By the grace of God
Saadat Hasan Manto (Translated into English)
One must admit that God has been immensely gracious. During that bygone era of decadence, our land was replete with district courts, high courts, police stations, check-posts and over-crowded jails. There were clubs for gambling, drinking and dancing, cinema houses, art galleries and such other sinful locations. Lord be praised. With the grace of God, life is so much better now. The poets and musicians have disappeared. Music, the mother of all obscenities can be heard no more. Surely the humans were not made to sit with tambourines, stretching their vocal cords to create absurd classical notes. After all rubbish ‘raags’ like ‘darbari’, ‘malkauns’ and ‘mian ki todi’ could hardly be of any benefit to humankind. Why indulge in activities that neither provide reward in the life hereafter nor help to lessen the suffering of the grave.
Dear friends, we are fortunate that by the grace of God, music and other associated profanities have now completely disappeared from our land. With His continued blessings, hopefully, we would also be slowly able to shed the burden of our cursed existence.
Earlier, I had briefly spoken about the weird species known as poets. Interested neither in God nor the Prophet, they seemed to be always in pursuit of their own beloved ‘Salmas’ and ‘Raihanas’. The long hair and the rosy cheeks of such women were the only obsessions that occupied their filthy thoughts. By the grace of God, things have greatly improved. To begin with there are fewer women now and they too are well restricted within the four walls of their homes. I must admit that since we liberated ourselves from those cursed ‘poets’, there is much greater clarity and cleanliness in our cultural environment.
I did not mention of the special category of poets that surfaced just before the poetry finally faded away from our land. Unlike their earlier counterparts, these poets were not as interested in the pursuit of romance as they were in the plight of the poor. They were more fascinated by the hammers and sickles and less by the long hair and rosy cheeks of the females. By the grace of God, we managed to get rid of these pro-labour and pro-revolution poets too. This destructive breed seemed adamant in demolishing everything that came its way – the government, the economic system and above all, the religion.
Praise be to Allah. We managed to get rid of even those devils who were inciting the common people to claim their rights and to raise their voice in favour of a secular state. One ought to be grateful to God that such poets are not amongst us anymore. May the Lord be praised a million times for enabling the ‘Mullas’ to rule over us and for our good fortune to serve them ‘halwa’ on every Thursday.
You may be surprised to learn that the ‘halwa’ had become a rare commodity in those dark periods. ‘Mullas’ lay in their mosques and chambers longing and dreaming for a morsel of ‘halwa’. They prayed with the force of every hair in their long beards to see an end to such sinful instruments as the razor blades. By the grace of God, these prayers produced the desired results. You can now travel throughout the length and breadth of our land without noticing a single razor blade in any shop. The accessibility to ‘halwa’ has also considerably improved and the much revered food of the ‘mulla’ is now available in every nook and corner.
By the grace of God, no one sings ‘thumri’ and ‘dadra’ any more. These melodies died a natural death. Music now lies buried deep in the ground, from where not even a ‘Messiah’ could bring it back to life. Music was a huge curse as people often confused it with ‘art’. Just because a song could take away gloom or raise your spirits for a few moments, it was misconstrued to be a piece of ‘art’. Who can find even a shred of decency in songs like, ‘ghoonghat ke pat khol’, ‘payal baji chananun chananun’, ‘babul neihar mora choto jaye’ or for that matter the suggestive ‘rattian kahan Gawain re’. By the grace of God, no such vulgarities exist anymore. Instead we can now engross ourselves in spiritual ‘qawwalis’ that not just lift the soul but also add to our religious blessings.
Making nude and semi-nude paintings was a favourite pastime of artists during those immoral times. The artists would spend all their time and energy in creating these sacrilegious works and then label them as ‘art’. Little did they know that ‘creation’ was exclusively a domain of God and its imitation by humans was an unpardonable sin.
By the grace of God, we have none of those phoney artists amongst us anymore. Those left behind had their fingers chopped off, so as to make it impossible for them to engage in their unholy pursuits. Today we are fortunate that no one can draw even a single straight line, leave aside sketching a scenic sunset. To be honest, one must admit that we have successfully exhausted all desire for beauty and hence making any new creative contributions is simply beyond the realms of possibility.
Making nude female paintings and statues was an accepted norm during those wretched times. Their creators received heavy rewards and remunerations. Their vulgar creations were proudly displayed in galleries and museums. The artists were treated with royal respect and their works showered with compliments bordering on obscenity such as “what a superb nude, and, and those breasts,………”. Oh my God, what a profanity have I uttered. Please forgive me. I need to hurry and rinse my polluted mouth.
It seems that even rinsing did not succeed in complete cleansing of my mouth. I therefore seek forgiveness. It was a huge blunder to have allowed an expletive to slip from my tongue. Luckily my words must have been completely incomprehensible to the contemporary readers. How could they make any sense, for all such indecent words have long been expunged from our dictionary.
I was talking about museums. Yes, by the grace of God we have now gotten rid of all museums and galleries that once hosted nude and semi-nude paintings under the pretext of art. They were demolished and their debris dumped into the deep river, so as to eradicate all traces and remnants.
Sadly, the curse of nudity had spilled over from paintings and statues to novels and poetry. A particular poem or novel was celebrated if it touched upon the issue of sex between men and women. Regretfully, people with such sick minds had no time to think about spirituality. They were so anchored to the earthly desires that they had little interest in matters beyond. Unaware of the spiritual bliss, they could never rise above the level of their bodily needs. By the grace of God, we can now say that our bodily needs have been well taken care of. In fact we now aspire for a stage where our bodily existence could quickly come to an end so that only the spirit is left behind. After all, getting rid of the trash is the best way to clean the world.
There was a time when hundreds of journals and magazines were published. Offered in the garb of literature, they were instead loaded with morally contaminated material. There was nothing respectful or reverent about them. They neither advocated respect for elders nor suggested punishment for those who had taken a liking for the Western culture. They even failed to motivate ordinary citizens to keep a beard or to adopt other virtuous practices.
A piece of writing was not considered literature if it did not contain stories of sex between men and women. Glorious tributes were paid to authors if they wrote on topics like ‘love’, ‘beauty’, ‘scenic locations’, ‘an evening in Oudh’ or a ‘morning in Banaras’. Yet others were busy painting flowers, nightingales and cuckoos. They all missed the core issue that no one is praise worthy, except God, the creator of the entire universe. By the grace of God, the flowers, the nightingales and other such absurdities have slowly either disappeared or died a natural death.
I forgot to mention that in its final stages, literature had acquired a very freak character. People of that era were of the ludicrous opinion that literature is the name of describing what ever one sees or experiences. So even a mundane act of sneezing involuntarily was described in great detail and presented as a masterpiece of literature. Why did someone sneeze? Because he felt like doing so. Why did the ‘so called’ authors of that era found it compulsory to describe the detailed psychological aspects of this non-event. Perhaps they forgot that events begin and end only when so ordained by God and hence there ought to be no need for any other explanation.
With the grace of god, the days of those self-proclaimed authors and their pseudo literature are over. Magazines, journals and pamphlets have ceased to be published. It is deplorable that the authors of those times had the audacity to term their scandalous literature as journalism and to think of themselves as journalists. Fortunately the situation has greatly improved and even the daily newspapers have become a rare sight. Only on rare occasions when the rulers want to communicate something really important, do a few lines get published for the consumption of the masses.
So there is just one newspaper now, published once or twice in a year, and that too when absolutely necessary. To begin with, we no longer engage in activities that could have any news value. Care is taken not to allow events that could escalate into news. Gone are the days when people would spend hours, sitting at home or in hotels, debating every minute detail of what was published. Which political party should come into power? Who is the most deserving candidate for our vote? How can the city’s sanitation be improved? The need for opening more art schools. The pros and cons of equal rights for women. These and many other such insignificant topics occupied the centre stage of debate in that era.
By the grace of God, we are now free from all such vulgarities. People spend their time in eating, drinking, praying and sleeping. They are least bothered to know if others are doing well or feeling miserable.
Friends, I must admit, I completely forgot to talk about the subject of ‘science’ which occupied a status even higher than literature. May the Lord protect us all from the evil impacts of science. Those claiming to be scientists were forever wanting to transform this temporal world into an eternal paradise. They even professed to be in competition with God in matters of creation. They made ridiculous claims like “creating an artificial sun that will provide light throughout the night” or “ the possibility of causing rain whenever so required”. Perhaps their underlying message was to boast of their ability to do things that reside entirely in the domain of God. Some of them could be seen probing the possible treatment of such deadly diseases like cancer. Others would be glued to binoculars, exploring the possibility of reaching the moon. One such weird individual was engaged in conducting experiments on growth of foetus in glass bottles and jars.
To our good fortune, such bizarre and mindless people have finally disappeared from amongst us. Peace and serenity prevail all over. There are no riots, no crimes, no delinquents, no poets and no artists. Life proceeds so placidly that one does not realise the passage of the time. The body and the soul appear to be in complete harmony. People are born, live their lives and pass away peacefully without creating the slightest ripple, mischief or noise. So absolute is the state of tranquillity that people are often found sleeping peacefully on both sides of an unending river of serenity. Who would wish not to sleep forever in such a state of utopia surrounded by heavenly streams full of milk and honey. Bunches of grapes ready to fall in your mouth, at the slightest hint of your eyebrows, inducing the desire to go back to sleep again.
Wow, what do I see. A newspaper. Where has this newspaper come from? Did the postman drop it quietly when we were fast asleep? Seeing a newspaper after such a long time. Let’s see what tidings does it bring. Wait, wait, what do I see in this newspaper. I can’t believe my eyes. Am I reading it correctly? The entire government is in a state of panic. One person has been arrested. Yes, arrested. He was charged for persistent clamouring and screaming in the streets. He was proclaiming that he did not wish to live in this land. A land where God exists but the Satan does not. The reporter narrated that when the accused was presented before the higher authorities, he began shouting hysterically that he would go crazy if the Satan was not immediately called over. The accused in his defence presented a Persian couplet of the illustrious poet “Iqbal’. The couplet figuratively stated, “ Life is of no consequence in a world, where God exists but the Satan does not”.
The newspaper further clarifies that this couplet is not included anywhere in the published collection of Iqbal’s poetry. Surely there is an error somewhere, as all of Iqbal’s works have always been printed under the direct supervision of the government. It is evident that the accused is attempting to hoodwink everyone. The gravity of this offense has completely perplexed the government. How will the trial proceed, when there is not a single court in the country? Where will the guilty be retained if the guilt is established? The country does not have even a single jail.
It is rumoured that the government is now contemplating the early construction of a lock-up cell, a trial court and a jail. Are we not fortunate, ladies and gentlemen, that by the grace of God, our government has so swiftly recognised the significance and the sensitive nature of the new reality.