Toba Tek Singh portrays humans ongoing quest that nobody really likes to talk about but Manto via his stories made us believe that we are sane, it is the world who is crazy.
Manto’s Bishan Singh is someone like you and me. He is broken but not beaten, confounded yet committed and neither the society wants him nor are they kind towards him. Bishan Singh is a common man who is hurt and tired but is looking for answers to his questions. He looses his cool and snaps back, “Upar di gur gur di annexe di bedhiyana di moong di daal of di Pakistan and Hindustan of di durr phitey mun”. (Which roughly translates into, “The inattention of the annexe of the rumbling upstairs of the dal of moong of the Pakistan and India of the go to bloody hell!”)
Saadat Hassan Manto, who is worldly known as Manto, was way ahead of his time. If he were alive today, he would probably write his story, Toba Tek Singh again, word for word.
Manto was a free-minded writer. He never wrote to impress, he had predicted where the world would go and thus wrote about a place that cracked and shifted till hatred congealed into a chronic state of suspicion between two new “free” nations.
Manto wrote the history of the new world, the horrors, the unheard thoughts, the war cries and so much more. Manto is not only celebrated for his diverse work but for his explicit storylines that embodied the realities that we as a society could never accept. In another one of his masterpiece, “Khol Do”, he narrates the story of a girl who is raped so often that she pulls down her salwar and spreads her legs like a zombie even when it is her distraught father who has come to see her. When the two countries were busy writing stories about soldiers, praising Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah for their work, Manto was writing stories that still send chills down our spines.
What is Toba Tek Singh?
Toba Tek Singh is a city and tehsil (district) in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The history of Toba Tek Singh is traced to a person named, Tek Singh, who used to help travellers and passersby who frequented the area, given that it was situated at a point where many routes met.
Why Toba Tek Singh?
Nobody knows why Manto chose this city for his piece but it explains how he was not affected by the glamour of metropolises like Lahore. Bishan Singh is the central character of this story who is not in his sanity and is being transferred from Pakistan’s mental asylum to India’s mental asylum because of his turban. Bishan Singh who is a lot more like the ordinary man of present India, who keeps asking everyone, “Where is Pakistan?” and nobody answers him. He is confused, frustrated and angry but no one in that asylum knows where Pakistan actually is which makes him even more furious.
Nationalism or Jingoism?
“One day a Muslim lunatic, while taking his bath, raised the slogan ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ with such enthusiasm that he lost his footing and was later found lying on the floor unconscious.”
Manto guessed it right, again. Toba Tek Singh not only covers the uncertainty of Bishan Singh but it also hints the new nationalism that turns the call of protesting and asking for rights into jingoism.
“Not all inmates were mad. Some were perfectly normal, except that they were murderers… They probably had a vague idea why India was being divided and what Pakistan was, but, as for the present situation, they were equally clueless.” Bishan Singh asks a guard, “Where is Toba Tek Singh?” The guard says “…where it has always been.” Bishan Singh persists: “But in India or Pakistan?” The sane guard knows as little as Bishan Singh. “In India… no, in Pakistan.”
If Saadat Hasan Manto could return to Wagah today, he would find that his dream of a place where people live like people, not members of a religion or caste, remains a dream still.