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South Asian Literature: The Identity Politics of Iqbal, Manto & Lahiri. Omer Bajwa Cornell University [email protected] 1947 Partition of India & Pakistan. Creation of India & Pakistan on August 15, 1947 from the British Commonwealth

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South asian literature the identity politics of iqbal manto lahiri l.jpg

South Asian Literature: The Identity Politics of Iqbal, Manto & Lahiri

Omer Bajwa

Cornell University

[email protected]


1947 partition of india pakistan l.jpg
1947 Partition of India & Pakistan Manto & Lahiri

  • Creation of India & Pakistan on August 15, 1947 from the British Commonwealth

  • Struggle between factions in Indian nationalist movement, especially Indian National Congress, for control of movement

  • Muslims felt threatened by Hindu majorities. Hindus felt that nationalist leaders were coddling the minority Muslims and slighting the majority Hindus


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1947 Partition Manto & Lahiri

  • 1930 All India Muslim League (AIML) convention: Muslim poet Muhammad Iqbal said he felt a separate nation for Muslims was essential in an otherwise Hindu-dominated subcontinent: “Two-Nation Theory”

  • 1937 Hindu nationalist Veer Savarkar said,

    “India cannot be assumed today to be Unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main - the Hindus and the Muslims.”

  • 1940 AIML convention: Muslim politician Muhammad Ali Jinnah said,

    "The Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religions, philosophies, social customs and literature…To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state.“

  • Creation of Pakistan (8/14/47) & India (8/15/47)

  • “Orgy of Violence:” millions died in riots / massacres & millions more displaced

  • Largest population movement in recorded history

  • Major traumatic event in South Asian history


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Muhammad Iqbal Manto & Lahiri

  • Greatest Muslim philosopher-poet of 20th century

  • Born in Kashmiri family in Punjab in 1877

  • Studied philosophy, Arabic & English Lit. Influenced by Nietzsche, Goethe & Rumi

  • Wrote religious & political philosophy & poetry in Urdu & Persian

  • Proponent of political & spiritual revival of Islamic civilization


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Muhammad Iqbal Manto & Lahiri

  • Encourages political rejuvenation and empowerment of the Ummah (global Muslim community)

  • Colonized by West, the Ummah suffers from inferiority complex, slavish mentality & learnt helplessness

  • Teaches spiritual direction and development of human society

  • Laments West’s loss of spiritual & religious values because of its selfish materialism & secular capitalism

  • Free Ummah from shackles of sect, caste, race, gender to unite

  • Wants to restore original dynamism of Islam’s universal message of peace with justice through reforming fossilized theological thinking

  • Concept of “Khudi” or Self: Strong will & healthy self-conscious; Self-realization & self-knowledge = Independence

  • Offers universal message of hope & revitalization of civilization


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Sadaat Hasan Manto Manto & Lahiri

  • Most widely read & controversial Urdu short-story writer of 20th century

  • Born in Muslim Kashmiri family in 1912 in Punjab

  • Lived in Bombay as screenwriter but moved to Lahore, Pakistan after 1947 Partition

  • Published 22 collections of short stories, 7 collections of radio plays, 3 collections of essays & 1 novel

  • Died in poverty in 1955 of liver cirrhosis

  • Wrote about social taboos in South Asian society: socio-economic injustice, love, sex, incest, prostitution, hypocrisy

"If you find my stories dirty, the society you are living in is dirty. With my stories, I only expose the truth."


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Manto’s writing Manto & Lahiri

  • Exposes hollowness of middle-class morality

  • Characters usually from fallen & rejected lower strata of society

  • Characters condemned to sordid existence but transcend it; he doesn’t lament their loss of innocence

  • Unmasks hypocrisies of conservative “custodians of society” (i.e., religious establishment) that oppress & degrade women with their moral homilies

  • Holds “mirror of life” before reader

  • But not preachy or didactic because he takes no sides

  • Depicts pathos of communal strife from Partition; women usually victims of rape & murder


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Manto’s Writing Manto & Lahiri

  • His subjects & themes marked by originality & scathing criticism

  • Focused on story’s structure & finely thought out details

  • Influenced by Guy de Maupassant, so shocking & surprising endings

  • His stories branded pornographic & lewd so he’s charged several times with purveying indecent material

  • “Toba Tek Singh:” masterpiece about tragic theme of horrors of separation (Partition) that uses lunatics between India & Pakistan

“Toba Tek Singh lay in the middle, on a piece of land that had no name.”


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Jhumpa Lahiri Manto & Lahiri

  • Contemporary Indian-American writer

  • Born in Bengali family in London in 1967, but raised in Rhode Island

  • BA English Lit. (Barnard College); MAs in English, Creative Writing, & Comp Lit.; PhD Renaissance Studies (Boston University)

  • 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for “Interpreter of Maladies”

  • 2003 Acclaimed & bestselling 1st novel “The Namesake” (film release Nov. 2006)


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“Interpreter of Maladies” Manto & Lahiri

  • Collection of 9 short stories about Indian-American life

  • Themes: marital difficulties, class conflict, gender roles, disconnect between 1st & 2nd generation Indian immigrants in US; set in Northeast

  • Essence: “the dilemma, the difficulty, and often the impossibility of communicating emotional pain and affliction to others, as well as expressing it to ourselves.”

  • Absence of belonging & idea of exile

  • Effects of displacement in Diaspora

  • Issues of alienation, loneliness & identity

  • Characters exist simultaneously in two cultures: the American reality and the sphere of Indian tradition

  • Study Guide


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Recommended Resources Manto & Lahiri

  • Exploring South Asia: Physical & Cultural Geography

  • South Asian History: Colonial India

  • Allama Iqbal Academy

  • “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” (1930) by Muhammad Iqbal

  • “Kingdom’s End and Other Stories” (1987) by Sadaat Manto

  • “The God of Small Things” (1988) by Arundhati Roy

  • “The Kite Runner” (2004) by Khaled Hosseini

  • Film “Earth” (1998) by Deepa Mehta

  • South Asian Web Guides at UC Berkeley

  • South Asian Literature Sources at Columbia

  • South Asia Program at Cornell


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