Manto’s Toba Tek Singh– A Lunacy in Survival Amidst a Futile, yet Liberating End

Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.”

It is one of Martin Heidegger’s famous quotes which philosophizes death. It equates man’s existence with death. It was a statement that soon came to be manifested into reality and saw several versions of its truth in the years to come. The wars and struggles for independence that plagued the world, stand typical examples of its manifestation. With blood tainting every pavement and chaos drowning the world in black void of dystopia, life lost all meaning.

This quote insinuates how a sort of freedom and peace is achieved in death, which one can never hope to achieve when alive. Every breath one takes is spent on wishing to break free from the shackles that bind humans. We try, we ask, we plead and then, we die. Sometimes, luck works in favor of people and their wishes are granted before they die. However, sometimes they are granted after death. By then, perhaps, it is too late.

“Toba Tek Singh” is a powerful story written by Saadat Hasan Manto along the lines of insanity and death. It represents the turbulent times when India was partitioned. Manto represents through his story, a madhouse of lunatics which harbors those who bear the brunt of partition. While narrating the story, he adds a touch of humor to bring out the effect the partition had on society. As the story progresses, readers are left to wonder, whether it is the lunatics who are insane or the rest of the population, who have become the victims of utter chaos and madness. Is Manto symbolically representing the nation as a ‘madhouse’ by endowing the lunatics, names and characteristics similar to those of the leaders of this country? Is he leading the people, who blindly follow these leaders, into a pit of chaos and void? Well, the story provides many insights into that.

It is important to ponder upon certain questions, which Manto, through his text seeks answers for. What is insanity in the face of war, blood and death? What is sanity in the face of family? At each turn, Manto poses his rhetoric satire and incredulity and therefore, etches out a story to nurture the nation’s rage and even his own emotions.

The story begins with a scene wherein, news spreads that Muslim lunatics in the Indian madhouses would be sent to Pakistan while Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistani madhouses would be sent to India. This garners various responses from the lunatics themselves, and their innocent ignorance prompts the question, ‘What is Pakistan?’ This question of utmost importance actually portrays the reality, that perhaps, in the entire mess of partition, the most essential aspect was missed– what exactly does this new nation entail?

With such lines and borders being constructed, it became important to ascertain who were being protected and from whom were they being protected. All it appeared was a world, where people were against people, man against man and humanity pitted against humankind.

Another interesting aspect that the book delves into is ‘the other’. It depicts how one lunatic climbs onto a tree refusing to be a part of the either. However, his voice, like a million others’ is subdued, as he is coaxed back down. This becomes symbolic of a certain part of the nation that doesn’t accept this new onslaught of change but is forced to become a part of, willingly or unwillingly. Thus, Manto focuses on one particular lunatic who had been an inmate for the past fifteen years and through him, he brings out one of the many melancholic visions that the partition leaves behind– a disillusioned human who is acquainted to no other world than this world, and is content to live in his peaceful bubble. It is only when he is visits his family, that he gets a sense of time. There is one occasion where he washes himself, combs his hair and even puts on his best clothes.

Bashan Singh, a landlord in the story sees ‘Toba Tek Singh’ as his world. When the news of migration reaches him, he is seen as persistently asking just one question, “Where is Toba Tek Singh?” That land seems to be the only home he knows of, and for him, nothing else matters. Even when he is informed about his family’s decision to migrate to India, he doesn’t waiver in his stand. For him, Toba Tek Singh is the only place, a place of peace and harmony, which the divided country at war, would never be. With a subtle dig at the confusion prevalent through the entire nation, Manto expresses the cruel truth of the product of partition– a play with human emotions, utmost confusion regarding the nation’s existence and a delusional sense of right and wrong.

On the day of partition, he lingers on the frontier and repeatedly asks the location of his home. He therefore, becomes symbolic of those innumerable people who merely wish to go home. Bashan is steadfast in his demand. Like countless others, he doesn’t wish to recognize any partition and in the midst of his desire to go home, he is immediately shot.

He dies in a land that stands in the middle of two divided nations– India and Pakistan. He dies in a land that belongs to none. In his quest to return to his home as a free and liberated man (the freedom that he achieves only in death), he dies. In death, wherein there is no confusion of identity or belongingness.

Is Bashan Singh’s death, then, perhaps the greatest achievement one can hope for, to attain peace and liberation without any pressure of national identity? Does dying in a land of no name, the only means to immortalize one’s lone fight against the system that continues to oppress? Well again, the story provides a lot of answers to that.

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