Book: Selected Short Stories
Author: Saadat Hasan Manto
Translation: Aatish Taseer
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Saadat Hasan Manto: (1912-1955)
He was an author born in Ludhiana, undivided India. Later after the partition, he moved to Pakistan. Manto is a modernist writer who is brave enough in his exposure to the naked truth of society. Most of his writings are associated with the memories of partition and the deprived section of lives.
He wrote in Urdu numerous short stories, radio plays, a novel and essays.
Ten Rupees by Saadat Hasan Manto
The setting of this story:
Manto’s “Ten Rupees” is based on the destitute life of a chawl in Bombay and particularly about a girl named Sarita.
In a very simple and subtle way, Manto sketches the story that deeply resonates with the theme of social oppression and people’s grappling for life. Ten Rupees captures the vivid details of a day in Sarita’s life. But that one day is enough to catch the diurnal gloom of her life.
At the very beginning, the story introduces us to Sarita, a girl of fifteen, who is playing with her friends oblivious of her mother’s searching for her.
“She was playing with the little girls at the far end of the alley. Inside the chawl, her mother hunted for her everywhere.”
Kishori has come and is waiting for her. Kishori is the middleman who brings customers for the girls and takes them to the customers. That day he brought three customers for her who were waiting in their taxi outside the dingy, stinking slum of Sarita’s habitant.
Kishori is careful enough not to bring them to such places with the ‘stench of paan and stale bidis’. Rather he prefers to take Sarita well-groomed to them.
Her mother is tense and desperate. Sarita is not available. After much yelling, she realises that she is out of the Chawl.
“God knows which hole she’s gone and died in. And today of all days! Wait till I find her! I’ll give her a thrashing she’ll remember in every joint of her body.”
” …rich men with motor cars didn’t come every day.”
It is Kishori’s benevolence. She is grateful for that. She does not want to make him offended by keeping him waiting long. So she sets out to bring her.
The story Sarita’s mother circulates in his neighbourhood is that Sarita will be married to a rich clerk and that’s why she keeps insisting on her education.
In reality, Sarita’s mother is a shallow lady who gambles all her dead husband’s money of compensation in the lottery. She feigns to be an ideal mother for Sarita. But actually, she pushed her own daughter into prostitution for livelihood.
She loves to boast and the only story she relentlessly repeats is the story of her husband’s conflict with the railway sahib. The railway Sahib kicked him to death. His spleen burst and he died. The government-sponsored “full five hundred rupees in compensation”
Manto portrays with detached sympathy the decrepit life of the chawl in the city of Mumbai.
Everyone there knows that Sarita’s mother has sent her to prostitution. But they are too engrossed in their own struggle that they feel no need to expose her.
” … Everyone there was anyone’s friend. The men by and large, slept during the day and were awake at night as many worked the night shift at the nearby mill. They lived together but they showed no interest in each other’s lives.”
Sarita is glad to hear about the rich men with the motor car.
But she is more interested in the motor car than in rich men. She loves to ride in a car. The whooshing winds slapping her face while driving fills her with elation. She spends all the day singing, drinking beer at the sea beach and talking with the three men. Sarita keeps them engaged with her childish exuberance and cheerfulness. They forget their intention. The jovial ambience that she creates makes the others keep in harmony with her. There are two men in the back seat and one at steering – Kafayat, Anwar, Shahab. Kifayat is the driver. When they return Anwar and Shahab fall asleep under the intoxication of wine and Sarita’s buoyancy. Sarita leaves them and heads for her home. But before that, she refunds the ten rupees that Kafayat offers her when they take her with them.
Kafayat gets astonished when Sarita returned the 10 rupees note to him. He asks her the reason.
“This…why should I take this money? She replied and ran off, leaving Kafayat still staring at the limp note.”
Anwar and Shahab lay slumped in the back seat like the limp note and Sarita flies away with her innocent joviality.
Sarita-the Epitome of Innocence:
“Sarita though fifteen had the interests of a girl of thirteen. She did not like spending time with grown women at all. Her entire day was taken up playing games with the younger girls”
Sarita’s mother sends her with the men with the hope that by the end of the day she will gain money. Sarita relishes the day, sings movie songs, enjoys the beach, and even engages her customers in her innocent fun-making. The men drink beers and fall asleep in the car. The story ends with Sarita when she returns the ten-rupee note, Kifayat gives her.
Sarita does not think about what her mother will do to her if she cannot offer her any money after the day’s trip.
She cares for nothing. She enjoys the day on her own. And she does not accept the money as secretly at her heart she knows why the money is provided to her. As the trade is incomplete she has no claim on that money. Is it her honesty or sheer innocence? Both conclusions are ‘above the average human behaviour’. Sarita is the representative of impoverished lives. But the rugged practicality of her life can not disrobe her innocence.
Her innocence is heavenly. It crosses all the dreary alleys of poverty and deprivation
Society as reflected by Manto:
Manto is such a writer who always strips away the illusion of make-believe life…underpins the universal theme of exploitation and helplessness. A day in the life of Sarita exposes the lies and hypocrisies of our society.
Form and structure:
The story is built upon binaries, binary of life-struggle, binary of expectations. What Satrita’s mother expected from Sarita did not match with her daughter’s life view. She could easily return ten rupees for which she had to bet her life.
Manto’s Women are not from the snow-white pages of fairy tales. They have to fight for the basic issues of survival. Their life story does not halt on the ‘ all is well’ page, but they have to tug through the darkness of penury, suffering and survival. Sarita is chained…her freedom is restricted…her life is cut short by her mother who uses her as a pawn to earn money. But even after that Sarita is a character from the soil but does not belong to that soil. She has a soul, a soul of a phoenix.
In this story, Manto has successfully captured all the trivial issues of existence…the uncertainty, the crisis, the slaughter of humanity. It is not only Sarita’s story but all the girls like Sarita who had to hover under the black sky of social oppression and poverty.
The magnanimity that she shows at the end of the story by returning the money not only startles Kafayat but also the readers. Her innocence stands in start contrast with the bigotry of social structure.
I am confused…it is her innocence or she is mature enough to use her innocence as her safeguard.
“ Sarita mischievously began to comb Shahab’s hair with her fingers and he fall asleep. When she turned back to Anwar, she saw that he was also fast asleep.”
She whispers to Kafayat, “I’ve just put both your friends to bed. Now I’ll put you to bed too.”
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