Emily Durham, PhD candidate in the Dept. of Asian Languages and Literatures
Saadat Hasan Manto's commitment to political causes has been doubted by critics and admirers alike, in part because of his consistent refusal to romanticize his subjects. This inability to categorize Manto's work as a mode of political aesthetics has even resulted in confusion over whether he should be called a "realist" or a "modernist" the aesthetics of which are to this day caught up with Cold War connotations as "committed" to a political project or "resigned" to a political present, respectively. The short story "Bu," the first of several of Manto's stories to be tried for obscenity, is an unflinchingly observant illustration of Bombay during the Second World War. The story presents various romances, both psychic and political, which are then undermined by the incongruous details of Bombay social life. These details break open the solidity of life as it is understood through an exposition of what is, disallowing both the Imperial romance of a call to duty, and that of an Indian nationalist hero. This vision of a fragmented and contradictory reality lends to the text a negative critical function that is, despite the skepticism of Manto’s critics, absolutely necessary for political thought, what Fredric Jameson has called "the eradication of inherited psychic structures and values...whose force always comes from this cancellation of tenaciously held illusions."