SAADAT HASAN MANTO: NOT OF BLESSED MEMORY
I met Manto only twice, something I have always regretted because he was a man after my own heart. We could have been friends.
The first time I met him was in the summer of 1952. I had travelled from Sialkot with our cricket team. We were on our way to Quetta to play a few matches. Our team was to leave in the evening. We had a whole day to kill in Lahore. I remember suggesting to my friend Khwaja Mahmood Anwar who, like me, had read everything Manto had written, that we should go to Manto's house.
I recall the day clearly. We first went to Mcleod Road and got a shave in a barber shop, I think, by straight-razored, no-nonsense Amritsaris. We also had our shoes polished. Then we stepped into a small tea shop and drank hot, steaming cups of tea. And after that to a cigarette shop to buy a tin of State Express 555 cigarettes to present to Manto. It is a pity they no longer sell cigarettes in tins of fifty. Like many good things, this too has gone out of vogue.
We walked to Laxmi Mansions where we knew Manto lived. It was quite early in the morning. We were a bit unsure how we would be received. We had no appointment and we did not know anyone who actually knew Manto. But we were so immersed in his stories that we felt as if we were going to see someone we had known intimately for a long time.
We found the Laxmi Mansions quite easily. We asked a boy, who was playing outside, where Saadat Hasan Manto lived. He pointed to a flat on the ground floor. We knocked and a woman answered. I think it was Safia, Manto1s wife. We said we had come from Sialkot to call on Manto for a few minutes. She showed us in and asked us to wait. It was a small, clean living room with sofas, chairs and tables. We sat down waiting for Manto to materialize.
He appeared a few minutes later, neatly dressed in starched white kurta and pyjamas. We rose, told him our names, apologizing for our early and unexpected call. He shook hands with us and asked us to sit down. I presented the cigarettes to him which he took. He unscrewed the lid, sniffed the aroma and took a cigarette which he lit with, what seemed to me, trembling fingers. "You can't get these now easily," he said in his clear voice. I always like to hear Punjabi spoken by Amritsaris. It has a purity and richness denied to other regions of the Punjab. Manto was typical in that sense.
"Are you Kashmiris?" he asked us. When we told him we