Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Portrayal of Middle-Class women in the selected short stories of Sadat Hasan Manto


Sadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) an iconic Urdu writer. He is the forerunner of bringing realism and ordinary character in his short stories. He is known for his craft for bringing realism in his short stories. Sadat is known for his candid writing. In this paper, an attempt has been made to study the middle-class women characters portrayed by Manto in the selected stories. These women belong to different class and status and each one is different from the other.

They challenged the gender roles and norms set by society. Keiki Dharuwala writes “Manto rose to fame due to the brilliance, the uniqueness of his vision and the controversial nature of his writing. The Indian middle class, ever prone to a mix of prudishness and hypocrisy in the thirties and forties was shocked out of its wits. And Manto, of course, revealed in whatever shocked them, be it “obscenity” or sudden violence, or the dramatic and brutal manner with which he unmasked hypocrisy” (Dharuwala 1996:118).
Sukrita Paul Kumar writes about Manto’s women characters,
“In a number of Manto’s stories, there is an impending sense of immediacy with which one confronts a totally degenerate society, a world of enslaved women, of women commodified and consumed in accordance with the unquestioned fact of male sexual need and the principle of supply and demand. Indeed, one does not have to be a woman writer to creep into the inner terrain of the psyche of the oppressed or the exploited female” ( Kumar1996:155).

Middle-class women of any caste, class or religion have a lot to say about her, convey about her self. Herself is not identified by the society. In the present paper, the life of different characters has been taken and portrayed. In ‘Ten Rupees‘ the character of carefree teenager girl was depicted by Manto. The story harps on the dingy life and need for survival is highlighted. Charu Gidwani writes, “The stories, written with a conviction that is the true mark of an honest writer, are peopled by ordinary citizens”( Gidwani2013:1)

Afreen Faiyaz writes in ‘The Satanic Urges An Analysis of Radical Evil besetting the Short Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto’
“He was an iconoclast with such a ferocious sense of realism that he minced no words, draped no expression and concealed no thought that germinated in his mind from the seeds of evil so precariously scattered all around him”(Faiyaz2013:1).

The stories under discussion are as follows:

Ten Rupees

This story revolves around Sarita, a teenager girl of fifteen years. She lives in a chawl in Mumbai. She has her childish joy, Manto writes, “playing with the little girls, utterly carefree”( Manto2008:23).Sarita is the only source of income to her mother. She has been pushed into the profession of prostitution by her mother. In the present story the story doesn’t focus in this trade but it moves into the girl psyche where the girl is not aware of its repercussion and doesn’t know what she is actually doing this job. Sarita has a fascination for cars. She wants to move out because of her charm for cars.

“In chawl , virtually everyone knew that Sarita’s mother had sent her younger daughter into prostitution… Even Sarita’s mother hides all this by repeating.., “ My daughter’s an innocent; she knows nothing of this world”( Manto2008:25).

The fight between women in chawl has been narrated by an anecdote. This also slightly hinted the undercurrent activities going in the chawl. “The spats between Tukaram’s wife and Sarita’s mother never lasted long. . . they knew each other’s secret and decided not to reveal it to anyone”( Manto2008:26). In this way, the undercurrent of middle –class lifestyles is hinted.

She is excited for her joy ride in the car with the strangers comfortably. For her, the joy of ride is more important than the company. “Sarita is happy to hear that she will go for ride. Sarita was very happy to hear that rich men with motor cars had come for her, granted she was more interested in motor cars than in the rich men who drove them” ( Manto2008:27).
Sarita has been living the life of a middle-class member of society. “There is also a routine life which depicted candidly the middle-class responsibilities. Sarita filled buckets of water and took them inside, every evening she filled the lamp with one paisa’s worth of oil”( Manto2008:29).
The innocence of Sarita is clearly seen “She might even believe that man like Kishori came to all the other girl’s houses, too. And what happened on Worli’s cold benches and Juhu wet benches perhaps happened to all other girls as well”( Manto2008:29).

It shows that by this line Manto clearly talks about the natural inclination of human nature where making love outside social orbit is known and accepted. He always depicts the realities of Mumbai lifestyle where people are making money by this trade.
She was a freak. “She didn’t like to be confined to the four walls of hotels rooms. . .” (Manto2008:30).

There is the independence of nature in her when the strange man Shaheb pinched Sarita’s thigh. She gently twisted Anwar ears. She sings in the car, plays on the beach. She poured the soft drinks for her guests with pleasure. She entertained three men with her song and laughter. The story reveals how she was taken by visitors to entertain them but she enjoyed on her own. When the ride was over they gave her a ten-rupee note. She declined it and returns it back. Aatish Taseer writes in Introduction of the Selected Short Stories,” Sarita loves cars so much that her dealings with men become just another occasion for her to ride in a motor car, to feel . . She hardly knows she’s a prostitute”(Taseer2008:XVII).

By doing this action she clarifies the doubt of the visitors who comes to her for pleasure. On the contrary, she had her pleasure by spending her time with them on an excursion. Sarita is the only source of livelihood. She even had no idea she had been earning through her visit Manto satires on our society where the desires of men -women are sold for self fish interests. Afreen Faiyaz: ‘The Satanic Urges An Analysis of Radical Evil besetting the Short Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto’ writes, “ Manto does not reason into their downfall, nor does he lament over their loss of innocence and grace.

He only gives us a glimpse of that humane space which they have vicariously created for themselves in this hell for their sustenance. Most of the characters are condemned to a sordid existence; however, some of them transcend it” (Faiyaz2013:4).

My Name is Radha
The other women character explore in this paper is of Neelam alias Radha in the story My Name is Radha. The title of this story is explicit. In this story, the struggle of an actor has been highlighted. Radha approaches towards life. She is a girl from a small town. She comes down to Mumbai in search of her career in film. The male chauvinism has been hinted through the character of her fellow actor Rajkishore. He is famous for his kindness and generosity. “The problem was that he, Kishore that is, was only too aware of his good looks and physique, public knew that Raj Kishore was a man of moral fibre”(Manto2008:70).

Raj Kishore seems to be a dutiful son who fulfils his duties towards his stepmother. Manto seems to raise a very stormy question in this story through the character of Rajkishore and Radha. Rajkishore though belong to glamour world referred all his co-actor as ‘sister’. This may be he feels like a universal brotherhood. Manto sums up, “ A brother and sister’s relationship was something apart, why call all women your sisters as if you were putting up a “Road Closed” or the other thought which is more strong that is “ If you weren’t planning on having a sexual relationship with a woman, why make an announcement”( Manto2008:72). Radha has taken up a new profession where everything is unreal. She has taken up a new name and a new identity. She is now known as Neelam. She dropped that name and says “ It is such a pretty name that I wouldn’t want it to end up in a film”( Manto2008:74).

She belongs to Banaras, her mother, a prostitute. She wanted to earn for her living in Bombay by becoming a star. She doesn’t want to follow her mother’s profession and want a respectful life.
She has been concerned about her image. She has a voice of her own. She senses the reactions of others. The whole connotation of wearing tight clothes was believed to be bad by Neelam. She blurted out to director, “ If these are clothes, I might as well walk naked with you onto the sets”( Manto2008:75). This is much thought-provoking remark where we can sense that this girl is very mature and knows about the world around her.

Neealm is an absolute wonder with her life in flim city and people around her. Neelam shunned Raj not to call her sister. Even this thing catches like a wildfire. She declared, “Raj Saab, please Don’t address me as a sister. She left with this without anything heard. . .” (Manto2008:82). It created havoc as people says, “ have a ‘dirty mind’ otherwise who could take offence at Raj Bahi calling them ‘sister’”( Manto2008:82). Things became bitter for Neelam when Raj reaches to her place with his wife on Rakhi and would like celebrate that occasion with her. Neelam felt meek and aghast at this time and tied Rakhi on his wrist. Raj forgot his bag at her place in this ‘hullabaloo‘.

After two-three days when he comes back to take up his bag Neelam lost her peace of mind she said to narrator, “ I caught him and began fighting him. . .” I don’t know why or for what reason, but I attacked him. . . I was shrieking; he was groaning”( Manto2008:89). Finally, she tears his Kurta and looked at his body. She had taken a stance and kissed him. “My blood and lipstick had left vile, almost flora bruises on his beautiful body. . . I was suffocated”( Manto2008:90).

In this way, she has shown her womanhood by attacking him boldly in the patriarchal world where she is in the pedestal and challenging the custom of Rakhi too. At last, she said only this . . ., “Saadat, my name is Radha’(Manto2008:90). Life comes to a full circle for her she wants a name for herself. She wants to relate to her real self, not the fake name or fake life. These concluding lines of the short story also hinted that she a postmodernist woman who wants to explicit herself. Keki Dharuwala writes for the characterization of Manto ,

“ The characters that peppered his stories were out of the ordinary, often coming from the detritus of society. The whore, the pimp, the street bully jostled for a place with those who fought for freedom. (Dharuwala1996:119)
Afreen Faiyaz writes, “Neelam in My Name is Radha is an example of evil of lust overpowering the modesty in women. Pouncing on Raj Kishore and reducing him to a whimpering coward, she turns into demon herself” (Faiyaz2013:3).
This story harks on the patriarchal society, where vocation for women are restricted and stereotypically designed. In this story, Abu a young coachman is known for his style and people wanted to hire his coach. He has an extravagant lifestyle. Abu has fallen in love with sixteen-year-old Nesti, a cobble daughter who decided to marry him. She has not taken the consent of her parents before their marriage. It hinted that she is a young and confident girl who can make her own decisions. She makes the crucial decision about her marriage. She even surpasses the class difference between them. After two months Abu was arrested by police “ a kidnapping case was registered against him” (Manto 2008:105). Nesti stood by Abu. He was imprisonment for two years. Nesti destiny was to face many blows. Abu suffered from T.B.(tuberculosis) an incurable disease of that time. When Abu come to know about it he felt guilty that he wasted life of Nesti, “If I had known I was going to die so young, I swear on the one, omnipresent God, I wouldn’t have made you my wife. I‘ve done you a great injustice’(Manto2008:106).

Nesti has been betrayed by God with the death of her husband. Man around her would like to take advantage of her. Dino, Abu’s friend wants to marry her . When she declined his offer he stop paying for the coach, the only source of income she handed over to another coachmen and same thing happened.” He really broke all boundaries, arriving completely drunk one night to give her the money, and making a grab for her as soon as he walked the door”( Manto2008:108).

Nesti does not know what to do, “What if I were to drive the coach myself” (Manto2008:107). She has taken a very bold step. She decided to be a first coachwoman in her locality. She was forced by her circumstances to take such a step she wants her own hold, she wants herself aloof from this maniac who wants to control over her body in name of taking coach. It was a very difficult decision for her. Society will not agree. People will talk about her. She has her own argument, “what’s the harm? Do women not toil and do manual labour? Here working in there in office, thousand working at home , you have to fill your stomach one way or the other “(Manto2008:108).In this story all the decision are taken by Nesti nobody was there to correct her or rectify her she was not told by anyone about the procedure of obtaining License. She herself was ignorant about it.
Nesti tossed about the idea and finally decided to do it. Manto writes, “She was confident she could”( Manto2008:108). Patriarchy seems hurt by that decision. “When she began harnessing the horse to the carriage, the other coachmen were stupefied, some thought it was a joke and roared with laughter “(Manto2008:108). The older coachmen tried to convince her saying, ”It was unseemly”( Manto2008:108).

Even she has shown her excellence in handling the carriage. “The coachmen were stunned by Nesti’s dexterity; she handled the carriage expertly”( Manto2008:108). Even her job was not an easy one. It shows for a women worker her path is not smooth. On the contrary, the attitude of the passengers is also absurd some passengers “would make her go aimlessly from pillar to post, sometimes cracking dirty jokes in the back. They spoke to her just to hear the sound of her voice”( Manto2008:109). Though to an extreme, she faces all this odd with her patience and peace of mind.
All her goodness and earning came to halt when the municipal committee officer called her in and revokes her license. The argument between them she was not allowed to drive coach being a woman. The question asked by Nesti is a question being asked from patriarchy to a woman who is defying the norms of the society, Nesti retorts, “Why can’t women drive coach? (Manto2008:109) the answers come cynically, ”Your license is revoked” The argument by Nesti for her honour living seems to stump on the face of male domain vocation. Her work is a work of dignity and hard labour. She asked to the officer,
“Why women can’t drive coaches. Women can grind mills and fill their stomach. woman can carry rubble in basket on their headed and make a living. woman can work in mines, sifting through pieces of coal to earn their daily bread. Why can’t I drive a coach? I know nothing else. . . . She pleads with the officer not to do that and snatch her only means of livelihood. “Why do you stop me from hard, honest labour”?( Manto2008:109)

Even the officer suggested to her that she should obtain a license to sale her body. This hinted the derogatory thinking of male members of society.”Go to bazaar and find yourself a spot .You’re sure to make meore that way”( Manto2008:109). Sukrita Paul Kumar ‘ Surfacing from Within: Fallen Women in Manto’s Fiction’writes,
“In a number of Manto’s stories, there is an impending sense of immediacy with which one confronts a totally degenerate society, a world of enslaved women, of women commodified and consumed in accordance with the unquestioned fact of male sexual need and the principle of supply and demand. Indeed, one does not have to be a woman writer to creep into the inner terrain of the psyche of the oppressed or the exploited female” (Kumar1996:155).

This makes Nesti broken and detached from the society. Nesti achieved identity has been snatched from the ascribed identity prescribed by society. The burden of social values and written roles played havoc on their chosen vocations. Her bold and conflict step was not liked by society. The patriarchal head even direct her and push her into brothel. Even she gets depressed with the whole issue and said in a sad tone, “Abu your Nesti died today in the committee office” (Manto2008:110). She bowed in the last what society has decided for her. “She was given a license to sell her body” (Manto2008:110).

Nesti has struggled got her vocation she wants to do an honour labour. Patriarchal society not only snatched her vocation her role as a coachwoman but pushed her in the filth of unrespectable job. Afreen Faiyaz writes, “ License is a distressing story of a morally sound woman, who in the face of challenges is willing to uphold her chastity and fidelity to her husband’s memories. But the evil eyes of people do not allow her to live respectfully in the society as she is forced to give up her driving license for harlotry. Manto’s disdain for the society is clear where a woman cannot honestly labour and earn a livelihood by any other means except selling herself” (Faiyaz2013:9).

The reason being is all the women explored in this paper are young and full of enthusiasm. So they have taken the bold step in their respective career or life on their own. They do not bother about the societal reaction. Sukrita Paul Kumar writes, “women who are made to sell their virtue in the market to become castaways. They live in an infernal underworld, invisible to the respectable society which pretends ignorance of its existence. Ironically,
not only has it produced this world, it also provides it full sustenance “(Kumar1996:156).

All these women are different from each other but one thing is common among them that they have raised their voice. They have not accepted the specified roles granted to them by the society, manto crave these characters from our society they are very real people.


Manto,Sadat Hasan. 2008.Manto Selected Short Stories.Translated by Aatish Taseer ,Noida:Random House Publishers India Private Limited.
Daruwalla,N.Keki.1996. ‘The Craft of Manto: Warts and All Keki. N.Daruwalla in The Aunnual of Urdu Studies.Vol 11,1996.pp117-128.
Kumar ,Sukrita Paul.1996. ‘ Surfacing from Within:Fallen Women in Manto’s Fiction’in The Annual of Urdu Studies.Vol 11,1996. Pp155-162.
Faiyaz , Afreen .2013 ‘An Analysis of Radical Evil besetting the Short Stories of Saadat Hasan Manto’ in Muse India .Issue 51: Sep-Oct 2013. Date of access 10 Feb.,2014.
Gidwani, Charu.2013 ‘MAnto’s Burden of Pain’in Muse India .Issue 51: Sep-Oct 2013. Date of access 10 Feb.,2014.

Rakhi is also known as Raksha Bandna it is a Hindu festival that celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters; the festival is also popularly used to celebrate any brother-sister like loving protective relationship between men and women who are relatives or biologically unrelated.

Kurta :The word “kurta” is a borrowing from Hindustani,[1] and originally from Persian (literally, “a collarless shirt”)[2] and was first used in English in the 20th century.[3]
Kurta is a piece of clothing worn by males, it is usually worn for fashion, tradition and culture. As the Thawb is encouraged to be worn in Saudi Arabia, Pakistani and Indian expatriates rather prefer to wear the Kurta as a close and same version to the Arab clothing.

Dr. Krati Sharma working is an Assistant Professor in Dept of English in JECRC UDML College of Engg., Jaipur., 9782885912. Her area of interest is Indian writing in English, Autobiographies, Short stories and English Language teaching. She has been teaching English for ten years. She is associated with ELTAI Jaipur, Chapter. She is contributing editor of ELTWeekly. She has published articles in journals, book reviews and chapters for edited anthologies

Editorial Team of Indian Ruminations.


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