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Friday, April 22, 2022

Saadat Hasan Manto's The Dog of Tithwal: Precarious Lives during the India-Pakistan Partition Years

Saadat Hasan Manto. The Dog of Tithwal. Translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan, Aatish Taseer, and Muhammad Umar Memon. Introduction by Vijay Seshadri. Brooklyn, NY:  Archipelago Press. 2021.

Sadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) was born in British India and when India was partitioned into Pakistan, he, as a Muslim, had to move to Lahore, Pakistan. It was in Pakistan that he began to produce the vast number of stories, radio plays, and essays that made him a formidable influence in Urdu-language writing. Manto’s life and times were shaped by conflict, disruption, and confusion as Kafka-esque political absurdities erected boundaries and divisions between previously happy cohabitants of a beautiful land. 

The story that is also the name of the collection of short stories, “The Dog of Tithwal,” perfectly illustrates the tragic absurdity of a politically engineered clash between the Hindus and the Muslims. They take up arms against each other and decide to fight on the border.  However, no one really has the heart to fight; it’s a political imperative imposed from on high. In the No Man’s Land between the two sides is a rag-tag, importunate dog who is regularly fed by both sides, and both consider the dog to be of their nationality. The dog survives, somehow, in this existential limbo until one day (spoiler alert), he is killed.  The dog perfectly embodies the capricious nature of fate, and the razor-thin margin of safety that keeps people and dogs alive.  

That razor-thin margin between life and death is also apparent in “Ten Rupees,” in which a mother faces the terrible consequences of having sold her young daughter into prostitution. In “Kingdom’s End,” an educated man occupies an office and yet does not seem to have any work to speak of. He falls in love with a voice on the telephone that started out as a wrong number. The precarious nature of his life is perfectly illustrated as he falls ill with a high fever just before he is to meet her. In “The Monkeys Revolt,” monkeys attack the insulting idea that humans, whom they consider to be quite beneath them, “evolved” from them. 

Other stories in the collection are likewise intelligent, sympathetic, and they unflinchingly face life in a world with few safety nets but with many ideas about the nature of survival, both physical and intellectual. 

-- Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.


Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.

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