While walking to the university campus one morning, I performed an experiment. I attempted to see and experience the world---my world, Austin---as a Mantostaan. Let me tell you how it went: after my first steps in the road, I saw traces of a flattened pigeon, the outline of which formed a velvety black design on the speckled concrete. What was once its wing protruded on the right side, what was once its head rose up from its middle; thus, it wouldn't be unfair to say that it roughly resembled a map of Texas. Nearby, the only other signs of life were SUVs, parked in front of brightly colored homes. A cursory examination of their enormous tires, however, yielded no trace of the bird’s killer. Many of these, I discovered as I walked on, were not homes at all but had been converted into law offices, a fact that their signboards painted with phrases like “Bail-Bonds,” “24/7 jail release” and “DWI Specialist,” made plainly clear. A few paces ahead, I crossed paths with a group of men in dark suits and brightly colored ties headed into the offices. My gaze was pulled downward as I noticed a small but energetic squirrel following the men. It looked directly into my eye with a solemn expression that seemed to say---I know, I’m a squirrel. Then, it broke its stare, and scurried up an electrical pole. Right below me, lodged between the base of the pole and the grass, was a weather worn candy wrapper. A sign? A clue? I picked it up and smoothed out its crinkled plastic. Barely visible, I made out the brand name: “Sweethearts.”
While the results of my experiment may seem like aimless imaginings, I suggest that they are, rather, emplaced daydreams, thoughts inspired by a particular variety of walking. In this brief paper, I propose that Manto’s stories offer us hundreds of illuminating Mantostaans--- familiar locations made into places of new meaning, emotion, or bodily engagement. His stories inscribe messages onto generic spaces or actual cities---sometimes by inverting the conventional associations of such locations and sometimes by conjuring beauty or profundity from that which is conventionally taken as ordinary or ugly.
Geographers and anthropologists have had much to say about place. They’ve suggested that while locations are mere spatial coordinates, places acquire meaning through the stories and practices of individuals and groups. One subset of this literature has been inspired by Michel de Certeau, who suggests that walking is a form of writing, of inscribing oneself into the space of the city and thereby creating it. Building upon this work, scholars have offered ‘walking’ as a central mode of place making and an opposite to mapping and planning, both of which fix spatial perspectives and meanings.
These tools can alter our own perspectives too, allowing us to see spatial dimensions where we once saw only human agents. These frameworks can also help us unravel the complexities of Manto’s writing. We often hear of Manto the brilliant creator of characters, the commentator on human psychology, the interpreter of human cruelty, but can it also be that his gifts include the ability to “make” places---to recalibrate what is near and what is far, what is inside and what is outside, what is foregrounded and what retreats into the background? I will begin to explore this question by way of examples from two of Manto’s stories: Dhuaan and Tapish Kashmiri.
Dhuaan is fundamentally the story of a walk, and the places in it are made through the corporeal experiences of the main character, Masud, a school-aged boy. The walk begins with Masud on his way to school and continues as he returns home, where the experience of the walk preoccupies him throughout the remainder of the story. Even at home, he is possessed by restlessness and meanders from room to room.
The setting of Dhuaan is unspecified. We don’t know if it’s a city or a small town, but its locations---the cemetery, the school, the butcher shop, and the home---are to a certain degree generic. I suggest that in this story, place making occurs through a process of inversion. The outside spaces become places of great intimacy and intensity, while the inside or domestic spaces turn out to be places of alienation and can only be experienced through Masud’s recollections of the outside: both the white smoke that rises from the cooking spinach when singed by a spark, and the experience of rubbing his sister’s body are understood by Masud in relation to the butcher shop and the cemetery.
What is it about the butcher shop that fascinates Masud so completely? The shop is located on his route to school, but on this particular day, it becomes a place of gripping emotion and sensation. Here, instead of “food,” or “commerce,” or “death,” the butcher shop is associated with life, sensation, and corporeality. Manto describes his encounter:
On the way, he again saw those freshly slaughtered goats. The butcher had now hung one of them up. The second was lying on the table. When Masud reached the shop, a yearning arose in his heart to touch that meat from which vapor was rising. He moved forward and touched his finger to that part of the goat that was still twitching. The meat was warm. The warmth against his cold finger was wonderful. The butcher was busy sharpening the knife inside the shop, so Masud touched the meat once more and left.
After departing from the shop, Masud goes home and is at first almost completely ignored by his mother and sister. His discovers that the butcher shop has no meaning for his family members. After he puts down his backpack in its proper “place,” he himself doesn’t have a place to go---the other children are away at school, his sister is practicing music, and his mother is cooking in the kitchen. His most engrossing encounter at home begins when his sister quits practicing and cajoles him into giving her a massage. But, here too, thoughts of the goat carcasses at the butcher shop and the muddy atmosphere of the cemetery shape Masud’s response. Manto writes: “He thought over and over of the warm meat of the goats. One or two times, he thought, ‘If Kulsum were butchered, would vapor rise from her skinned flesh?’” In the same passage, when Masud is standing on his sister and pressing her back, he almost falls and we are reminded of the cemetery by the phrase “girte girte bacha,” the same words used to describe Masud’s near descent into his grandfather’s grave.
At the start of the story, Masud recalls the cemetery of his grandfather’s funeral, a memory that occurs to him when his teacher dies. Like the butcher shop, the cemetery too becomes part of Masud’s vocabulary of physical sensation. After the death of Masud’s teacher, we are told that he was “not sorry at all.”
"…His heart was completely devoid of emotion. However, he did recall the previous year when his grandfather passed away during these very days, and due to the fact that it had started raining, there was great difficulty at his funeral. He had also gone along with the procession, and at the cemetery, because of the wet dirt, it was so slippery that he almost fell into the open grave. He remembered all of these things clearly. The harshness of the cold, his soiled clothes, hands blue with cold that became white from pressing."
For Masud, the space of the cemetery becomes a place of experiencing his own body. When he imagines his teacher’s impending funeral, he wonders if the ground of the cemetery will once again become slippery causing people to fall into the graves and get hurt. He is not concerned with death per se, but merely with the effect that rain has on dirt, on his clothes, and on his body.
At the end of the story, Masud is alone. There is no one in the kitchen and no one in the courtyard. All the rooms of the house are shut. His father and mother are behind one of these closed doors and Masud is requested keep quiet because his mother is massaging his father’s head. When he sneaks up on his sister in another room, and he finds her under a quilt, examining the bare chest of her friend, he is utterly confused, and, finally, sets himself the task of breaking his hockey stick.
The story’s cryptic ending reinforces the fact that cemetery and the butcher shop are in many ways more intimate and familiar than the domestic setting. The story rewrites generic sites---the cemetery, the butcher shop, and the home---and inverts their meanings. In Dhuaan, the goat meat doesn’t actually come home---it stays in its location at the butcher shop. However, the vapors from the goats and the cemetery follow Masud into the most intimate portions of his life.
Tapish Kashmiri shares similarities with Dhuaan but exhibits a less radical inversion in the meanings of its generic sites. More important here are the story’s references to actual locations---two of the story’s characters are given place names (Kashmiri and Nagpuri) and the story is set in two cities (Lahore and Bombay). In Lahore, both named and generic locations are included, such as Lahore’s district court, and Haji Hotel, but also the mohalla, the masjid, and the bicycle repair shop. In Bombay, there is Chaupati Beach, Victoria Gardens, and Khet Vari Street.
In these cities, public spots are the settings for Tapish’s romancing, first with a boy whom he sees in a Lahore college, and later with a woman, the daughter of a Bombay shrine attendant. In Lahore, Tapish begins to offer prayers at the neighborhood mosque where the boy regularly prays. Tapish also follows the boy to a bike shop and presents his own shirt to wipe the oil from the disassembled parts to make them shine. Later, in Bombay, Tapish courts the woman in Victoria Gardens and then decides to marry her.
While these outside spaces pose no danger to Tapish---he is, after all, a man who can consume street food with “enough spices and sourness to give diarrhea and indigestion to twenty men”--- it is the trappings of domesticity that pose the biggest threat to Tapish. After deciding to marry his Bombay beloved, Tapish expresses his desire to do everything “according to the books,” saying he wants a “proper marriage.” Tapish explains:
“I’m putting some money together. I’ve fixed everything with her father. I’ve had a suit made for her brother. I’ve also given some money to her father, because he doesn’t have resources for the wedding. I’ve bought a sofa set, a dressing table and four chairs and given them to her father to hold. I’ve decided to stay with them after the wedding so she doesn’t get depressed.”
When the narrator hears this, he worries that someone is pulling a “fast one” on Tapish, a suspicion that proves to be well founded when it is later discovered that the girl has run off with a wrestler. Tapish’s response to this betrayal is also enacted publicly. Manto writes:
He found out about this exactly at that time that he came out of Khet Bari Street. Tapish hired a bicycle and followed the car in which the wrestler was making off with the girl. Tapish would have caught them were it not for the fact that his bicycle collided with a Victoria car. He was badly wounded, and broke his right-hand wrist.
In Tapish Kashmiri, affairs of the heart rewrite actual and generic locations. The masjid becomes a place of courtship; Victoria Park, a landmark to the daughter of a shrine attendant (and not to the British Queen). Without elaborating on this point right now, we can also say that Tapish’s character itself offers a new angle on the place identifier “Kashmiri;” his real name is unknown; this unusual man is simply Kashmiri.
 According to Mufti, Manto’s short stories offer “an immanent critique of nationalism’s divine ambitions, of its claims to a God-like perch above society” (Mufti, “A Greater Story-writer than God,” 3-4). Mufti’s idea of a “perch” somewhere above closely echoes de Certeau’s notion of “seeing the whole” or “looking down like a god” (Practice of Everyday Life, 92).