Mottled Dawn: A Review of Saadat Hasan Manto's Partition Stories
Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) was one of the most celebrated and controversial Urdu writers of the 20th century. He is best known for his short stories that depict the human condition in the aftermath of the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, a traumatic event that resulted in millions of deaths and displacements. Manto's stories are marked by his sharp observation, dark humor, and uncompromising realism. He does not shy away from portraying the brutality, violence, and absurdity of the Partition, nor does he spare any community or ideology from his criticism. He also explores the themes of identity, belonging, madness, and alienation in a divided subcontinent.
Mottled Dawn is a collection of 50 sketches and stories by Manto on the Partition, translated into English by Khalid Hasan. The title is taken from a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, "Subh-e-Azadi" (Dawn of Freedom), which expresses the disillusionment and disappointment of the people who had hoped for a better future after independence. The stories in Mottled Dawn range from realistic to surreal, from tragic to comic, from historical to fictional. They capture the diverse experiences and perspectives of different characters, such as refugees, rioters, politicians, soldiers, prostitutes, lunatics, artists, and children.
Some of the most famous stories in this collection are "Toba Tek Singh", "The Return", "The Assignment", "Colder Than Ice", and "A Tale of 1947". In "Toba Tek Singh", Manto depicts the plight of the inmates of a lunatic asylum who are exchanged between India and Pakistan according to their religious affiliation. The story ends with a poignant image of a Sikh inmate who dies on a piece of land that belongs to neither country. In "The Return", Manto portrays the horror of a father who receives the corpse of his daughter who was abducted and raped during the riots. In "The Assignment", Manto exposes the hypocrisy and opportunism of a Muslim journalist who incites communal violence for his own benefit. In "Colder Than Ice", Manto shows the irony and tragedy of a Hindu man who kills his wife for having an affair with a Muslim man, only to discover that he himself is impotent. In "A Tale of 1947", Manto explores the dilemma and confusion of four friends, three Hindus and one Muslim, who are separated by the Partition.
Mottled Dawn is a powerful and moving collection that reveals Manto's mastery of the short story form and his insight into the human psyche. It is also a valuable document that records the history and legacy of one of the most significant events in South Asian history. Manto's stories are not only relevant for understanding the past, but also for reflecting on the present and future of India and Pakistan.
Manto was not only a prolific writer, but also a controversial one. He faced several charges of obscenity for his stories that challenged the social norms and taboos of his time. He wrote candidly about sex, violence, prostitution, homosexuality, and religious fanaticism. He defended his stories as truthful reflections of reality and argued that literature should not be censored or moralized. He said, "If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don't even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that's the job of dressmakers." 
Manto was also a witness and a victim of the Partition, which affected him deeply. He was forced to leave Bombay, where he had a successful career as a film writer, and move to Lahore, where he struggled to make ends meet. He also lost many of his friends and relatives in the communal riots that followed the Partition. He wrote about the Partition with a sense of grief, anger, and irony. He exposed the hypocrisy, cruelty, and madness of both sides of the divide. He also expressed his nostalgia and love for Bombay, where he felt he truly belonged. He said, "Bombay is my homeland. Those who know me know how much I love Bombay." 
Manto died at the age of 42 on 18 January 1955 in Lahore. He suffered from alcoholism and liver cirrhosis. He was buried in Miani Sahib Graveyard in Lahore. His epitaph reads: "Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie buried all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing.... Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is greater short story writer: God or He."  Manto's legacy lives on through his writings, which have been translated into many languages and adapted into films, plays, and TV shows. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest short story writers of South Asia and one of the most influential writers of Urdu literature. aa16f39245