Yesterday marked the 63rd death anniversary of Saadat Hasan Manto, a writer I have commended in my previous columns such as ‘re-educating myself’. His writings remain incomparable. For someone who always enjoyed English literature, a transition into Urdu always seemed difficult. But, not with Manto. His short stories, neatly collected in books, seemed a gentle breeze. Thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. With characters that had personality and were as beautifully faulted as all humans are. But, most importantly, his writings highlighted the many taboos we otherwise have accepted as part of our creed and culture. The fact that these things made me uncomfortable while reading them out to my mother, and yet seemed so normal otherwise, is a wonderful representation of mine, and the society’s hypocrisy in general.

And, today, as Pakistan tries to recover from the harrowing tragedy of Zainab, I wonder if Manto today could have impeded what happened to her. Had he been alive in this time an age, he could have already exposed the shameless demons that exist within us. He could have shed light on the dirtiness that we, as a society, tend to shy from acknowledging. Maybe, he could have knocked the rapist off his maddening pedestal by letting his conscience stop him from doing what was to become the last of Zainab. Maybe, his writings could have helped Zainab’s neighbourhood, family and friends to do a better job at protecting her. Or, maybe they could have pushed Khadim-e-Aala do a better job at management and protection.

The role of literature is obsessively undermined in this time and age. People tend not to read. Reading, of course, cultures you into becoming better versions of one self but that is only possible when the need of the same is felt. We, however, are contended in living the way we live. Instead of educating ourselves, we instead chose to live in our social media bubbles, letting equally self-doubtful and insecure people milk our egos. The result is that there is satisfaction on being satisfactory. No wonder Pakistan does not produces innovation in science.

The writers that come and go have a big responsibility on their shoulders. Not many are able to comment on the society as much as they’d want to. For some, it’s not part of the story. For others, the story itself is not as attractive. However, the responsibilities must be taken seriously. Pakistani writers of today must write for a society that Pakistan can potentially become. Where, the culture of reading develops and people are addicted to becoming better versions of themselves. Writers today must pin down the ills of today to remind the readers of tomorrow how we progressed or, became worse. Writers of today must contribute in the building of the infrastructure that would save future Zainabs.

Or, maybe, I am exaggerating the influence and impact of writings. Afterall, Manto did play the role of the questioning writer and had he been alive today, he would have seen that his pleas fell on deaf ears. That the readers who grew up, grew old, and read his writing to the next generation, failed to do a good job and letting the message settle into their minds. That, amongst the characterizing elements of his writings, the entertainment and the thought-provocation, everyone seemed to settle on the former alone. 

All this brings me back to the same insistence that is floated in a majority of my writings. We must understand that education is not what we learn in our classrooms. Education is, instead, a skill to embrace knowledge and to develop the ability to think and contemplate and have both the need and the will to make informed decisions. Our system of education makes the students doctors and engineers but not human beings. A society that is robotic like that, functions within chaos.

Since Zainab’s unfortunate death, there have been some movements to make conversations on sex more open. I for one cannot emphasise this enough. We need to understand that sweeping problems under the carpet do not eliminate them. And, problems can only be dealt with once they are recognised and a subsequent cautionary protocol is imposed. When one is aware enough to clearly distinct what is right and what isn’t. We need to break away the ridiculous chains of tradition that we take pride in being part of our identity and instead see how the world has evolved and how, we too, must evolve. 

Then and there, we will become more humans. Then and there, we will stop being devoted to naivety.