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Book Review- Sadat Hasan Manto’s Mottled Dawn

Winters bring some sort of somberness in the air. Perhaps it asks you to slow down and this winter I decided to indulge in a book that is melancholic, dark and crisp. This book asks questions but it gives no answers.

It is about looking at this brutal world from a writer’s perspective. A world where women are not safe, mistrust prevails, people kill in the name of religion. Interestingly, this book was written before India became a free country but the stories look so real and true even 72 years later. The writer Manto was a colonial Indian and Pakistani writer, and author born in Ludhiana, India. Saadat Hasan Manto was posthumously awarded the Nishan-e-Imtiaz award (Distinguished Service to Pakistan Award) by the Government of Pakistan. Though he had many trials in the court for obscene writing and it was only after he died, the country gave him the acknowledgement he deserved.
What is it about– Mottled Dawn is about fifty short stories originally written in Urdu by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by journalist Khalid Hassan. The stories are a collection of Manto’s finest and most powerful writing on the tragic partition of the subcontinent. It includes iconic stories like ‘Toba Tek Singh’, ‘Colder than Ice’, and many more. It has a complex and engaging portrait ‘Jinnah Sahib’ These put together to bring to life the most traumatic episode in the history of South Asia.
What to expect– You can have goosebumps reading some of the stories. It will leave you with a strange visual impact that not many writers can give with their words. The conflicted and divided mind of the writer will make you brood sympathy for his characters. As a reader, you can be gasping for breath after reading each story.
I also watched the adapted screenplay of the book by Nandita Das in a movie called Manto, the stories kept haunting me with questions about morality and injustice for days. Usually, the stories narrated on this side of the border are anti-Muslims and on the other side it is anti-Sikh but Manto brings out the evil and inhuman side of a man that exists in every religion and community. Even though with every generation the link to partition is becoming distant, books like these give an unbiased perspective to the Millenials. Manto brings alive the period through simple prose deeply rich in irony. The pointlessness of violence in the name of religion and patriotism simply stands out in each of these 50 sketches.

What I liked– I liked the depth and the feel the writer has given to each story which makes you wonder, if we as a country have progressed? Manto is raw and truthful. These stories are haunting, chilling, and touching. They portray wonderfully both the confusion and the inhuman fervor present at the time of partition.
What could be better– Since it is a modern classic, I will not critique the book about improvisation. This book is best absorbed and not critiqued. Nevertheless, the font spacing in the published book could have been better for the reader!

Recommended for– Not for the faint-hearted, It is a serious book and I recommend it to people who want to absorb the cold winter night in their veins through words.

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