The short story “TOBA TEK SINGH” written by Saadat Hasan Manto has its deep foundation on the tragic event which India and Pakistan faced before, during and after independence in the form of ‘Partition’. Since the story has its root in partition and its aftermath, let me brief you first with; reason, causes and consequences of Partition.
In 1937 at the 19th session of the Hindu Mahasabha (one of the existing parties during independence) held at Ahamedabad, Veer Sawarkar in his presidential address made a statement before the public, “ India cannot be assumed today to be the Unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main- the Hindus and the Muslims.
The statement reflects the prevailing tension and estrangement between so called the two major religions; Hindu and Muslim.
• Before Independence:
The partition was not a sudden division of the country and its leaders, which found its strong expression at the time of independence.
The tension and social turmoil had already spread long before it came into surface.
In 1906, a group of Muslims formed All India Muslim League (AIML) in Dhaka. They were suspicious of the Hindu majority Indian National Congress (INC) the ruling party at that time. Their complain was that they were not given same rights as a Muslim member compared to Hindu members. The whole reason behind this, seemed to be ‘ power politics’
Anyway, among the first to make the demand for a separate state was the writer and philosopher Allama Iqbal. Later on in 1935 when Sindh Assembly passed a resolution making it a demand, Iqbal, Jouhar and many others then worked hard to draft Mohammad Ali Jinnah who had till then worked for Hindu- Muslim unity and was an active member in INC.
So under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah the AIML went ahead and consequently ended up in partition of India – an event known for its massive migration and displacement in the world history.
However not all supported the division. On hearing this Gandhiji said, “ my whole soul rebels against the idea that Hinduism and Islam represent two antagonistic cultures and doctrines. To assent to such a doctrine is for me a denial of God”.
Therefore leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Allama Mashriqi etc. struggled to keep Hindu Muslim unity which finally ended with assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by one of the Hindu Nationalists.
• 1942- 1947
As we all know that the British colonial administration did not directly rule all of India. There were several political arrangements and also parties in existence.
Among them were;
ALML (All India Muslim League)
CPI (Communist Party Of India)
HM (Hindu Mahasabha)
INC (Indian National Congress)
UML (Unionist Muslim League)
And Mohammad Jinnah was the main figure along with Sikh leader Tara Singh who were involved directly in the Partition- in the lesson we come across these two names considered to be ‘dangerous.’
• Partition- 1947
The actual division between the two new dominions was done according to what has come to be known as the 3rd June Plan or Mountbatten Plan.
The border between India and Pakistan was determined by a British Government- commission report usually referred to as the Radcliff Line.
Pakistan came into being with two enclaves, East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, separated geographically by India. The rest belonged to India.
• Independence and population exchange
With the agreement on partition both the governments of the new countries decided to transfer the people based on the religion, therefore massive population exchange occurred between tow newly formed states in the months immediately following partition. Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was a relative safety of religious majority.
Based on 1951 census of displaced persons 72 lakh 26 thousand Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 72 lakh 49 thousand Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan. About 78% of the population transfer took place in the west itself. Therefore it was the greatest ever heard massive migration in the world history.
• Refugees settled in India and Pakistan
Many Sikhs and Hindu Punjabis settled in Indian parts of Punjab and Delhi. Hindus migrating from east Pakistan ( now Bangladesh) settled across Eastern India and North Eastern India like West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Some were sent to Andaman islands.
Refugees in Pakistan came from various parts of India. East Punjabis found there way out and had no much problems in adjusting themselves. However Muslims there were many Muslims migrated to Pakistan from other Indian parts. These refugees came from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar and even Hyderabad.
Marred with death and violence
Increase of homeless people
Because independence was declared prior to the actual Partition, it was up to the new government of India and Pakistan to keep public order. No large population movements were contemplated; the plan called for safeguards for minorities on both sides of the new state line.
It was an impossible task, at which both states failed. There was a complete breakdown of law and order;Many died in riots, massacre or just from the hardships of their flight to safety.
The partition was tragically marred with death and violence. The estimates of how many people died vary immensely, generally estimating somewhere 1.5 million.
In what is termed as the greatest human migration, some 15 million people were displaced over night from their homes as a result of partition. Not only that the displacement did not assure them safety and house on the other side. People lay on the road, camps and public places for days and months till they found their way out, ‘Without any fault of theirs’!
According to Richard Symonds, “ at the lowest estimate, half a million people perished and 12 million out of 15 became homeless.”
Uncertainty was another reality faced by those people grated from their homes only because they were either Hindus or Muslims, nothing more than that.
Many of them never received any compensation or support form the government who took up their responsibility.
Therefore the partition of Indian subcontinent in 1947, following World War 2nd is perhaps the most tragic of all political event in the Indian history.
The partition divided Hindus and Muslims who had lived together for hundred of years. It led to endless boundary disputes, three wars between the two neighbors, a nuclear powered arms race and a state sponsored terrorism.
The consequences of partition are continued to be seen in the form of terrorist attacks, bomb blasts; tension on the LoC and Kashmir still remains a point of hatred between two nations.
• TOBA TEK SINGH
Saadat Hasan Manto (1912- 55)
We read in the first paragraph of the chapter about the author. I will add some more facts and point to that.
Saadat began his writing in a period that was marked with:
Struggle for independence
• He is most widely read and controversial Urdu short story writer of the 20th century
• Born in a Muslim Kashmiri family in 1912 in Punjab.
• Lived in Bombay, but was forced to immigrate to Pakistan during partition.
• Published 22 collections of short stories, 7 collections of radio plays, 3 collections of essays and 1 novel.
• Wrote about social taboos in South Asian societies, such as; socio- economic, injustice, love, sex, prostitution, hypocrisy etc.
• Manto’s writings
• His subject and themes are marked by originality and simplicity.
• Focused on story’s structure and finely thought out details.
• Have shocking and surprising endings.
• Toba tek singh is the masterpiece about tragic theme of horrors of separation
• Exposes hollowness of middle class morality.
• Characters usually from fallen and rejected sections of the society.
• About the story
Satire – On partition?
Narration – A reliable but not omniscient narrator
Time – Two or three years after partition
Structure – First two Para- earlier time- back to first two Para
Language – Simple and deliberately repetitive language.
Ending – No-man’s land between two new nations
“Toba Tek Singh” is surely the most famous story about Partition, and very possibly the best one. This story was one of manto’s last one; it was published in Maktabah-e-jadid, Lahore) in 1955.
Some of the underlying aspects of the story are:
• As a satire-
Every reader at one realizes that it’s a powerful satire, and also a bitter indictment of the political process and behavior patterns that produced Partition. But the author’s brilliant mind lies in the fact that there is not a single word in the story that tells us so.
The story in fact presents itself a non- judgmental chronicle of the behaviors of certain lunatics in an insane asylum in Lahore.
It thus share a very subtle yet simple form of presentation
A reliable but not omniscient narrator who speaks as a Pakistani, and seems to be a Lahori tells narration- the story. The narrator reports to us with apparent matter-of-factness a series of event s that are not quite as straightforward as they appear.
In the first sight everything seems very casual of daily conversations or say behavior of mad people. But then through the conversations of these lunatics that the author wants to put forward his message.
• Structure and Time-
We are told in the first sentence that it takes place’ two or three years after Partition. Then the first two paragraphs takes us to the Wagah border itself, were the lunatics are described as having already arrived. Then we drop abruptly into a very long flashback. We return to an earlier time, when the inmates in Lahore asylum first learned of the proposed exchange. We follow their reactions and behavior until at the very end of the story we once again arrive at the time and place of the first two paragraphs.
• Characters –
The whole aspect of the idea of the nationality is beautifully brought about through the conversation of those lunatics.
Manto penetrates into human psychology
The characters are presented without names; they are neither Hindus nor Muslims but are human beings belonging to nowhere yet existing.
Therefore whole aspect of identity is being questioned here which I will talk a little later.
Because of its simple and deliberately repetitive use of language the original form of the story provides excellent reading practice for those learning Urdu. Otherwise the whole structure is simple and direct translation form the vernacular language
The narrator at the end locates Bashan Singh( Toba Tek Sigh) in a no man’s land between the two nations barbed-wire borders. Again affirms Manto’s style of writing with a surprising or shocking ending.
• Origin of the name: Toba Tek Singh
The title of the story itself has its own historical significance
Toba is a word in Punjabi that means ‘Pond’
It is a district in the Punjab province of Pakistan.
The town and district is named after a Sikh religious figure Tek Singh. Legend has it that Mr. Singh a kind hearted man served water and provided shelter to the worn out and thirsty travelers irrespective of any cast or creed who passed by a small pond (called TOBA in Punjabi), which eventually was called Toba Tek Singh and surrounding settlement acquired the same name.
Toba Tek Singh was developed by British toward the end of the 18th century when a canal system was built. People from all over Punjab moved there as farmlands were allotted to them.
Bishan Singh apparently might have been one of those migrated to this place
Therefore Toba Tek Singh as a place has its own history. Because the story takes place after two three years of Partition, it seems highly unbelievable that not only the lunatics, but the people around as well can’t figure out where the place is now. That’s the irony of the partition where things got so mixed up that no one in fact knew well that where India ends and where Pakistan begins.
And as a person reflect the same attitude of the people towards the name
Here in the story the name Toba Tek Singh is being given to the main character
Whose real name appears to be Bishan Singh.
We do not meet this main character until we have gone into detail over other lunatics of the asylum. Eventually with a small description the narrator introduces us with Bishan Singh whom every one calls as Toba Tek Singh. Rest, we come to know about him and his early life form the story itself, which very briefly yet clearly speaks about him.
What really makes a difference or say provides a climax for the story is Bishan’s death on a piece of land that ahs no name. He prefers to die on a place, which do not belong to anyone than struggle to decide where he really belongs.
That’s what exactly happened to all those who were forced to leave their land., home and dear ones in the process of partition. The hurts and the loss still remains in the hearts of all those who have passed through this agony.
The ending of the story or say Bishan’s fate resonates with at least one event in modern European history, the philosopher Walter Benjamin’s 1940 suicide on the border between France and Spain. He was a German Jew who had lived in France. In Sep. 1940 he fled to Paris ahead of Nazi advance. At the Spanish border one official claimed that the refugees would be forced to return to France. Hearing that Benjamin took an overdose of morphine and died during the night. Next morning everyone was allowed to proceed through Spanish territory.
The concept of Binorism can be seen in this short story. It is the distinction between the two extremes; either here or there, no in between. It is a choice between two politics, religion, race and creed. Legally speaking, one can’t be in two states at once, just as, in other modes of social distinction, one can’t have two religions or two color skins. Like Benjamin, Bishan achieves ultimate marginality by dying on the border between two states, thus opting for neither.
Manto might well have chosen the same fate, given the opportunity. Both as a man and the writer, he was constantly in revolt against the binary choices that religion and politics impose on human beings. But unfortunately he died in Lahore itself.
• Individual identity crisis.
• Set in a madhouse it uses madness as a metaphor for sanity, that if you were sane enough you would have not gone ahead for such division that has lasting effects.
• The ambiguity of the nationhood is expressed when we are told that one madman got caught up in this whole confusion of Pakistan and Hindustan and Hindustan and Pakistan that he ended up considerably madder than before.
• The madmen in the Lahore asylum are a microcosm of the society. Through them all sections of the society and targeted and satirized and amidst them is Bihsan Singh who successfully resists all such identities thrust upon them by choosing something that belongs to no one.
Manto therefore is not just questioning just two-nation theory but also the very idea of nationhood as the basis of one’s identity.
Therefore Bishan would rather die in no man’s land than make a choice between Hindustan and Pakistan
Questions on ‘Toba Tek Singh’
i. Explain how the story ‘Toba Tek Singh is used as a metaphor for sanity.
ii. Discuss the question of Identity expressed in Toba Tek Singh.
iii. “But I know the language of the Hindustanis,” the first one interjected with a smile adding,” Hindustanis are devilish, they strut about haughtily…”how does this sentence work as a mouthpiece of Saadat Hasan Manto’s own experience and struggles?
iv. Explain the title of the short story and its significance. Why did author choose ‘ Toba Tek Singh, as the center of his story?
v. Why does the author choose an asylum as the locus for the story?
vi. What do we learn about Partition from this narrative?
vii. Why did Manto choose a Sikh as protagonist for his tale?
viii. What is the significance of the title, both as a place and as a name?
ix. Discuss some of the underlying aspects of the story.
x. Explain the concept of ‘Binarism’ in the story.
xi. What are some of the consequences reflected in the story as a result of partition?
xii. “ In the middle, on the stretch land which has no name, lay Toba Tek singh.” Discuss the whole issue of nationhood and identity struggle expressed through the ending of the story. Relate it to the experience of those who passed through the agony of partition.