Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Narrative Art of Saadat Hasan Manto by N.S. Tasneem

The Narrative Art of Saadat Hasan Manto

N.S. Tasneem
David Lodge in his New Modes of Writing takes up the Jakobsonian framework, elaborates upon it, and shows that the traditional fiction is metonymic and the modernist fiction is metaphoric. Saadat Hasan Manto’s mode of narration is at times realistic and metonymic whereas at some other times he adopts the metaphoric mode of narration. His choice mostly depends on the subject matter of his short stories. In fact he chooses the metonymic mode when he aims at depicting the outer reality. When he seeks the inner reality he takes recourse to modernist/metaphoric mode.

The subject matter of Manto’s stories reminds the reader of the stories of Guy de Maupassant. But there is an obvious difference in their approach. Maupassant is gleeful while depicting the idiosyncrasies of his characters and at times he makes fun of ethical concepts. Manto, on the other hand, is concerned with the inherent goodness of the so-called fallen people in the contemporary society. In the process he too treads on the moral corns of the bourgeoisie. Admittedly, both of them are not moralists in the strict sense of the term. Still, in my opinion, Manto is not with Maupassant but with D.H. Lawrence.

Like Lawrence, Manto wants to comprehend the reality of life by removing the masks from the faces of the people around him. Again, like Lawrence, Manto is an omniscient narrator but his style makes him a modernist. In his lifetime, Manto was content to be called a writer of new fiction (Naya Adab) or modern fiction (Jadeed Adab). Initially he identified himself with the progressives but later he drifted away from them. He had abhorrence for anything contrived or constructed with an ulterior motive. He was a true artist who loved life in totality. He could not overlook the seamy side of life; rather he revelled in its depiction.

Manto was a born storyteller but he never devised ways and means to project his viewpoint. He was not only seized with a particular aspect of life but was also obsessed with it. In such a state of mind he produced works of art but without straining his nerves about their forms. In reality he was an unconscious artist. As a result he created superb as well as drab stories without being conscious of this fact. In some of his stories like “Tutu” and “Janki” his first person narration and authorial comments produce a jarring note. He attains the stature of a modern storyteller when his narration moves from metonymic to metaphoric, from statement to suggestion.

Manto has the conviction that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. But in actual practice he begins his stories at random, does not bother to adopt the flashback technique, never strives to pinpoint the middle and is most unpredictable about the end. His stories invariably move in a chronological order and the endings are either abrupt as in “Dhuan” (The Smoke), or shocking as in “Khol Do”(Open it), or unexpected as in “Kali Salwar” (The Black Trouser). At times he gives a purposeful jolt to the reader’s mind as in “Toba Tek Singh” and “Sau Candle Power ka Bulb” (A bulb of hundred watts). Whatever may be the case, the endings are never contrived. They no doubt at times appear to be at variance with his mode of straight-forward narration. All the same they represent the nucleus of his stories and have nothing to do with O’ Henry’s twist-in-the-tail mode of narration. -- Re-Markings Vol 15 No. 1 March 2016.
Note: For complete paper contact the Chief Editor, Re-Markings : ghoshnk@hotmail.com

Professor N.S. Tasneem is the recipient of many prestigious awards: Shiromani Sahityakar Puraskar (1995), Sahitya Akademi Award (1999), and the Punjabi Sahitya Ratan Award by the Languages Department, Punjab Government.

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