Manto's Toba Tek Singh & Post-Colonialism

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine Saadat Hasan Manto's satirical view of the partition of India and Pakistan in his short story, 'Toba Tek Singh.' We will examine the author's life and the history of post-colonial India as it relates to this story. Updated: 09/01/2020

Colonialism in India

Imagine if the U.S. government suddenly decided that everyone with your religious beliefs had to suddenly move to Wyoming and that everyone who didn't share your religious beliefs had to leave Wyoming. Sounds chaotic, right? Well, something similar happened in India at the end of British colonialism. Colonialism is the occupation and control of another country.

After several decades of advocating for the opportunity to run their own government, the citizens of India were finally given a chance. However, Great Britain was concerned about a civil war breaking out between Hindu and Muslim citizens. As a preventative measure, the British partitioned part of India into a separate country for Muslim citizens and called it Pakistan. As a result, about 12 million people were required to leave their homes, and at least hundreds of thousands died. As hard as this decision is to rationalize, imagine trying to explain it to the people who have been interned in an insane asylum. This is the topic of ''Toba Tek Singh,'' a short story by Saadat Hasan Manto published in 1955.

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  • 0:04 Colonialism in India
  • 1:11 Saadat Hasan Manto
  • 2:04 Toba Tek Singh: Synopsis
  • 3:53 Analysis & Takeaways
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Saadat Hasan Manto

In writing this story, Saadat Hasan Manto was inspired by his own experiences as the member of a Muslim minority in a Sikh city. He had already established himself as a controversial writer known for extracting characters from the fringe elements of society, such as criminals and prostitutes. Manto was charged with obscenity multiple times throughout his career. However, he continued to use writing to expose inhumane actions and decisions. Manto, who opposed the partition, did not intend to leave Bombay, India until a friend admitted that if Manto were a stranger, he would kill him. The next day, Manto moved his family to Lahore, Pakistan. Manto was shocked at how easily lifelong companions could turn on one another. Although Manto died in 1955, his work continues to speak to the Pakistani people.

Toba Tek Singh: Synopsis

The plot of ''Toba Tek Singh'' focuses on a decision to transfer all the Muslim inmates in lunatic asylums to Pakistan and all of the Hindu and Sikh inmates to India. The story is told in the third person by a reliable narrator that only has access to information about the Lahore asylum in Pakistan. Despite attempts to explain what is happening to them, the inmates don't know what Pakistan is and can't understand what they're doing in Pakistan instead of India.

The Hindu and Sikh patients are upset because they have to leave their home, while the Muslim patients are upset because their friends are leaving. One patient decides to avoid the issue altogether by climbing a tree. He claims, ''I want to live neither in Pakistan nor in Hindustan- I will live on this tree.'' Eventually, he descends the tree on his own.

One Sikh, Bishan Singh, who has not slept in 15 years, yells out unintelligible statements in a combination of Punjabi, Urdu, and English that condemns both India and Pakistan. Since no one from inside the asylum could ascertain the boundaries of Pakistan, Singh decides he needs to know whether his hometown, Toba Tek Singh, is now part of India or Pakistan. Singh's relatives have stopped visiting him, so he cannot ask them. Later, he learns that they have been relocated.

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