Toba Tek Singh : reflects the truth | Sunday Observer

Toba Tek Singh : reflects the truth

13 September, 2020

Author – Saadat Hasan Manto

Edited and translated by Khalid Hasan

Publisher – Penguin Books

Saadat Hasan Manto is the most widely read and the most controversial short story writer in Urdu. He was born on May 11, 1912 at Samrala in Punjab’s Ludhiana district and died in January 1955, in Lahore, several months short of his forty–third birthday. So, he lived in India as well as in Pakistan because of the Partition of India. Saadat Hasan Manto was an extremely versatile writer who engaged in all kinds of literary genres such as journalism, radio–scripting, film, short story, novel, essay and memoir writing. He produced twenty two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, two collections of personal sketches and many scripts for films during his fairly short life. And it is worth noting that some of Manto’s greatest works were produced in the last seven years of his life, a time of great financial and emotional hardship for him.


Toba Tek Singh, this short story collection includes fifteen short stories which dominate his Partition stories. As the blurb of the book suggests, Saadat Hasan Manto’s work has inspired generations of short story writers.

His mastery is best reflected in this Partition narratives and stories that exemplify the power of his prose and his unique, spare style. And some of his most well–known and controversial stories come together in this volume to endorse the author’s declaration: ‘With my stories, I only expose the truth.’

However, one can argue that his stories have no aesthetic value because of the harshness or rawness of the experiences. But otherwise, it is evident that there is an aesthetic value which has emerged from the rawness or harshness of experiences. Most of his stories in this collection testify to this fact.

As he suggests he only exposes the truth or the harsh reality. When we read A woman’s life, the first story in Toba Tek Singh, we are automatically reminded of Martin Wickramasinghe’s short story Gehaniyak (ගැහැනියක්) which also depicts the terrible reality of a poor woman’s life. The slight difference of Manto’s story is that his protagonist is not a defeated, but a strong character despite her destitute state.

Not cool

His stories are not cool, but are on fire or in flames. Therefore, a reader cannot enjoy the stories without burning from that reality. Sometimes, it is so much burned that it is hard to believe the shocking events he describes, they are so unbearable. The short story titled ‘The girl from Delhi’ exemplifies this fact.

The protagonist of it is much sought after beautiful girl named Nasim Akhtar from Delhi’s ‘Red Light’ quarter. When the religious killing continues, Nasim suggests to her old mother who is also in the Hira Mandi, their specific place at the ‘Red Light’ area, that they should leave India (Delhi) to Pakistan. But she refused to go, saying “All your admirers and regulars are Hindus, don’t you forget?”

Actually, they are not just women of easy virtue. They perform dancing apart from their customary trade.. Their musician is an old man named Ustad Achhan Kahn who also lives in this ‘Red Light’ quarter. However, one day religious killings broke out and Hindu gangs with all kinds of arms came after Muslims in the ‘Red Light’ area . Nasim Akthar pleaded with her mother to leave, but she refused. Finally, Nasim Akthar left the ‘Red Light’ for Lahore along with her old music companiom Ustad Achhan Kahn. But later Achhan Kahn left for another Hira Mandi or Kotha because Nasim settles down in Lahore in a rented house and wants to marry and spend a normal life. In the meantime, she is joined by an old woman named Jannatey who fetches a man to marry her. Nasim got married to him, but the next day she overhears that this man is a fraud who is going to sell her to two old courtesans from Hira Mandi.

Shocking end

Jannatey is the mediator in the business. The short story has a shocking ending which is given below. “Nasim Akhtar rushed into her bedroom, tears running down her cheeks. She cried for a long time, then she dried her eyes and unpacked the clothes she had brought with her from Delhi, the ones she had been wearing that last evening, and quietly walked out of the house, making straight for the Kotha where Ustan Achhan Khan was employed.” This story exemplifies his declaration: “With my stories, I only expose the truth.” Reality is more shocking than fiction.

In his fiction, he does not care about the aesthetic elements of a story, but aims to portray the harsh reality as much as possible. Saadat Hasan Manto has a huge store of stories behind him. He does not balance the story with dialogue, but continues to describe events without dialogue all along the way.

Readers feel the author’s frustration with society and feels the fast pace of the story which too resonates with the author’s heartbeat. In the end, the reader has to admit that he is not living in a society that he sees it from the outside, but it is a society that is too cruel and barbaric.

Great story

The Dog of Titwal, another great story in this collection, showing the stupidity of the war between India and Pakistan in a simple story. The soldiers of two sides have been entrenched in their respective sides for several weeks in the frontline of the war zone.

A dog comes towards the Indian soldiers. It is befriended by them and they give it crackers to eat and name him ‘Jhun Jhun’ and tie a collar around its neck with that name. The next day the dog walked off to the opposite side where Pakistani soldiers had established their positions. The dog is befriended by them too and enjoys their food.


But when they found its collar with the name, they decide “it is an Indian dog.” So, in order to counter attack, they tie a cardboard with the name of ‘Shun Shun’ which is a Pakistani one around its neck and expel the dog towards the Indian lines. When Harnam Singh, an Indian frontline soldier sees the dog with something around his neck running towards them from the direction of the Pakistani lines, he picks up his rifle and fires. Hearing the sudden sound, the dog starts running towards the Pakistani side. But they also start to fire and it has no way to flee. At times the dog runs towards the Indian lines and the next time it runs towards the Pakistani ones. Finally, the dog catches a bullet. The short story ends like this: Subedar Himmat Khan sighed, “The poor bugger has been martyred.” Jamadar Harnam Singh ran his hand over the still-hot barrel of his rifle and muttered, “He died a dog’s death.” This is non-other than the fate of the common people who were caught amidst the war. One can definitely categorise Saadat Hasan Manto as a master story teller just by this story alone.