Bitter Fruit by Saadat Hassan Manto- A Book Review

Bitter Fruit: The Best of Saadat Hassan Manto
Edited and Translated by Khalid Hassan
Penguin Books

This anthology aims to bring to the reader the best of the works of Saadat Hassan Manto, the noted and mostly controversial Urdu writer who has not had a peer in terms of quality and prolific writing.

Considered a ‘bete noire’ of his time, he constantly challenged the false morality of the so-called civilised middle-class. About his writings, he often commented,”If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth”.

Born in 1912 in British India, he spent his formative years in Amritsar in Punjab. By the age of 24, he had produced his first collection of short stories. He worked as a scriptwriter for many successful and well-known films in Bombay. After that, he moved to Delhi and worked for the All India Radio, marking the beginning of a very productive period of his life. He moved to Lahore in 1948 after the partition of the country. He died of liver cirrhosis at the age of 42 in the year 1955.

The trauma of partition was etched deeply in his subconscious and it shows in the short stories he wrote subsequently. He exposes the mindless violence and the debasement of man in these trying times.

In this anthology,the short stories talk predominantly of partition. For the readers of our generation, the partition of the country does not evoke very painful memories or touch wounds. It is a secondhand experience, read-about and heard-about. Still, the images in the stories are stark and the characters haunt the minds of the readers. The brutality sears the consciousness. The short stories shock and it is easy to see why the morality of the middle class was offended. If they shock today, in his time they must have opened festering wounds.

The book includes diverse writing styles and the sketckes of people are equally riveting. One is thankful to the editors for including his plays. The essays help the reader to understand the persona of Manto through the eyes and words of those who knew him.

The translator has done a beautiful job of capturing the nuances of Urdu language.

All in all, it is a must read for understanding the psyche of the Indian subcontinent.

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