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The Pity of Partition:
Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide
Ayesha Jalal

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

Hardcover | 2013 | $32.95 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691153629
288 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 26 halftones.
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Ayesha Jalal, Lahore Literary Festival

Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) was an established Urdu short story writer and a rising screenwriter in Bombay at the time of India's partition in 1947, and he is perhaps best known for the short stories he wrote following his migration to Lahore in newly formed Pakistan. Today Manto is an acknowledged master of twentieth-century Urdu literature, and his fiction serves as a lens through which the tragedy of partition is brought sharply into focus. In The Pity of Partition, Manto's life and work serve as a prism to capture the human dimension of sectarian conflict in the final decades and immediate aftermath of the British raj.

Ayesha Jalal draws on Manto's stories, sketches, and essays, as well as a trove of his private letters, to present an intimate history of partition and its devastating toll. Probing the creative tension between literature and history, she charts a new way of reconnecting the histories of individuals, families, and communities in the throes of cataclysmic change. Jalal brings to life the people, locales, and events that inspired Manto's fiction, which is characterized by an eye for detail, a measure of wit and irreverence, and elements of suspense and surprise. In turn, she mines these writings for fresh insights into everyday cosmopolitanism in Bombay and Lahore, the experience and causes of partition, the postcolonial transition, and the advent of the Cold War in South Asia.

The first in-depth look in English at this influential literary figure, The Pity of Partition demonstrates the revelatory power of art in times of great historical rupture.


"Tufts University historian Jalal (Partisans of Allah), a great-niece of Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955), gives readers an intimate, passionate, and insightful portrait of this brilliant but tragic man as he navigated and interpreted the repression, chaos, and violence of the final years of British colonialism and the upheaval of India's 1947 partition. The book follows Manto's life from his rebellious youth and early adulthood translating Victor Hugo and Oscar Wilde in Amritsar, Punjab, to his years as a struggling journalist and film writer in Bombay, where his provocative stories elicited numerous obscenity charges while building his reputation as 'the father of the Urdu short story' and a "'unique literary miracle" destined for immortality,' and his prolific but troubled later years in postpartition Lahore, premature death at 42, and his boisterous funeral, where 'several of Manto's fictional characters were spotted in the crowd.'"--Publishers Weekly

"[A] fine introduction to Manto and his work, and his depiction of partition."--M. A. Orthofer, Complete Review

"Eminent historian Jalal has written a rich, engaging, at times moving account of the life of Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-55), interweaving biography with the tumultuous events of Indian nationalism, the Partition, and early Pakistan. . . . A much-needed study of a pioneering public figure."--Choice

"[S]ome of the finest pictures of Manto, his wife and of his friends embellish this book. Yet, the highlight of Jalal's work is that she has not let her proximity to Manto and his family affect in any way the objectivity that such a study would demand. Her unbiased approach to presenting Manto with his failings and foibles helps a more considered understanding of the writer."--Business Standard

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Prelude: Manto and Partition 1
I Stories 17

  • 1 "Knives, Daggers, and Bullets Cannot Destroy Religion" 19
  • 2 Amritsar Dreams of Revolution 29
  • 3 Bombay: Challenges and Opportunities 55

II Memories 83
  • 1 Remembering Partition 85
  • 2 From Cinema City to Conquering Air Waves 91
  • 3 Living and Walking Bombay 111

III Histories 139
  • 1 Partition: Neither End nor Beginning 141
  • 2 On the Postcolonial Moment 151
  • 3 Pakistan and Uncle Sam's Cold War 187

Epilogue: "A Nail's Debt": Manto Lives On 211
Notes 229
Select Bibliography 245
Index 249


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