What is the book about?
This collection contains some of Saadat Hasan Manto's best-known stories set in India and Pakistan during the period of the Partition in the 1940s, about the forgotten, the displaced and the marginalised in both societies. Women, especially prostitutes, feature prominently in this collection of his stories and he writes about them with none of the lasciviousness of the voyeur.
The Dog of Titwal and The Last Salute reveal the mindset of the border security forces of the two countries. There are wonderfully nuanced stories, like A Wet Afternoon and The Blouse, about the stirrings of sexual awareness. Manto's best loved story is the darkly comic Toba Tek Singh, where he speculates on what would happen if India and Pakistan exchanged mental asylum inmates on the basis of religion.
Who is it by?
Manto has been long regarded as one of the most prolific writers of Urdu fiction. His disdain for hypocrisy and his unvarnished depiction of sexuality earning him as many brickbats as admirers.
Translated from the Urdu originals by Khalid Hassan, the stories preserve the combination of irony, intensity and brevity that has come to be recognized as Manto's writerly voice.
Why should I read it?
The charm of the book is as much in the author's intensely human voice as the milieu in which his stories are set – the political climate bears an eerie resemblance to the testy relationship between the two countries today.
An interesting piece of trivia is that the book cover is of a painting by Iqbal Hussain, renowned for his portraiture of prostitutes in Hira Mandi, Lahore, Pakistan, where he lives.
An edited version of the article was published in Culturama's July 2012 Issue.