the translators of Manto into English. Unfortunately, his collection, Mottled Dawn: Fifty Sketches and Stories of Partition, by Manto, is deeply flawed. There are two serious problems with the book. One, its translations are highly inaccurate and disfigure the original. Two, it has no recognisable editorial policy. The result is a lazy and an unimaginative book, which fails to deal with the range of Manto's responses to the partition. If his initial response to the partition was that of disgust at the brutality, he later tried to make a more historically self-conscious attempt to understand its causes, and then find a way towards a different kind of politics which could assert that citizenship is the right of anyone who has lived for long within certain boundaries and feels at home within its cultural spaces.


Mottled Dawn is, with one minor change, an unrevised reprint of Partition: Stories and Sketches published by Penguin in 1991. It contains only one new text - "Mere Sahib" (Jinnah Sahib). Otherwise, the new edition retains all the problems of the previous version. Hasan makes no attempt to explain his selection of stories nor does he offer any explanation for his radical transformation of their structures into their new avatars. Thus, for example, we are not told why the story "Naya Kanoon" (A New Constitution) has been included even though it has nothing to do with the partition. The story was written in 1937, a few years before the demand for Pakistan was raised in 1940, and refers to the promulgation of the India Act of 1936. What makes the choice strange is the fact that well-known pieces about the partition like "Gurmukh Singh ki Vasihat," "Ramkhilavan" and "Shahay," find no place in the volume. Since the selection is obviously whimsical, it is not surprising that Hasan chooses not to translate Manto's later and more complex stories. He doesn't, for example, include "1919 Ke Ek Baat," a difficult and bleak tale in which Manto seems to conclude that, despite the presence of Gandhi, the foolish and the brutal characterised every instance of our nationalist past. Nor does he include tales like "Fauda Haramda" and "Shah Dauley Da Chuha," where Manto suggests that a disparate group of exiles, who have neither shared myths nor a common language, can never come together to form a nation; carrying nothing more than their different memories, they can only live in the half-lit spaces of nostalgia.


What is editorially most puzzling, however, is the manner in which twenty-eight of the brief and fragmentary sketches included in the volume are presented. Hasan doesn't mention the fact that they form a part of a strange and unique text called Siyah Hashiye (Black Margins), which is actually made up of thirty-two pieces designed to be read together. There is, of course, no reason given for the exclusion of the remaining fragments. Hasan's procedure is misleading and damaging, because Manto deliberately composes a splintered text in order to convey his terrified sense that the partition was a time of phantasmagorias. All the thirty-two pieces in Siyah Hashiye together create a nightmare landscape of random violence; a scandalous world where victims and predators interchange places endlessly and unpredictably. To present them as unrelated and individual sketches is to rob them of their cumulative irony and their abrasive force.


If Hasan as an editor offers us a Manto whose writings on the partition are considerably diluted, as a translator he recreates for us a Manto who is substantially compromised and damaged as a writer. Not only does he give to Manto's stories English titles which have no recognisable relationship with the original ones in Urdu, he also dismembers and scramble their structures, deletes paragraphs, summarises significant dialogues, omits details about characters, transforms long monologues into comfortable paragraphs, converts broken sentences and hesitant speech into smoothly flowing prose, and adds information about Islamic history and the formation of Pakistan for kafirs, so as to make Manto both into a communal partisan and a weak storyteller. Hasan doesn't trust Manto. He forgets that Manto, at his best, knows the measure of a story and is always cautious not to reduce the difficult craft of storytelling into one of the duller forms of politics and theology. Manto's mode of narration is not separable from his vision of our moral condition during the partition; it is rather a part of his exploration of the social and psychological conditions, which can lead all of us into evil. Hasan's violations of Manto's narrative strategies so distort the originals as to nearly succeed in making his sardonic and complex responses to the partition seem ordinary and predictable. Manto survives the translation because his stories are powerful and disturbing. There ought to be, however, a minimum ethic for every translator.

Hasan's translation of some of the brief pieces in Siyah Hashiye provides examples of the problems with his method. Manto's text is made up of a series of instances of atrocity; each new atrocity merely replaces the previous one and is equally unprecedented. Given the fact that Manto wants to record the randomness of terror, it is obvious that these brief tales cannot be arranged in any recognisable order. Yet they must be read together, for only then can they create a phantasmagoric landscape where there is neither reason nor hope. Many of the fragmentary pieces are deliberately constructed out of broken sentences or simple words so as to suggest that they have been carefully incised on the page -- like epitaphs on tombstones. Their brevity of form and their restrained tone are continuously threatened by the frenzy of the events described. One is forced to read them with slow and painful deliberation. Only then does one notice how single words or sentences fragments in one line crumble into the words in the next line, before finally collapsing into sneering laughter or horrified silence or screams. Hasan's prose translation, without Manto's careful lineation, in which words simply slide into one another as in any conventional sentence, erases the spasmodic quality of these tales, and, thereby, denies them of their vituperative quality.


Take, for instance, the text entitled "Sorry" in the Urdu version the original is arranged as follows:

paet chak karti hui
naaf ke neeche tak chali gai izarband kat gaya.
Churi maarnevale ke
munh se
kalma-i-taassuf nikla
"Chi, Chi, Chi...mishtake ho gaya."
- (Dastavez, vol. 2, p.304)

Hasan translates it as follows:


Ripping the belly cleanly, the knife moved in a straight line down the midriff, in the process slashing the cord, which held the man's pyjamas in place.
The man with the knife took one look and exclaimed regretfully, 'Oh no! ... Mishtake!' (p. 207)

It is amusing to note that Hasan 'translates' the original title "Sorry." What is involved here is more than an error of judgment. By changing the title of the story -- "Mishtake" -- Hasan suggests that Manto is doing nothing more than casually recording a grotesque incident as an example of the quirkiness of those fateful days. The change, unfortunately, turns a grim story into an anecdote. Surely, it is obvious from the careful manner in which the lineation of the text has been crafted, that Manto is not merely taking a note of a singularly absurd event, but is trying to draw attention to an infinite series of mindless and anonymous killings, which have made life into a nightmare. The new title suggests that Hasan's attitude towards the text is flippant. Indeed, one suspects that Hasan changes the title partly because he wants to snigger rather arrogantly at the lumpenisation of language, and partly because he thinks that Manto wants to point to the murderous propensities of the Punjabis in order to affirm ethnic stereotypes (the inability of many Punjabis to pronounce 's' has been the subject of countless jokes).


Manto's title, however, is quite deliberately chosen. It is rather unbecoming of a translator to reduce the text, which is a serious attempt at analysing human behaviour during times dominated by mob enthusiasm and misrule, to the level of a racial slur. One of the characteristic features of Manto's stories about the partition is that they refuse to pass communally or ethnically charged judgments. That is why Manto either erases all religious or regional markers, or makes one uncomfortable with them wherever they occur. His attitude towards the partition, and of the capacity of human beings to deal with crises, is utterly cynical. He is convinced that there are times when appeals to reason or morality can do nothing to prevent human beings -- Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs equally -- from becoming murderers and living like fools. The title, "Sorry," therefore, seems to have been deliberately chosen. On the one hand, its formality is mocked by the coarseness of the last exclamation of the killer. On the other hand, it warns us not to snigger at the assassin's inability to pronounce a simple word, lest we forget his victim and become accomplices in the slaughter. If we have to retain our humanity, we have to feel shocked and ashamed at the casual murder and the equally casual apology for having killed the wrong man; we cannot turn away without remorse and laugh.

In the structural arrangement of the original text the object which is given priority is 'the knife'. It hovers like a threatening presence over the text and controls it thematically. Manto deliberately places it in an isolated sentence surrounded by empty spaces so as to make it a metaphor for the partition as an annihilating event. What makes the knife terrifying to contemplate is that it has a remorseless and mechanical force of its own; it requires no human agency and it kills automatically, pitilessly and repeatedly. The man who wields it is merely a part of its mechanism of slaughter; he has no will of his own and no religion or nationality, which defines him. And the victim, whose body it cuts open, is only a cadaver. By making the knife such a powerful presence, Manto wants to suggest that the partition has nothing to do with freedom or religiosity. He is sure that those who want partition are only concerned with power -- with all its intoxication, pride and humiliation. It is because of his strong condemnation of the partition as a political act, which trifled with the life, religion and culture of a people that the protagonists of the Pakistan movement still continue to find him difficult to deal with.


Hasan, however, shifts the attention away from the knife. He removes it from its predominant position in the original, and slips it into one of the secondary clauses in a tedious sentence made up of melodramatic assertions. Instead of gazing at the knife with fear, we are made to watch, rather voyeuristically, the quivering flesh of the victim being slit open. The suspense of the original is created out of a series of brief, harsh and brutally factual sentence fragments. The translation slides along casually from one phrase to the next, describing how the man's pyjamas are held up by a cord and the knife rips through his belly "cleanly." Manto is a better storyteller and more subtle a thinker than the translator. He understands the economy of words, and doesn't pause to give explanations or information. A story of violence requires a certain degree of asceticism of language. It is precisely Manto's restraint which makes the original so disturbing. Manto also understands that in times of extreme violence, instruments of torture and murder acquire a life of their own, and people who use them become servile to them. By discarding the lineation of the original text, Hasan destroys it's meaning and ruins its dramatic impact. Perhaps, the first sentence of the story could have been translated more effectively as follows:

The knife
Plunged into the stomach
Ripped through the abdomen
Cut the string of the pyjama.

The second sentence is equally poorly translated. Manto intentionally breaks it up into five distinct and fragmentary units. The first three lines are sharp, harsh and spasmodic. Their quickness of movement dramatises both the wild plunging of the knife and the shocked surprise of the killer -- it is typical of Manto's irony that the victim is left unacknowledged; he merely strays into a lethal historical time. The convulsive quality of the writing makes it apparent that for the knife wielding man, killing is merely a reflex action and the partition an excuse. In the original, there is no hint that he is capable of expressing "regret" or remorse -- terms, which give him a capacity for moral judgment and atonement. Manto is sure that the partition is neither a result of some recognisable ethical impulse nor of some profound religious need. Indeed, what is always scandalous about Manto is that, against all the weighty arguments in favour of the partition, he is willing to take the risk of asserting, with mordant laughter, that a whole civilisation was ripped apart for something extremely trivial and obscene -- that the only way of distinguishing a 'true Muslim' from a 'true Hindu' was a man's foreskin. Therefore, the translation should suggest that when the killer realises that the victim belongs to his own community, he is either 'aghast' or 'disgusted' -- words which are closer to the original and indicate that during the partition murder was no more than an instinct, a mindless passion, which hardly left a trace of remorse in the killer.

The sense that the man kills because he is moved by some innate bestial urge is affirmed by the last exclamation, when he splutters incoherently, "Chi, chi, chi..." The vulgar and aggressive theatricality of the expletives cannot be replaced by the decorous and effete, "Oh, no..." Manto, unlike Hasan, understood that the partition not only deformed men, it also debased language. Indeed, one must hear the slow spitting-round of "Chi, chi, chi..." before one reaches the slurred consonant in "mishtake." The catch here is: should one laugh at the lumpenisation of language, or feel ashamed at the pornography of casual murder. Hasan, obviously, chooses easily and opts for the former.

Further, Hasan, in keeping with his normal practice, underplays all religious references which Pakistani nationalists or Muslim fundamentalists may find problematic. That is why, one suspects, that he ignores the complexity of the fourth line and erases Manto's bitter mockery of communal politics. By refusing to find an imaginative way of translating the compound phrase, "Kalma-i-taassuf," he directs attention away from the strong religious undertow in the phrase. sIt would surely have been pointless for Manto to write about the massacres during the partition without clearly indicating, with all the contempt at his disposal, that the killers belonged to religious communities -- that killing gave them a sense of identity and of destiny. The partition may have, to some measure, been a result of economic concerns or political fears, but it was primarily caused by religious intolerance and contempt -- a fact which has yet to be fully investigated by the historians of the period. Manto would have read with grim laughter the recent assertions by some Pakistan critics like Muhammad Umar Memon and Salim-ur-Rehman that, for the Muslims, 1947 was a moment "filled with grace," and that they rejoiced in the partition because it was "the telos of burgeoning historical expectations." Manto would have found this language, as all of us must, morally disgraceful. He would have rejected, with equal vehemence, the claims of the Hindu fundamentalists that they alone were the embodiments of culture and holiness. Indeed, if ethicality can only be tested in the visible civil and political spaces of a society, such apocalyptic statements about the partition should be made in the middle of streets littered with corpses -- then at least we should know that doom is a part of all such teleological dreams.


There is, hence, a deliberateness of purpose in Manto's use of the phrase "kalma-i-taassuf." The liturgical ring of the phrase calls attention to itself because it is placed between the dramatic briskness of the previous lines and the staccato sounds, which follow. It is a sonorous phrase which acquires a strange preternatural force because of its ironic placement between a brutal murder and its casual dismissal; all the shards of reasons for the partition seem to gather around it and make the partition into a shameful, causeless and demented historical event. (A historian like Ayesha Jalal thinks of the partition merely as "the theater of the absurd" -- a metaphor which accepts the partition as politically senseless, but fails to acknowledge the enormity of the human suffering involved.) Fiction writers like Manto, however, insist that any action should be judged by its moral consequences. We must ask, for instance, if we can approve of a political demand, which leads to genocide. What makes the usage of the phrase "Kalma-i-taassuf" even more interesting is that it persuades us to think about the ritual repetition of holy words uttered to save us from following the path of sin (the Hindi editors of Manto's Dastavez notice this, but they seem to be alone in doing so). The words which the killer utters, however, indicate how completely incapable he is of reciting the 'Kalma'; how far removed he is from grace.

The greatest damage Hasan does to Manto is to communalise him. He does so systematically, with design and in bad faith. In nearly every story Hasan translates there is an apparent communal purpose behind his omissions, shifts and quiet additions. Take for instance the translation of "Thanda Gosht," a story which got Manto into trouble with the new Pakistani government for obscenity. Hasan translates the title as "Colder than Ice," instead of the more obvious "Cold Meat" so as to avoid Manto's blunt association between sexual sadism, necrophilia and the politics of 'saving' women. Unlike Hasan, Manto is neither a moral prig nor is he afraid of giving offense (there are other instances of Hasan's concern with the censors. He translates the title "Mootri," as "Three Simple Statements," instead of "Urinal," the title "Khol Do," which in the story refers to the automatic response a rape-victim makes by lowering her pyjamas and spreading her legs when she hears those words, as "The Return," etc.). What is, however, more disturbing about Hasan's translation is that he slips in phrases which are not there in the original so as to give the story a nasty religious edge. Manto is painful to many because for him murder is murder, and no amount of religious mantras can swindle him into believing otherwise. Yet, Hasan would have us believe that "Thanda Ghost" is Manto's particular condemnation of Sikh atrocities against the Muslims. Consider the following confession Ishar Singh makes to his wife in the Urdu version:

"Kulwant meri jan! Main tumhein nahin bata sakta, mere saath kya hua...? Insan kudiya bhi ek ajeeb cheez hai... Shahar mein loot machi to sabhi kee tarah mainey bhi usmein hissa liya... Gahne-patte aur rupaiye-paise jo bhi hath lagay, veh maine tumhein dey diye... Lekin ek baat tumhein na batae..." (Dastavez, 2, p. 272)


Hasan edits out Ishar Singh's general assessment of human nature and omits stating that everyone was looting. Instead, he assumes that Ishar Singh is talking about targeting the Muslims and becoming a member of one of the gangs engaged in causing all the torment. His translation reads as follows:

"Kulwant, jani, you can have no idea what happened to me. When they began to loot Muslim shops and houses in the city, I joined one of the gangs. All the cash and ornaments that fell to my share, I brought back to you. There was only one thing I hid from you." (Italics added, p. 28)

Even from the fragmentary example taken from the Urdu text, it should be clear that Manto's concern is not with laying blame on a particular community, but with trying to record a world in which anyone can drift into cruelty and slaughter. He crafts nightmares, not communal texts; he is difficult precisely because he doesn't suggest a religious solution to the politics of pain that was enacted during the partition.

The trivialising impulse in Hasan is at its demonstrative best in his translation of "Yazid." This is a pity because "Yazid," which is an enduring story, has rarely been translated. Included in the last collection of stories Manto published in his life-time in a volume entitled Yazid (1951), it marks a major departure from the mournful and damning stories he had written about the partition earlier. "Yazid" signals both an end to a long period of mourning over the partition and a search for a new secular faith in life-giving energies and associations. What makes the story deeply interesting is that, while Manto refuses to take his eyes off the actualities of suffering, he offers a fine reformulation of 'faith' as that which human beings do out of affectionate regard for each other. This shift in the definition of 'faith' enables him to suggest two things. One, that we give up our rage for ritual and religious identities, in order to escape, both from the fated programmes of life we think are inscribed in religious texts and the melodramas of power; and, two, that we begin to regard our little rituals of marriage, childbirth, friendship or burial as acts of moral care which are sufficient for our common survival. "Yazid" is a compelling and a brave story because it is Manto's most convincing refutation of the 'two-nation theory'.

Hasan changes the title of the story and calls it "The Great Divide." By doing so he radically alters the essential thrust of Manto's text. The phrase, 'the great divide,' is a cliché commonly used to argue that, since there was a long history of irreconcilable differences between the Hindus and the Muslims, the demand for Pakistan was historically inevitable and politically necessary. Hasan's title suggests that the story is important, not because it makes a moral and an existential investigation of the ways in which we can stop living theologically and mythically, and hence less fatally, but because it offers yet another legitimisation of Muslim League politics. Hasan tries to divert attention away from Manto's harsh assertion that religious bigotry destroyed communities which sustained Hindus and Muslim together, in order to persuade us that Manto only wants to describe the plight of a few Punjabi villagers in Pakistan living in fear of renewed Hindu aggression a few years after 1947. As usual, therefore, he simplifies Manto and transforms the story into an anecdote. He fails to notice that the real significance of the story lies in the fact that Manto, who sees himself as an exile, is moving toward a new ethical position which is radically distinct from ideas he has held before: that those who have suffered great political wrong have a responsibility to ensure that caritas is never erased from our visible civil spaces; that migrants from a past of nightmares must cease to be fascinated with their own weakness and refuse to surrender ever again the autonomy of the self either to nostalgia or to hate; and, that it is possible for exiles of the partition to remake their communities provided they give up their dependence on that which is merely religious or political, and instead ask themselves what it is that is immediately necessary and what will suffice to sustain life in a community.


By calling the story "Yazid," Manto draws upon one of the foundational events of Islam. In Islamic history it is said that during the battle of Karbala, Yazid denies water to Hasan, Hussain and their followers, and so ensures their defeat and death. Like Satan and Ravana, he is the figure of primal evil, the demon of unreason who threatens with destruction all that is virtuous. Manto invokes Yazid and the origins of Islam for two complex and interwoven reasons. One, he uses Yazid analogically in order to reexamine the historical assertion that hatred between the Muslims and the Hindus is a fact which has always defined the relations between them from the very beginnings of their contact with each other in the India subcontinent. Two, he uses the figure of Yazid ethically so as to reject the claim of the protagonists of the two nation theory that their migration was a hijrat in search of an Islamic homeland free from the threat of contamination by the Hindu Kafirs (Yazids), just the wanderings of the earliest disciples of Mohammed were an aspect of the necessary rites of passage towards a sanctified place. Manto, in contradiction, wants to suggest that Yazid is not out there in a community whose faith is different from the Muslims, but a part of each of us, Hindus and Muslims alike -- that we are Yazids when we refuse to take responsibility for our actions or when we dream of killing as a way of proving our holiness; and, that the history of relations between the Hindus and the Muslims was as complicated a mixture of harmony and antagonism as is the case with any group of people who have lived together for ages. Thus, he uses Yazid, not to strengthen the historical or religious claims of a few survivors of the riots in Pakistan, but to replace the language of religion by the practice of a mode of analysis which is concrete, moral and psychological, and in the service of community-making.

It is difficult to enumerate the variety of ways in which Hasan's translation damages the text of the story. His changes, additions, deletions, misreadings and summaries are so extensive and arbitrary that the English version of the story resembles the original only in its essential outlines. It is, however, worth describing a few of Hasan's intrusions and elisions which twist the story in ways antithetical to Manto's intentions.

In the opening sentence, the narrator (who is not necessarily Manto -- he is after all not writing an autobiographical anecdote but a work of fiction) suggests that the troubles of the partition were disruptions in the daily lives of the villagers; they came and went like a few days of unseasonable weather in any normal cycle of seasons. The context of the story makes it clear that the narrator's reasons for making an equation between the riots that disturbed the peace in 1947 and unexpected hours of inclement weather are two-fold: he is offering his own version of Fernand Braudel's notion of the 'long duration' of history in which 1947 seems to be less atrocious than it does to those who are caught in the immediate catastrophe; and, he is hinting at the singular ability of the central character of the story, Karim Dad, to deal with suffering as an integral part of the process of living, and to assert that in any life there are seasons of sorrow and seasons for celebration. The opening sentence, thus, provides the historical and ethical presupposition of the story and is crucial for our understanding of Karim Dad's actions.


In the original the opening sentence reads as follows:

"San saintlees ke hungamey aaye aur guzar gaye, bilkul usee tarah jis tarah mausam mein khilafe-mamool chand din kharab aayein aur chale jayein..

(Dastavez, 2, p. 183)

Hasan translates the sentence as follows:

"The 1947 upheavals came and went, much like the few bad days you get in an otherwise sunny Punjabi winter (p. 132)."

Hasan's translation of the sentence is deaf to its nuances and its fictional purpose. Without any sanction from the original, he converts it into a localised observation about "a few bad days you get in an otherwise sunny Punjabi winter." He, thus, transforms an important statement about character and history into a personal report on provincial weather. There is no mention about sunny winters of Punjab in the Urdu text, nor does the narrator address any listener or reader directly in order to seek his approval of or complicity in his trite observation. In any case, Manto knows better than to provoke us to ask who the pronoun "you" refers to and where is he located in the fictional structure. The narrator's statement is addressed to anyone who has meditated upon human affairs, and perhaps sought consolation by locating them within the larger stability of either nature or culture. Such thinking, he knows, doesn't lessen the suffering or erase the memory of loss, but it does make sorrow a little more endurable.

Manto knows, with the usual intelligence of a good short story writer, that cadences of speech, qualities of diction and action are inextricable aspects of making a character. Hasan, on the other hand, with his continuous disregard for the requirements of fictional narratives, thinks that a few random verbal strokes, made without paying attention to tone and diction, are sufficient to indicate a character's role in carrying the action forward. The fact that the purpose of the story may not lie only in the incidents described, but in the character's complex presence within them is of no consequence to him. Thus, in the original, after Karim Dad buries his father, who dies fighting during the riots, he stands by his father's grave near a village well and says: "Yaar, tumney theek nahin kia...Mainey tumse kaha tha ki eik-aadha hathiyaar apne pass zaroor rakha karo...!" (Dastavez, 2, p. 183) If one has to convey the coarse poetry and informality of Karim Dad's speech in English, one should perhaps translate it as: "Yaar, what you did wasn't right...Didn't I tell you to keep a weapon or two with you...!" Hasan, however, translates it prosaically as an address to no one in particular: "He should have listened to me. Didn't I tell him one must keep at least one weapon on one's person these days" (p.133)? The original is a direct admonition to his father as a familiar and a friend. There is sorrow in it, but there is also a jauntiness of spirit and ability to accept life's difficulties -- indeed, all the qualities which later enable Karim Dad to find the resources within himself and his immediate surroundings to leave his memories of pain behind. Hasan's translation, on the other hand, is cliché-soaked. It flattens out the rhythmic particularity of Karim Dad's speech which distinguishes him from his neighbours who are equally distraught. Hasan drags him down to the level of the common-place and so produces a disjunction between what Karim Dad appears to be now and what he will do later.


Like all finer works of fiction, "Yazid" is shaped by paradoxes which undermine the expected and the ideologically determined. In nearly every story about sexual desire which Manto wrote before the partition, he presented sexuality as an extension of the loathsomeness of the social realm. In "Yazid," surprisingly, he writes a rare story in which the erotic is joyous and exuberant. In the midst of the unreality of the partition, he describes the immodesty of love-making. Casual delight, he seems to suggest with a deliberate wink at the clergy and the judge, may be the earthly equivalent of grace.

In the story, Karim Dad insists, even before the villagers have completed the rites for the dead and ceased to weep, on celebrating his marriage with lights and music. Others are still absorbed by their fears, which make them once again susceptible to jingoism, indoctrination and hysterical action. They think that his marriage procession is a march of ghosts through their village community. Karim Dad knows that, in their refusal to make a rational analysis of the actual relations between the Hindus and the Muslims, they had once confused the ghosts of history and religion with reality which had caused the partition and its agony. He, therefore, laughs at them and refuses to make religion and hate the basis of his new existence. Instead, he attempts to remake his life through sexual and familial love. His wonderfully gross language, which mixes crude sensuality with tenderness, sets into motion the celebrative process of generativity. Hasan's translation retains some of the gentleness of Karim Dad's love for Jeena (whose names means 'life'), but makes it sentimental by deleting long sections in which Manto insists on revealing how desperately hard-won their love for each other really is, how long a period of mourning they have to work through in order to win for themselves some "moral time" for pleasure, irreverence, laughter and children.

Manto inter-cuts the description of their maturing love, with constant reminders of the massacres of their relatives and friends, in order to show how they come to realise that the claims of human desire are far more worthy than the claims of religious texts and tribal identities. Hasan not only edits the text in order to tell a simple love story, he also adds a long paragraph explaining who Hasan and Hussain were and how Yazid had caused their defeat, in order to give an Islamic frame of reference to the narrative. If in Manto's version Karim Dad and Jeena, slowly and painfully, learn through experience to make a commitment to a moral life, in Hasan's version they become a part of a Muslim narrative and a political statement.


Just as he longs for a life of fulfilled desire, Karim Dad also longs for a life of social coherence. Given the history of recent times, he understands the fragility of civil reason, yet he seeks to recreate life around traditional institutions of marriage and village community. Driven both by, what Robert Jay Lifton calls, the self's instinctual urge for immortality, as well as his own worldliness and realism, he argues with his friends and neighbours who have survived, that their present suffering is as much a result of their own logic and decisions as it is of the action of the people they now regard as their enemies. He urges them to understand that the partition is a social and political event, instead of thinking about it as a religious melodrama in which Hindu villains are fated to play out their role as killers. Political history, he tells them, is radically different from a mythic narrative. In the first, antagonism of the moment has historical causes and one can find a solution to it; in the second, deliverance from evil is impossible and all one do is either pray or curse.

The argument between Karim Dad and the villagers, about the untrustworthiness of the Hindus and the necessity of revenge, is an elaborate one. It is conducted in the village square, through a series of brief exchanges which are colloquial, robust and earthy. While the village headman, Choudhry Nathoo, is jingoistic and abusive, Karim Dad speaks with irony and humour, cold logic and frankness. Manto crafts the dialogue between them and others very carefully in order to show how important it is to restore civil spaces where people can begin to learn once again that any moral and political dialogue can always be conducted without the use of force or the language of self-righteous anger. What is important here is to notice how Karim Dad's voice of calm reasonableness begins to be heard over the noisy rhetoric of the Choudhry, and finally gains a hearing.

Unfortunately, Hasan radically rewrites this section of the story. He cuts and pastes the original text so drastically that it is impossible to compare his version with the Urdu one in any meaningful way. He deletes the gestures Karim Dad repeatedly makes, which not only establish him as a man of self-assured grace and friendliness, but also affirm that he has worked his way towards a sense of psychic and communal confidence. Further, he transforms Karim Dad's insistent voice of reasonableness, which tries to persuade others dialogically, into a sermonising voice, which imposes itself through assertion.

The section is too long to quote here in its entirety, but what is distressing in the last conversational cluster in the translated text and the manner in which it ends, is that Hasan almost completely edits the presence of Karim Dad's childhood friend, Meeranbuksh, out of the debate. Hasan's decision to do so both distorts the way the dialogue progresses and ends, and alters the basic intention of the story. In Hasan's text, Nathoo withdraws from the discussion pleading helplessness to offer any further argument, while Karim Dad merely gets up and leaves. The last part of the conversation reads as follows in Hasan's version:

"You are talking nonsense," was all that the headman could counter Karim Dad with.

But Karim Dad had not finished. "It just so happens that the Indians are now in a position to take our water away from us. So, let's do something about it, instead of sitting here and abusing them. Don't expect the enemy to dig canals for you and fill them with milk and honey; expect him to poison your water so that you drink it and die. You will call it barbarism. I don't. If it is war, then war it is, not a wedding contract with pre-conditions and the rest of it. You can't say: all right we will go to war, provided you don't starve us or take away our food. If you must fire at us, use only a certain brand of cartridge. Be reasonable."
"And how do I do that?" Choudhry Nathoo asked. Karim Dad did not answer, but rose and left (p. 141).

Manto's original text, however, is radically different and reads as follows:

Choudhry Nathoo bhin gaya: "Yeh tu kya bakwas kar raha hai?"
Meeranbaksh ne bhi haule-se Karim Dad se pooccha: "Par yaar, yeh kya bakwas hai?"

"Bakwas nahin hai Meeranbuksha..." Karim Dad ne samjhane ke undaz mein Meeranbuksh se kaha, "Tu zara soch to sahi ladai mein dono phareek ek dusarey ko pachchadney ke leya kya kuchch nahin kartey...Pahalwan jab lungar-lungot kaskey akhade mein uttar aatey hain to unhain har daav isteymaal karney ka haq hota hai."
Meeranbuksh ne upna jhuka sir hilaya : "Yeh to theek hai."
Karim Dad muskaraya: "To fir dariya band karna bhi theek hai...Hamarey leya yeh zulm hai, magar unkey leya rava hai."
"Rava kya hai...Jab teree zeeb pyas key marey latak kar zameen tak aa jayegi to phir main puchchoonga kay zulm rava hai ya narava... Jab tere baal-bachche anaaj kay ek ek dane ko trarasaingey to phir bhi yahi kahena ki dariya band karna bilkul theek tha."

Karim Dad nein upney khushk honthon par zabaan pheri aur kaha: "Main zab bhi kahoonga Choudhry... Tum yeh kyon bhool jaatey ho ki sirph veh hamaarey dushman nahin, hum bhee to unkay dushman hain...Agar hamarey ikhtyaar main hota to humnein bhi unka dana-pani band kar diya hota...Aab jaab ki veh aiysa kar sakta hai, aur karneywala hai to hum zaroor uska koi tord sochainegey...Bekar galiyan daney se kya hota hai...Dushman tumahre leeya doodh ki nahrein zari nahin karega Choudhry Nathoo...Us sey agar ho saka to veh tumhari paani ki har boond mein zahar mila dega...Tum us sey zulm kahogey, vehshiyanapan kahogey, is leya ki marney ka yeh tareeka tumhey pasand nahin...Ajeeb si baat hai ki ladayi shuroo karney sey pehaley dushman sey nikha ki si shartein banvayi jayen...Us sey kaha jaye ki dekho, mujhey bhookha na marna...Bandook si aur veh bhi itney bore ki bandook se, albaata tum mujhey shock se halal kar saktey ho...Aasal bakwas to yeh hai...Zara thandey dil se socho!"
Chaudhry Nathoo jhunjhulahaat ki aakhari haad tak pahunch gaya: "Baraf la ke rakh mere dil par."

"Yeh bhi main he laun?" Yeh kehkar Karim Dad hansa. Veh Meenabaksh key kandhey par thapki deykar utha aur chaupaal sey chala gaya
(Dastavez, 2, p. 189-90)

This section can, perhaps, be translated as follows:

Irritated, Chaudhry Nathoo said, "You are talking rubbish."
Meeranbaksh also said quietly, "That's right, yaar, you are talking rubbish."
"I am not talking rubbish..." Karim Dad said, trying to make Meeranbaksh see reason. "Why don't you understand that in a war enemies try to do everything possible to defeat each other...When a wrestler tightens his loin-cloth and steps into the wrestling pit, doesn't he have the right to use any subterfuge, any hold...?"

Still tense, Meeranbaksh nodded his head in agreement, "Yes, he has the right."


Karim Dad smiled, "Then it follows that an enemy also has the right to dam a river...We may think it's unjust, but he thinks it's just..."
"How is it just...? When your mouth is dry and your tongue hangs down to the ground, then I'll ask you if it's just or unjust...I hope that when your children are dying for a grin of wheat, you'll still say that it's just to dam a river."

Karim Dad ran his tongue across his parched lips, "Even then I'll say it, Choudhry! You forget that if they are our enemy, we are their enemy too...If we had the power, we'd also dam their river and destroy their crops...Since they can dam the river, and are about to do so, we should do something about it...There's no point in cursing...Your enemy will not dig a canal for you and fill it with milk, Choudhry Nathoo...If he can, he'll mix poison in every drop of water you drink...You may think it's barbaric, because you don't want to be killed like that...But isn't it strange that, even before you go to war, you want to lay down conditions, as if you are negotiating a marriage contract...? You want to plead, don't let me starve to death. Shoot me but only with a gun of a certain size...That, surely, is rubbish...Think about it with a cool head."

By then Choudhry Nathoo was at his wits end, "Why don't you get a slab of ice and place it on my head!"

"Am I supposed to do even that?" Karim Dad laughed. Then he patted Meeranbaksh on his shoulder, stood up and left the village square.

In Hasan's version, Karim Dad's attempt to find a language of community-making is suddenly aborted. There is no sanction for such an abrupt end to a dialogue whose texture and intention clearly suggest that Manto is exploring the possibilities of human renewal. Nor is there any sanction for naming the Indians as enemies. In Manto's version, Karim Dad doesn't walk away in triumphant silence. Instead, his witty repartee and final gesture ensure that the village square remains open for companionship and conversation. It is clear, as he teases Nathoo, that he knows how difficult it is to convert men like Nathoo to the side of reason -- if the task was easy then the horror of the partition may never have happened, nor would the continued history of communal violence have demanded our attention. Without the last smile and embrace, "Yazid" as story remains an interesting addition to Manto's fictional history of a time when religion clawed its way across all that culture had created, instead of being what it significantly is -- a fine meditation on the fate of reason and sympathetic imagination in times of political and moral disaster.

The importance of Manto's stories about the partition lies in the fact that he is neither a moralist nor an ideologue, neither a sermoniser nor a nationalist. Like a good fiction writer, he refuses to turn his gaze away from what he sees, even though he is bewildered and shocked by the pain human beings, in their frenzy of small claims and neurotic resentments are willing to inflict on each other. The best of his partition stories surprise one by bringing together, in darkly illuminating moments of existential understanding, terrible violence and the beauty of the human yearning for sex, children, home and community which refuses to yield its instinctual energy to the death-traps religious fanaticism and extremist politics lay for us. It is, therefore, important to translate his stories with care in order to reveal how they are constructed out of a complex variety of strong voices -- voices of protest and anguish, mockery and nostalgia, mourning and longing -- voices which clash against each other and jostle for a hearing. Khalid Hasan's translation, unfortunately, is much too weak and sentimental, partisan and censorious to show us why Manto is the kind of witness whose work may help us understand our shattered past.