Manto’s prescience trough letters to Uncle Sam | By Sultan M Hali

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Manto’s prescience trough letters to Uncle Sam


MAY 11 was the birth anniversary of famous writer, playwright and author Saadat Hasan Manto, whose best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics.

He met his Maker in 1955 but his sensitive mind was cognizant of Pakistan’s leanings towards the USA through the security pacts of SEATO and CENTO.

Manto pointed out the pitfalls of getting too close to the US through a series of nine letters, written between 1951 and 1954, which he addressed to Uncle Sam (USA).

Manto was probably the first observer who oversaw America’s disastrous foreign policy in various parts of Muslim world in the 1950s and 1960s leading right up to the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan of assisting Islamic fundamentalists against threat of rising communists and secular-nationalists.

These nine letters provide an excellent critique of Pakistan’s foreign policy formulation and American aims and objectives in entering into this bilateral relationship, where Manto’s prescience enabled him to prophesize that it will evolve into a patron-client relationship.

In Manto’s first letter dated 16 December 1951, Manto introduces himself by saying, “My country is Pakistan, which is poor.

You will ask why my country is poor when so many Packards, Buicks and Max Factors reach it from your country.”

He writes that “My country’s population which rides these Packards and Buicks is not my country; my country is that where I and those worse than myself live.”

In the second letter Manto, using Pakistan as an example, points to the dependency factor in American alliances with third world countries against the emerging Communist threat.

The third letter dated 15 March 1954 mentions that beauty has fled from this country and comments that while women have come out of veil but looking at them he realizes that it was better for them to be behind the veil as the new fashion of Max Factor has made them even uglier.

Manto also decries open public urination in Pakistan and also about the ill practice of many mullah types who in broad public view, use a stone after urination to absorb the after drops of urine.

Manto goes on to criticize the US for the destruction and havoc it has wreaked in Hiroshima and Nagasaki then he requests Uncle Sam to give him a “tiny atom bomb” to kill the mullahs and the stone they use to publicly clean themselves.

The fourth letter dated 21 February 1954, talks about the military aid from America. He writes, “Regardless of India and the fuss it is making, you must sign a military pact with Pakistan because you are seriously concerned about the stability of the world’s largest Islamic state since our mullah is the best antidote to Russian communism.

Once military aid starts flowing, the first people you should arm are these mullahs. They would also need American-made rosaries and prayer-mats, not to forget small stones to be used after urination.

That should keep these fellows happy and in business”. In the fifth letter Manto commented on the fact that how America is trying to please both India and Pakistan side by side as neither America wants India to align with Russia nor wants to lose Pakistan.

He writes, “You want to see Pakistan free because you love Khyber Pass, which has been used to invade us over the centuries.

The Khyber Pass is indeed a thing of beauty. I mean what else Pakistan has? And India you want to see free because after witnessing what Russia has done to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Korea, you are afraid that the Red Empire may pounce upon India with a hammer and sickle.

If India were to lose its freedom, it would be a great tragedy and I can see that it sends shivers down your spine”.

In the sixth letter he writes that it appears it has been lost. The seventh letter dated 14 April 1954 he continues his emphasis on American war economy.

In keeping with the reports of stagnation in American economy, Manto suggests that Washington should consider going for another war or at least start fueling or supporting one, hinting at the perils of the Military Industrial Complex identified by Dwight Eisenhower.

In his eighth letter, Manto says that in my humble opinion, you should immediately declare Islam as your state religion.

This will result in several benefits. Every married man will be able to take our four wives and if, after exercise of the utmost care, one woman gives birth to four children, each family will produce sixteen children as living proof of the husband’s virility and the wife’s fertility. Just think of the difference these numbers could make at the time of war.

The ninth and the last letter starts with the mention of a ban on drinking in Punjab and how this ban can easily be violated by paying a price of twelve rupees and two annas. The money licenses the drunkards to drink even after prohibition.

He also talks about the ban of liquor in the US that resulted in the growth of gangsters and bootleggers who almost ran a parallel government.

He also mentions that the decision was taken after following some mullahs though the government pleases everyone so they keep both mullahs and the drunkards happy by imposing such rules and at the same time keeping some loopholes in it. Manto’s letters are an eye opener for us.

—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.

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