The US interest in Sadat Hasan Manto, the famous writer, has a background. Manto once ridiculed theUSSR. This invoked US interest in Manto. The Americans must have thought they could recruit Manto on their side in the cultural Cold War.
It all took place in 1951. TheUnited States, in a bid to increase its influence in Pakistan after the refusal byPakistanto send troops to Korea, had begun to find sympathisers inPakistan’s political, social and literary circles.
An air-conditioned USIS (United States Information Service) library was set up on Lahore’s The Mall.
A US official, Mr. Smith, along with a Pakistani USIS staffer, arrived at Manto’s flat one day. Smith requested Manto to write something for the USIS. Manto replied that he was an Urdu writer and did not write in English. Smith said the articles would be published in Urdu. Manto replied he would only write what he wished to write. Smith had no problem with that. On the question of money, Smith said the USIS would pay Rs 500 per piece. Manto refused point-blank, insisting he would take no more than Rs 200. In the end, a compromise was struck at Rs 300.
A few days later, Manto made a lively entry at the USIS. He handed down an envelope. It was passed on to Mr. Withus, the senior officer at the USIS was flabbergasted. The envelope had Manto’s ‘First letter to Uncle Sam’. In his first letter, Manto begins with a note of rancour over the absurdity of the Partition, development in post-colonial Pakistan and US role in these affairs:
My name is Saadat Hasan Manto and I was born in a place that is now in India… My country now is Pakistan which I had only seen five or six times before as a British subject. I used to be the All India’s Great Short Story Writer. Now I am Pakistan’s Great Short Story Writer. Several collections of my stories have been published and the people respect me. In undivided India, I was tried thrice, in Pakistan so far once. But then Pakistan is still young… My country is poor, but is it ignorant? I am sure, Uncle, you know why – you and your brother John Bull together are a subject I do not want to touch because it will not be exactly music to your ears.
Manto dropped in a few days later and asked if he should bring another article. He was told by the USIS staff to allow time for the first one to appear. He never asked for money, nor did he enquire about the first article.
This second one was another letter to Uncle Sam. The second letter was lighter in tone whereby Manto narrated — twisting the incident Manto-style — his meeting with the USIS staffer that provided the spur for these letters:
I wanted to tell you that the gentleman who came to see me, who belonged to your Consulate here, wanted me to write a story for him. I was taken aback because I do not write in English, so I said to him, ‘Sir! I am an Urdu writer. I do not know how to write in English.’ We need the story in Urdu because we have a journal that is published in the Urdu language,’ he replied… This gentleman who asked me for the story wanted to know how much I would charge for it. Uncle, it is possible that you lie and you actually do — having turned it into an art — but I do not know how to. That day, however, I did lie. ‘I will charge two hundred rupees for my story.’ The truth is that most publishers here pay me forty or fifty rupees a story.
Manto never made the third visit to USIS. Neither was he ever contacted by the USIS again. But Manto continued writing letters to Uncle Sam. Till, his death, he penned nine such letters. The third letter, had it been read by the USIS boss, would have perplexed the Uncle Sam. While highlighting McCarthyist excesses, Manto mocks theUSSRwith a sting typical of Manto:
And what is this I hear about Charlie Chaplan having given up his US citizenship? What did this joker think he was doing? He is surely suffering from communism; otherwise why should a man who has lived all his life in your country, made his name there, made his money there, do what he has done? … Why did he not go to Russia? But then there is no shortage of jokers there.
The fourth letter was a forewarning for what is now fashionably called ‘war on terror’:
Regardless of India and the fuss it is making, you must sign a military pact with Pakistan because you are seriously concerned about the stability of the world’s largest Islamic state since our mullah is the best antidote Russian communism. Once military aid starts flowing, the first people you arm are these mullahs. They would also need American-made rosaries and prayer-mats, not to forget small stones that they use to soak up the after-drops following a call of nature. Cut-throat razors and scissors should be top of the list, as well as American hair-color lotions… If this gang of mullahs is armed in the American style, the Soviet Union that hawks communism and socialism in our country will have to shut shop.
In his fifth letter, he pokes fun at Uncle Sam’s wars-for-peace. What he wrote in the early 1950s may equally apply in the 1990s Balkan or 21st century Iraq and Afghanistan:
While only God knows what lies in the future, I for one have faith in you because I have eaten your wheat. Additionally, I am your nephew… For this lasting peace to be established, how many countries will need to be removed from the face of the earth? That’s all I want to know. My niece who is at school wanted me to draw her a map of the world yesterday but I told her she would have to wait because I first had to talk to my Uncle to find out the names of the countries that were going to survive.
The sixth letter went missing! Manto blamed his communist friend Ahmed Rahi in his subsequent letters.
In the seventh letter, while intimating his Uncle about growing communist appeal in Pakistan, Manto points out inter-imperial rivalries and changing configuration in the imperial camp:
What is not secret is that communism is spreading fast in my country, Pakistan. I tell you sometimes I also want to stick a red feather in my cap and go Red. Is that not a dangerous wish? … Why don’t you get Bevan of Britain to shut his mouth? He is your creature yet he shows you his fangs. The ass is spitting poison against you. Of your Mr. Dulles he says the man is unaware of modern ideas, trying as he is to browbeat the world into submission with the hydrogen bomb. What a fool! Uncle I really get angry, when some British joker thumbs his nose at you. If you were to take my advice, Britain should be wiped off the face of the earth. If you don’t do that, then at least fill in the twenty-mile-wide channel that separates it from Europe. God bless Napoleon Bonaparte and Hitler, both of whom hated this country…In the last war, Germany allied with Italy and gained nothing from it. You should learn a lesson from that. Just follow your old principle: cash and carry.
We are playing host to one Prince after another…currently we have Shah Saud, the King of Saudi Arabia. Let me give you an eye-witness account of his visit. He arrived by air at Karachi with 25 of his Princes in tow. He was received with full honours. He has fathered many other Princes besides, so it is anybody’s guess why they are not accompanying him. Perhaps that would have needed two or three additional aircrafts. Or maybe they are too young and would rather be in their mothers’ laps than in an aircraft… Uncle, just think of it. Shah Saud has come with 25 sons. Only God knows how many daughters he has. May God protect them and him. Do you have anyone in your land of seven freedoms who could boat off so many children? Uncle, this is one of the blessings of our religion of Islam and it’s God’s bounty. In my humble opinion, you should immediately declare Islam as your state religion. This will result in many benefits. Every married man will be able to take four wives and if, after the exercise of utmost care, one woman gives birth to four children, each family will produce sixteen children as living proof of a husband’s virility and a wife’s fertility. Just think of the difference these numbers could make at the time of war…I would say even you should take four wives. If Auntie is alive, then take three wives.