Sunday, December 15, 2013

Letters between Manto and Gandhi: A Conversation in Fiction

For my assignment on Gandhi,  I have recreated a fictional conversation between Manto and Gandhi through letters. Both Manto and Gandhi did not favour the idea of partition and had a very peaceful outlook to life. However, while one wrote sordid tales of human behaviour the other advocated complete celibacy. It is this that they discuss the concept of celibacy. While Manto mocks Gandhi in his own subtle way, Gandhi tries to explain his idea of Brahmacharya which is what is the outcome of this exercise; simplifying and concisely describing Gandhi's view on sexuality. The sources used for this include Gandhi's collected works available online and an article from FirstPost by Aakar Patel.

31 Laxmi Mansions, Hall Road, Lahore
16 December 1947

Dear Bapu,

Hope this letter finds you in the best of your health and spirits, which I assume your strict regime, good diet and teetotalism offer you already. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about myself. As a lowly drunkard often found in the streets, I can feel my liver beg for forgiveness while in the process of giving up slowly. But I digress. This is no letter to tell you of my bodily woes.

I don’t know if I can rightfully call you Bapu, since you no longer belong to my country but then again, I have never been one to go by constructs. Don’t worry. The next time onwards I shall address you as Uncle. I have gained a certain degree of infamy with my other letters addressed to this one powerful uncle.
I have long since thought of writing to you, often as a plea of help to stop the bloody slicing away of our country into two but then I thought one insignificant letter would not have made a difference. Jinnah sahib had made up his mind to deprive this insignificant writer of his cup of good liquor, so be it. Pardon me for my insolence, but this letter one is about an idea of yours that I disagree with. Now do not get me wrong, I have thought about it enough and now have come to the conclusion that it must be because I am incapable of understanding how a man as great as yours works. You are one who has shaken the root of the empire in a simple lungi and stick. I have been walking around in more clothes with my pen and stories but never had an impact. Once again, I think it was the alcohol. Have you read Mirza Ghalib sahib? He puts it most aptly when he says,

Yehmasail-e-tasawwuf, yehterabayaanGhalib,
Tujhe hum walisamajhte, jonabaadakhwaarhota.

(Aah these matters of philosophy, and your description of them,
Oh Ghalib, we would have thought you a prophet had you not been a drunkard)

Before I begin, I must tell you that I wholeheartedly agree with your philosophy of primacy of truth. Through his work this poor chap Manto tries really hard to put the true misery of life into words, however the world is harsh on SaadatHasan for it. Like you, I fight a satyagraha every day.
However, there is one point on which you and I diverge. The other day, I came across this comment by you and pondered over what it could mean. You say that ‘the modern girl loves to be Juliet to half a dozen Romeos. She loves adventure and to attract attention.’You said to young boys that, “When you walk in the bazaar, keep your gaze down. Wear a hood so that your eyes don’t light upon the faces of young girls. Thus you’ll hold on to your virtue.”
To me this is all very funny. I couldn’t believe that a man great as you could have said such a thing! I am sure your hold on India is intact but alas, I think this attempt was as much a failure as that of the Congress to impose prohibition in Bombay. Since I can take it no more, I think I should be the one to break to you that the horny nature of Indian men remains intact.
But imagine if this censor had worked!
We would have seen our young men walk around the streets with hoods on their heads and with their gazes lowered. There would have been chaos in traffic. Accidents every day caused by this. And the victims would all be men. Hood on head, eyes down, directly in the path of cars coming at them. With young girls, ungazed at, walking about here and there. Horns being sounded even louder than they are now. The hospitals would soon be filled up with wounded young men. And there too the poor fellows would presumably be hooded so as to not accidentally catch sight of the young nurses. It would have made life immensely boring. Passions, like still water, would not stir. All excitement would come to an end if men were physically stopped from engaging women. There would be no spark that's produced between two strangers. The intoxication of youth would sober up. The world all around would turn serious and grim. Faces would become longer. Their glow would vanish. Deprived of an essential motivation, men would turn sluggish. We would also destroy our culture of poetry and literature. All this and I would be put out of a job I do not even have yet!
While I think you are being unfair on poor writers like me I would really want to know what this brahmacharya business is all about? From what little I know of it, it sounds so completely disagreeable that I would want to know more of it.
I do not know how much you know of me, but people have often called me the greatest short story writer of India. Of course now I belong to Pakistan; this partition has greatly reduced my claim to fame. However, I must inform you in advance that I am often regarded a pornographic writer and although the courts have charged me five times for obscenity, I have never been convicted. In Pakistan, so far, I have been tried only once but then, my new country is still young. If your faith in the justice system lies assured, then I know you will reply to this lowly creature.
Pardon me if I have hurt your sentiments in any way because of my brash curiosity. I look forward to your response.

With utmost respect,
Sadat Hasan Manto
Once Greatest Short Story Writer of India
Resident of Pakistan

Sabarmati Ashram

30 December 1947

Dear Sadat,

You are quite frank and I liked your letter for the clear enunciation of your views.

Brahmacharya is a mental condition. It means control in thought, word and action, of all the senses at all times and in all places. The outward behavior of a man is at once the sign and proof of the inner state. He who has killed the sexual urge in him will never be guilty of it in any shape or form. However attractive a woman may be, her attraction will produce no effect on the man without the urge. The same rule applies to woman.

It is the way of life that leads us to Brahma (God). It includes full control over the process of reproduction. The control must be in thought, word and deed. If the thought is not under control, the other two have no value. There is a saying in Hindustani: "He whose heart is pure has the all-purifying waters of the Ganga in his house." For one whose thought is under control the other is mere child's play.

I have heard enough of your stories about the despicable condition of humanity during partition and elsewise. I see you choose to write about a certain type of suffering. A large part of the miseries of today can be avoided if we look at the relations between the sexes in a healthy and pure light, and regard ourselves as trustees for the moral welfare of the future generations. You, of all people, would know this. I have heard of unspeakable things in those stories of yours and am certain that if your characters followed brahmacharya, the women and children would not have seen that plight.

Brahamchraya means control of all the organs of sense. He who attempts to control only one organ, and allows all the others free play is bound to find his effort futile. To hear suggestive stories with the ears, to see suggestive sights with the eyes, to taste stimulating food with the tongue, to touch exciting things with the hands, and at the same time to expect to control the only remaining organ, is like putting one's hands in the fire and expecting to escape being hurt.

The Brahmachari of my conception will be healthy and will easily live long. He will not even suffer from so much as a headache. Mental and physical work will not cause fatigue. He is ever bright, never slothful. Outward neatness will be an exact reflection of the inner.

In contrast to what you say, I feel that a life without Brahmacharya would be insipid and animal-like. The brute by nature knows to self-restraint. Man is man because he is capable of, and only in so far as he exercises, self-restraint. What formerly appeared to me to be extravagant praise of Brahmacharya in our religious books seems now, with increasing clearness every day, to be absolutely proper and founded on experience.

I urge you to read more about this, wherever you can and practice it in your life. You will soon see a sea of change in your behavior and life.  I am Bapu or uncle, whatever you heart desires to call me. I shall pray for you and your country;our neighbors. My greatest regards to our friends across the border.



31 Laxmi Mansions, Hall Road, Lahore
11 January 1948

Dear Uncle,

Pardon me for this abrupt start but the after effects of the last letter were quite shocking. Like you suggested, I tried to read more about brahmacharya. Eventually, I read little but spoke to many. And what horrid tales I hear!  Is not this complete brahmacharya that you speak of something you practice yourself?

Pardon my sinful ears, but I overheard one too many talking about you and your experimentation with brahmacharya. Tauba! At first I could not hear them speak such vile things about such a pure man like you! Sleeping with your grand-nephew’s wife naked at night! Never I said, and tried to shut them up. I think your detailed response in the last letter has created a bond between us and honoring that, I tried to stop the filthy talk. It must be one of the Pakistani ploys for defamation. Do you know what they talk of you here? In the spirit of upholding satya, I thought it my duty to inform you of untruths they speak.

I told them that the brahmacharya Mahatma refuses to hear suggestive stories with ears and see suggestive things with sight! What makes you think he would sleep next to a naked pulsating mound of female flesh, let alone bathe withthem.Do you not know, I say, that brahmacharyas cannot let any sense be aroused? How can you say that Bapu’s grand-niece massaged his naked body from time to time? Do you not know that by virtue of being Bapu he is the father and mother to all and such things need not be spoken against such a pure bond?

I think the vile demon of nationalism has possessed them. You think if I spoke such filth of Qaid-e-Azam I would be alive today in Pakistan; a country still without a constitution. But I think I understand their saying this of a father of the enemy nation. After all, are not all our insults directed at family; our poor mothers and sisters bear the brunt of every curse we cuss.

Do not worry Mahatma, Bapu. I know you are wise enough to know that activities may be sensual but not explicitly sexual. So what if there is no penetration, you have taught them all to practice complete brahmacharya of all senses. For a while you had me, this staunch opponent of all things celibate, convinced too. When you said that this practice rids you of ailments, I seriously debated it in my head. You know, my head has been constantly throbbing for a while and to cure it I thought I’d give it a try but thankfully my friend bought me a new bottle of imported liquor which did the trick.  Thanks to his mercy,I didn’t have to go on the hard path of brahmacharya.

I suggest you don’t worry too much now. These moralists of Pakistan target me too. Had I not told you about the 5 cases of obscenity on me? By the grace of God, there is a 6th one now. I can tell people looking at me now wish I weren’t born to talk about the pornography that they live. This seems quite unfair to both of us. Why don’t you teach me how you deal with this and in turn, I will fight for your cause?

While I am sure you have other, much more important things to deal with, I beg you to spare some time for this cross border son of yours. Till then you must not worry. Your cause is being well fought in the land of Pakistan by this crusader of yours. I may not agree with your ideas, but like I said, you are my Indian father now. I will not let you be shamed and will stop every tongue that speaks filth of you through ahmisa. You are no pervert and every one in Pakistan shall know this!

I await your response with more eagerness.

Your Pakistani Son/Nephew,


31 Laxmi Mansions, Hall Road, Lahore
15 January 1948

Dear Bapu,
It has been a long while and yet I haven’t yet received a reply from you for my previous letter. Being hopeful, I shall blame it on the Indian Postal System, who in an inane bout of patriotism have not allowed my communication to reach you. How could they let a Pakistani son steal away any bit of your time. Anyhow, I am glad it did not reach you. I had said some things in haste that might have been slightly uncalled for in light of recent findings. Do forgive me and disregard all that if you ever get the letter.

My pundit brother Nehru-ji also seems to have similar disagreements with you as mine. I hear, he too, calls your brahmacharya abnormal and experimental. I hear a lot more stories now, most of which I can tell are true. I am now angry because I had been fighting for you like a fool without knowing the truth. Nehru-ji says that your experimentation with brahmacharya can lead to frustration, inhibition, neurosis and all manner of physical and nervous ills. I do not know whom to believe! One a Kashmiri brother and the other, my Indian father!

Anyway, I hear you tell people that one who conserves his semen acquires unfailing power? I have a bone to pick with you here then. You know what a bloody massacre the partition was and how it was an unnecessary exercise.  I’m sure you have conserved enough vital fluid over these years. Why, then, did vital fluid not keep India united? Baapuji if it had, today we would be one country and not two and I’d still be the greatest short story writer in India and an undisputed son of yours. I am very disappointed that despite knowing this secret of power, you didn’t exercise it.

I am discontent with your ideas, yet I will continue to fight for you. At least you have spared me a thought. My government hasn’t done that too. I shall await hearing back from you because being an optimist; I still hope you will dispel some of the stories I hear about you.

Your Son,

Sabarmati Ashram
24th January 1948

Dear Manto,

I have your letter. I apologize for not having responded since there has been a lot going on and I haven’t had the time to read my mail.  Despite all your disagreements with me, I address you as a friend, a son, and that is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, colour or creed.
The last time I wrote to you, I had left out certain important parts of my philosophy which I think you need to understand and will answer the questions you pose to me.

I will explain why brahmacharya is necessary in marriage, why conserving the vital fluid is important and why I engage in my little project of experimentation with brahmacharya.
I have practiced brahmacharya for over thirty years with considerable success though living in the midst of activities. After the decision to lead the life of a brahmachari, there was little change in my outward practice, except with my wife. For me the observance of even bodily brahmacharya has been full of difficulties. Today I may that I feel myself fairly safe, but I have yet to achieve complete mastery over thought, which is so essential. Not that the will or effort is lacking, but it is yet a problem to me where from undesirable thoughts spring their insidious invasions.

Human society is a ceaseless growth, an un foldment in terms of spirituality. If so, it must be based on ever-increasing restraint upon the demands of the flesh. Thus, marriage must be considered to be a sacrament imposing discipline upon the partners, restricting them to the physical union only among themselves and for the purpose only of procreation when both the partners desire and the prepared for it. The vital fluid you speak of has the potentiality of creating human beings. Is it strange then that one who is able completely to conserve and sublimate this, will have immeasurable creative strength! Imagine the potency of such sublimation, one drop of which has the potentiality of bringing into being a human life?
My brahmacharya was not derived from books. I evolved my own rules for my guidance and that of those who, at my invitation, had joined me in the experiment. If I have not followed the prescribed restrictions, much less have I accepted the description found even in religious literature of woman as the source of all evil and temptations. Owing as I do all the good there may be in me to my mother, I have looked upon woman, never as an object for satisfaction of sexual desire, but always with the veneration due to my own mother. Man is the tempter and aggressor. It is not woman whose touch defiles man, but he is often himself too impure to touch her. I am experimenting. I have never claimed to have been a perfect brahmachari of my definition. I have not acquired that control over my thoughts that I need for my researches in non–violence is to be contagious and infectious, I must acquire greater control over my thoughts.

I am glad you are fighting my cause and do consider you like my own son, but to address each of your questions is difficult as I am an old man. I sincerely hope you find the answers you are looking for in this humble letter of mine.

Yours truly,

30 January 1948

Dear Bapu,

All this talk of brahmacharya is frustrating. I think that we have a connection between us and a shared goal. I hear you are fasting for peace between India and Pakistan and have heard rumors of your visit. All this talk on paper will do no good. I will wait for you till you visit Pakistan to catch hold of you and have a good chat. Now I shall only speak to you in person.

However, in this letter, I wish to tell you tha..


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