Manto's "Letters to Uncle Sam," nine of them in total, were written from Lahore between 1951 and 1954, and in an overtly satiricial mode. Couched in an epistolary form that boasts a long tradition in Urdu, they perform various functions: that a of a no-holds-barred exposé of the Pakistani state and its elites; an astute reading of geopolitical shifts at the dawn of the Cold War; a humorous account of everyday life in the new country; and finally, an expression of anti-Americanism, that sentiment of which there is no dearth of contemporaneous examples. But Manto does not merely partake of caricature. Indeed, his grasp of American culture—from literature to films, race relations to imperial expeditions—betrays a palpable interest in and appreciation for the thing itself.
What is perhaps most interesting about the "Letters" themselves is not so much authorial intention—and here I thank Debashree Mukherjee for reminding me that Manto's entire oeuvre is political—as their situation. For if we are to accept Tariq Ali's assertion that the "Letters" were much discussed in the tea houses of Lahore, then it is fair to read into them a kind of radical surplus, the likes of which could not have escaped the attention of Pakistani readers at a time when voices on the left were suppressed. This entire period, marked by the sensational Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, has been examined in detail by Saadia Toor in The State of Islam: Culture and Cold War Politics in Pakistan (London: Pluto Press, 2011).
Manto was never able to reconcile himself to the Progressives or their rivals, the self-proclaimed "men of good taste" (arbab-e zauq) and the custodians of official state ideology. But his "Letters" might still stand in as a Mantoesque response to the cultural stalement of the '50s. It is for this reason, and so many others, that we must read them afresh—not only for what they reveal about the moment in which they were penned, but also for the insights they provide into those old relationships that have carried into our own time.