Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) was a prolific writer of Urdu short story. He was a journalist, literary critic, screenplay writer, play writer, and a keen observer of the society in which he lived. He is inarguably one of the most read authors in Urdu prose literature even today. Manto’s stories are often criticized for sexuality in them, but as Manto himself had said “if you find my stories dirty, the society you are living is dirty. With my stories, I expose only truth.”
“Khol Do” is one of the most famous and controversial stories of Manto. It is one of the masterpiece depicting the effects of violence during the partition of India on the people of the land. But unlike many others, Manto does not see the perpetrators as Hindu or Muslim, Hindustanis or Pakistanis, he just sees and depicts them as human beings with all their wilderness and barbarity.
“Khol Do” is basically a story of a father ‘Sirajuddin’ who had to left India during the partition days. Story starts with Sirajuddin finding himself on the railway platform of Mughalpura, Lahore. After the dreadful journey from Amritsar to Lahore in which hundreds were killed and injured and lost and raped, he just lay down for hours on the platform of Mughalpura. He wakes up from his unconsciousness only to find that his wife and daughter are not with him. As he is still in daze, the image of his wife, about to die, with ripped open stomach comes in front of his eyes, just telling him to leave her alone and run away with Sakina, his daughter. And then suddenly he realizes that Sakina is not with him, nowhere.
Sakina, his daughter, the daughter whom he cared for too much, that he could not even leave her dupattta there in all that chaos when it slipped off her shoulders. He still finds the dupatta in his pocket, but where is Sakina…??? He tries to find her everywhere, still couldn’t find her and finally thinks he should ask someone for help.
After a few days, he finds that some young boys are doing a great job of bringing back the daughters and women remained on that side of the border. With a new ray of hope to see his daughter, he gives her description to those boys. “She is fair, very pretty. No, she doesn’t look like me, but her mother. About seventeen. Big eyes,black hair, a mole on the left cheek. Find my daughter. May God bless you.” Sirajuddin prays daily for their success and after a few days they find out Sakina…
Here we can see the vision and capability of Manto to see the naked truth. Those boys were out to find out Sakina and they have now found her… She was the daughter of their land, from their side of border. She had already gone through a lot. The boys behave very kindly to her and make her feel at ease but they tell nothing about her to her father even when he asks about it. Manto tells nothing about what is done to her, what the boys do… Only when Sirajuddin asks them about her, they just say “we will find her soon, we will!” and Sirajuddin just pray for their success…
And a few days later, people find a female body, half dead, near the railway track. In hopes of finding Sakina, Sirajuddin goes behind them to the hospital. The last portion of the story is worth to read in original. It is the most shocking part of the story and perhaps the most shocking piece of prose ever written. I have never read such thing in my life and even now when I read it, for Nth number of time, I find it similarly shocking. I am going to end this post with that part as I won’t be able to write anything after it. The end goes like:
He stood outside the hospital for some time, then went in. In one of the rooms, he found a stretcher with some-one lying on it.
A light was switched on. It was a young woman with a mole on her left cheek. “Sakina,” Sirajuddin screamed.
The doctor, who had switched on the light, stared at Sirajuddin.
“I am her father,” he stammered.The doctor looked at the prostrate body and felt for the pulse. Then he said to the old man: “Open the window.”
The young woman on the stretcher moved slightly. Her hands groped for the cord which kept her salwar tied around her waist. With painful slowness, she unfastened it, pulled the garment down and opened her thighs.
“She is alive. My daughter is alive,” Sirajuddin shouted with joy.
The doctor broke into a cold sweat.
Shocked… to think of what would have happened to a girl of 17, who just hearing “Khol do” opens down her salwar in spontaneous reflex… shocked with the the capacity of Manto to see, perceive, and depict the truth as naked as it is… Shocked with the courage of a writer to write such a self-critical thing (those boys were on his side of the border)… And the government charged Saadat Hasan Manto for the charges of pornography…