We are so lost in our preconceived notions that we sometimes overlook the beauty that some see almost instantly. Manto was our hero. And we were kind enough to not see it until way after his demise.
He wrote about sex, red taping, the unfair migration, the battle and feuds of race and religion, the power dynamics of prostitutes and the men seeking their services, about the relationship of a rape victim with her father, the battles between the neighbor’s wife and your wife. And he put it all out together in the shape of MantoNama. It was hated, it was loved, it was banned, it was glorified, it is now a feature of school plays, the subject of movies, there being 2 biopics on him, it is also a constant source of great Urdu literature whose fire we have clearly forgotten amidst our need to be modern and more current.
Manto was forgotten, period. But, then two movies in a row aimed to change that. If you haven’t seen Sarmad Khoosat’s Manto, what are you even doing with your art life? And then came NawazudDin Siddiqui’s Manto, from across the border, which just happens to be a much more rightwing-orientation country, very few leftist values out in circulation, and yet they were successful in accepting the fact that Manto cried night in, night out, ‘Manto Aik Insaan Hai.’
So for me, the person who saw beauty before me was the one who found this, for him it was Raftaar who made the song and for Raftaar it was NawazudDin Siddiqui and Manto. And hereon, I extend the love to you, spread the word that our yester-hero is all the reason more why we need freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Why literature is a constant support for the many art forms that it inspires as backstory and the several versions of the works as well as the artist that it generates and gives life to.
The song talks about Sex. Which is not shameful. It talks about our broken cultural identity that is split between using cuss words like fuck as cool and acceptable, and chutiya or any other offensive counterpart as gore and lame, It talks about Red Taping in police and politics, it talks about the misguided notion to stay hush when you should be screaming no. It is the kind of social commentary that only Manto could have sprung. And Raftaar proves that art is above borders and history.
The song gives the right amount of song time to the subject of Slut Shaming, calling women who won’t put out whores, and those who do girlfriends. It targets the male soft nerve that is the most fragile thing that history has ever witnessed, their Mardaangi. It challenges and asks what does it mean to be a mard.
The video quotes NawazudDin as Manto, excerpts from the movie that say powerful dialogues, that are just the right amount of juxtaposition of truth versus who is willing to hear it. The society is naked and ugly, I don’t have to cover it up, says Manto, and he further breaks down the silence by saying that if Manto’s work is intolerable, the society is intolerable. Because the work is a mirror to what goes on in society.
And the moment Raftaar steals the show is when he says, that its been 60+ years since independence, that translates to 60+ Years since Manto, and the truth still doesn’t sell. But, he still aspires to be more like him.
And that I think is beautiful.