Pakistan’s First Obscenity Trial

زحمت مہر درخشاں

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Occasionally, we go back to the books and stories that we had read, years ago, in school or college. Re-reading can be a pleasurable experience. “Part of the fun of re-reading is that you are no longer bothered by the business of finding out what happens”, wrote Verlyn Klinkenborg in one of his delightful columns in The New York Times, a few years ago. “ Re-reading”, he said, “I’m able to pay attention to what’s really happening in the language itself — a pleasure surely as great as discovering who marries whom, and who dies and who does not.”

Recently, after several decades, when I revisited Saadat Hasan Manto’s Thanda Gosht (Cold Flesh), a collection of short stories so named because Manto’s famous — or infamous — story, Thanda Gosht, is part of the collection, I also read the preface, which is actually a story of Manto’s trial. His obscenity trial, that is. I hadn’t read it before. In school and college, we had no time for prefaces, forewords, and introductions to a book; we were eager to jump into the “action” — the story itself. Another reason for skipping the preface of Thanda Gosht was, perhaps, its daunting title: Zehmat-e-mehr-e-darakhshan. I didn’t know what it meant.

Now, when I read the preface, I discovered a fascinating account of Manto’s trial, and, in the process, also found a delightful explanation of what Zehmat-e-mehr-e-darakhshan meant.

Told in his inimitable style, Manto explains what, in his view, is obscene and what is not obscene. While doing so, he also shines an interesting light on how the courts and judges worked in the early years of Pakistan, and the reader gets to see how the system has changed — or not changed — in the past 70 years.

Here is the story, translated, paraphrased, and abridged, as best as I could:

After leaving Bombay, I came to Karachi and then proceeded to Lahore, arriving there probably on the 7th or 8th of January 1948.

For three months, I remained in a strange state of mind. I felt lost and disoriented. At times, I couldn’t tell where I was. Was I in Bombay or Karachi? Or was it Lahore, where several restaurants were busy holding song and dance shows to collect the Qaid-e-Azam Fund?

I remained lost and confused for three months. It felt like I was watching several different movies running on the same screen, all mixed up. Sometimes it was the bazaars and streets of Bombay, sometimes Karachi’s small, fast tramcars and donkey carts, and sometimes the noisy restaurants of Lahore. I couldn’t really tell where I was. I spent my days just sitting in a chair, brooding.

Finally, one day, I snapped out of my stupor to realize that I had hardly any money left. I had spent it all, some on daily expenses, and some at the bars in Clifton not far from where I lived in Karachi. I came to recognize the reality that I was now in Lahore, the city I occasionally visited (before Partition) in connection with my court cases, and where I bought beautiful sandals from Karnal Shop to take back with me.

I started thinking about earning a living. The film industry in Lahore had almost shut down after the Partition. The few signboards announcing the names of film companies were just signboards, with no business. I was worried.

Allotments were big business. Both refugees and non-refugees were using dubious claims and connections to have shops and factories allotted to them. I was also advised to participate in the loot, but I refused.

Meanwhile, I came to know that Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Chiragh Hasan Hasrat were jointly planning to produce a daily newspaper along modern lines. I met these gentlemen. They had named the paper Imroze, which, today, everyone knows about.

At our first meeting, the paper’s dummy was being readied. When we met next, three or four issues of the paper had already been published. I was pleased with the look and layout of the paper. It inspired me to write. But when I sat down to write, I found myself confused. Different thoughts assailed me. Much as I tried, I couldn’t separate India from Pakistan and Pakistan from India. How will it be, I wondered? Who will own all that was written in undivided India? Will that be divided too? Aren’t the basic problems of Indians and Pakistanis the same? Will Urdu become extinct in India? And what shape would it take in Pakistan? Will our state be a theocratic state? Of course, we will remain faithful to the state, but will we be allowed to criticize the government? Will conditions be any different than they were under British rule?

Wherever I looked, there was confusion. Some people looked extremely happy because they had suddenly become wealthy. But their happiness was tinged with anxiety — a fear that they might lose their wealth as quickly as they had acquired it. On the other hand, many of the refugees were tormented because they had lost everything.

In the refugee camps, conditions were beyond squalid. Some said things were a lot better now, they were worse earlier. I wondered if this was ‘better’, what ‘worse’ might have been like.

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There was a general sadness in the air. Like the gloomy whistles of the kites flying aimlessly in the early summer skies, the slogans of Pakistan Zindabad and Qaid e Azam zindabad also sounded cheerless. And Iqbal’s patriotic poems broadcast on the radio, day and night, had begun to sound monotonous. Feature programs on the radio were also lackluster. They included subjects like “how to raise chickens”, “how shoes are made”, “the art of leather curing”, and “how many people joined or left the refugee camps”, etc.

Most of the trees in the city were stripped bare. The refugees had ripped off the bark to thatch their huts and had cut the branches to kindle their hearths. The naked trees made the atmosphere look gloomier.

The buildings, too, seemed to be in a state of mourning, as were their inhabitants. Seemingly, they laughed and played, and even busied themselves with work if they found any, but all this seemed to be happening in a void, which, in spite of being filled to the brim, remained hollow.

I met my dear friends Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, and others. Everyone seemed to be in the same state of paralysis as me. It seemed as if the volcano, which had just erupted, had still some lava trapped inside, simmering, and that there might be a few more tremors before things settled down and the air cleared.

I felt mentally immobilized not knowing what to do. I took to wandering aimlessly all day, listening to the incoherent arguments and political commentaries. This aimless wandering, however, helped gradually clear my mind and nudged me into writing light and humorous articles.

I wrote Naak ki qismain (Types of Noses) and Dewaaron par Likhna (Writing on Walls), which were published in Imroze. The readers liked them.

Gradually, unnoticed to me, the humor in my articles turned into satire. I even managed to come up with what I felt were sharp and hard-hitting articles like ‘Sawal paida hota hai’ (The Question Arises) and ‘Swairay jo kal meri aankh khuli’ (When I Woke up Yesterday Morning).

I was happy to have groped my way out of the gloom and haze that had surrounded me. I felt better and began writing vigorously. A collection of these articles, titled Talkh-O-Shireen (Bitter and Sweet), was later published.


I wasn’t inclined to writing short stories. I considered this form of literary writing very difficult, and, therefore, stayed away from it. But it so happened that, around this time, my friend Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, having tired himself of writing trivial stuff for Radio Pakistan Peshawar, resigned from his job and moved to Lahore, where he started producing a monthly magazine, Naqoosh, in collaboration with Idara-e-Farogh-e-Urdu. He asked me to write a story for his magazine. In spite of his repeated requests, I couldn’t bring myself to write a story for the first few issues of Naqoosh. Qasmi Sahib was not happy. Finally, to appease him, I did manage to write a short story, titled Thanda Gosht, Cold Flesh, my first in Pakistan, which is also the title of the present collection of stories.

When I gave the story to Qasmi Sahib, he read it silently, in my presence. I couldn’t tell what he thought of the story. However, when he finished reading it, he apologized saying, “Manto Sahib, the story is very good, but a bit too steamy for Naqoosh.” I had never argued with Qasmi Sahib. I quietly took the manuscript back. “No problem”, I told him, “I will write another story, you could collect it tomorrow evening.”

When Qasmi Sahib turned up the next evening, I was writing the last lines of “Khol Do” (Open!), my second short story. I told Qasmi Sahib to give me a few more minutes to finish the story. Since the last lines were the most important lines of the story, Qasmi Sahib had to wait for quite a while. When I finished writing it, I handed him the story. “Please read it”, I said, “ I hope you like it”.

He started reading it, and I watched his expression change gradually. When he reached the end, he was visibly shaken but remained silent. “How do you like it?” I asked.

“ I will take it”, he said and left.

Khol Do was published in Naqoosh. The readers liked it. The last lines of the story seemed to have jolted everyone who read it. But then something happened that jolted us all. The government of Punjab saw the story as a threat to “public peace and order”, and banned the magazine for six months. The newspapers wrote against the ban but the ban stayed.

Later one day, I jokingly told Qasmi Sahib that had he published Thanda Gosht, instead, perhaps he would have escaped the calamity that befell his magazine.

Many days after the ban on Naqoosh, the deputy editor of the monthly Adb-i-Latif took the manuscript of Thanda Gosht from me to publish it in his magazine. The manuscript was proofread, set into type, and was ready to go into print when a member of the staff noticed the story and withheld it. They published the magazine without my story. Another attempt was made to print it in the next issue but without success. Adb-i-Latif returned the manuscript to me.

Meanwhile, Mumtaz Shireen in Karachi had written me several letters requesting a story for her magazine, Naya Daur. I sent her Thanda Gosht. After a considerable wait, she got back to me saying that they had been debating for some time whether or not to publish the story. The story was good, she said, and that she liked it very much, but she was afraid, she said, the magazine might be punished for publishing it. She, too, returned the manuscript to me.

By then, I had reconciled myself to not publishing Thanda Gosht anywhere.

Meanwhile, the government lifted the ban on Naqoosh even before six months, the period for which it was originally banned for publishing Khol Do.

I compiled a collection of stories for the magazine Naya Idarah, and included in it the two stories “Khol do” and “Thanda Gosht”. But it was not to be.

As it turned out, young Arif Abdul Mateen became the editor of the magazine Javed and started asking me to give him Thanda Gosht for publishing in his magazine. I stalled him a bit, but he persisted. Finally, I relented and wrote a note to Naya Idarah’s owner, Chaudhry Nazir Ahmad, saying, “since people at Javed want their magazine to be banned, please hand over Thanda Gosht to them”. Arif took the story and published it in Javed’s special edition of March 1949.


When the magazine hit the newsstands, both in Lahore and in other cities, nothing happened. One week passed, and then two, three, and four. There was no sign of any trouble. I was satisfied now and believed that no calamity was going to befall Thanda Gosht anymore.

I was wrong!

The reins of the Government Press Department were in the old and shaky hands of Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain. Even with his shaky hands, the old Chaudhry gave a sharp tug and the police jumped into action. They raided the offices of Javed and took away all copies of the magazine’s special edition.

The matter was referred to the Press Advisory Board to decide whether the case against the magazine should be pursued in a court of law or dropped. The Board consisted of prominent editors and publishers of major newspapers and magazines of the time. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the then editor of the Pakistan Times, was the convener of the Board. Other members were: F.W. Beston (sp?) of The Civil and Military Gazette, Maulana Akhter Ali of Zamindar, Hameed Nizami of Nawa-i-Waqt, Waqar Anbalvi of Safina, and Aminuddin Sehrai of Jadeed Nizam.

Naseer Anwer, the publisher of Javed, the offending magazine, was also present in the meeting. He narrated the proceeding thus:

“Chaudhry Mohammad Hussain began by presenting the special issue of the magazine and pointed to the politically rebellious and provocative articles and poems that the magazine usually carried. Faiz disagreed and refuted the allegations. Other members of the Board agreed with Faiz, and thus the political accusations fell flat. However, all hell broke loose when the discussion shifted to Thanda Gosht. While Faiz maintained that the story was not obscene, Maulana Akhter Ali of Zamindar thundered: “No! This kind of literature will not be allowed in Pakistan. Never!” Mr. Sehrai agreed with the Maulana. Waqar Anbalvi also condemned the story. Hamid Nizami said what his paper, Nawa-i-Waqt would say. [Nawa-e-Waqt was, and still is, a conservative paper]

“Mr. F. W. Beston (sp?), the editor of The Civil and Military Gazette, an Englishman, said he did not quite understand the story. Chaudhry Mohammad Hussain proceeded to explain it to him in English: ‘The essence of the story is that we Muslims are so characterless that we allow Sikh men to even rape our dead women.’ Hearing that, Faiz and I could hardly suppress our laughter. We tried our best to reason with Chaudhry Hussain, but Chaudhry would not relent. Finally, we gave in and agreed to let a court decide the case.”

Within a few days, Naseer Anwer and Arif Matin, the publisher, and editor of javed, respectively, were arrested. A few days later, I heard my doorbell ring. When I answered it, it was Chaudhry Khuda Bakhsh, a sub-inspector of police. He had been looking for me for the past few days but was unable to find me at home. He greeted me politely and told me to come to the Civil Lines police station the next morning. “Bring along a friend so that bail can be posted”, he said. Since I had had the experience of dealing with police officers several times before, I was impressed by the inspector’s unusual courteous manner.

The next morning, I presented myself at the police station along with my friend Sheikh Salim, my guarantor. He signed my bail papers, and we were done with the first stage of the case. I was free on bail.

Arif Matin and Naseer Anwer, the editor and publisher, respectively, of Javed were also released on bail. But Arif Matin remained extremely worried. When talking about the upcoming trial, his mouth would become dry with anxiety. I wondered why he, being a member of the communist party, was so scared of a court trial.

We all received court summonses, and turned up at Zilla Kutcherry, or district courts, on the appointed date. Appearing before a court was nothing new for me. I had done this before, in connection with my last three cases [before Partition].

But Zilla Kutcherry is such a squalid place. There are flies, mosquitoes, bugs — and dust — everywhere. You hear the tedious clatter of ancient typewriters and the jangle of chains when the police escorts shackled prisoners to their court hearings. You see the rickety wooden chairs, usually with a leg missing, and torn and sagging cane seats. The plaster is peeling off the walls, and the grounds outside, devoid of any green, look like the bald head of a grubby Kashmiri [Manto himself was an ethnic Kashmiri]. Burka-clad women sit cross-legged on bare, dust-covered floors. Some men shout expletives, others just sit, doing nothing.

Inside the courtrooms, magistrates sit at shabby tables, hearing cases and at the same time chatting with pals seated next to them. There are no easy words to describe this place — the atmosphere, the language, the jargon used. Everything is different — and dreadful. May God keep everyone away from this place.

Here, things move on “wheels” (bribe). You don’t have to look too hard to discover this. Even a casual observer will see it. If you need a copy of a court document, you fix “wheels” to your application; if you have to see an official, you need the “wheels” again; if you want something done urgently then you will have to increase the number of “wheels”. Every document in the district courts seems to move on “wheels” — four wheels from one office to another, eight from the second office to the third, and so on. How you wish for someone to attach wheels to you and push you out of this place called Zilla Kutcherry — forever.

I needed a lawyer. I met Tassadaq Hussain Khalid before our day in court. He was kind enough to volunteer his services and said that he would be delighted to defend me. I gratefully accepted his offer.

Khalid came to the court, and we, the accused, appeared before Mian A. M. Saeed P.C.S., Magistrate Class-I [This is how the name appeared on a wooden plaque outside the courtroom]. The magistrate had been a captain in the army but was now wielding the scales of justice instead of a gun. He was a slim man, dark-complexioned with small, sharp eyes. He sat pompously in his chair.

We, the accused, politely greeted the magistrate and stood in the enclosure meant for the defendants. He took no notice of us, and looked at my lawyer and said something to him. They examined our papers and set a new date for the hearing. We bid him salaams and came out of the courtroom.


It was the month of June, and very hot. Our throats were dry, but Arif Matin’s was parched because of nervousness. I wished a member of the communist party were there to see his condition.

We went through two or three similar, perfunctory, hearings in the next few weeks.

The court procedure was such that on the day of hearing one’s turn to appear in court could come at any time. Therefore, we had to hang about outside the courtroom in extremely hot weather, lest our name was called and we didn’t hear it. Missing our turn would terribly upset the magistrate; we couldn’t afford to do that. His attitude was already hostile, and it seemed he had already made up his mind to rule against us. My lawyer had, in fact, suggested that we file a request to transfer the case to another court. However, I did not agree because, I thought, another judge may not be much different. So, we went through the next two or three short hearings, during which the following witnesses were presented as if just to complete a formality:

Mr. Mohammad Yaqoob, the manager of Kapoor Art Press, Lahore; Sheikh Tufail Haleem, the Assistant Superintendent of D.C. Office, Lahore; Syed Ziauddin, a translator for the Government of Punjab and a few others.

Syed Ziauddin stated that in his opinion Thanda Gosht was obscene — all of it. Answering a question from my lawyer, he said that even though the writer meant well, the words and expressions he chose were inappropriate.

To a question by the lawyer, “Shouldn’t the writer put words in the mouth of his characters that they normally use and which appropriately reflect their true personality?” the witness answered: “Yes, the words of a conversation should reflect the personalities of the characters.” The witness also agreed that it was the writer’s job to establish characters, both good and bad.

After the statements of the prosecution witnesses, the magistrate went through the formality of asking us some procedural questions, which went something like this:

Court: You are accused of writing Thanda Gosht, an obscene piece of writing, which was published in a special edition of the magazine called Javed, published by Naseer Anwer and Arif Matin, the publisher and editor, respectively. This is an offense under section 292 of the Pakistan Penal Code. Why shouldn’t you be punished for this?

Manto (through Mr. Khalid, the lawyer): Yes, I did write Thanda Gosht and gave it to the said magazine for publication. No, I do not consider it obscene. On the contrary, I believe it is reformative.

Court: Then why were you charged?

Manto: The police would know better. Their standpoint on morality and reform is different from ours.

Court: Do you want to say anything more?

Manto: No, not at this point.

The court then asked us to give a list of our defense witnesses. We had already worked it out. There were 32 names, which we presented to the court.

When the magistrate saw the list, he was upset. “This is a crowd,” he said, “I can’t have all of them!” My lawyer argued that each witness was important to the defense, but the magistrate did not agree. Rather, he proceeded to make fun of some of the names. Going down the list, when he came to Mumtaz Shireen’s name, he asked: “Who is this Mumtaz Shanti?” The court staff thought it was funny and they all dutifully laughed. We remained silent, suppressing our indignation.

After some difficulty, the “Magistrate, Class 1” agreed to a shortlist of 14 defense witnesses. Summonses were issued to them.

I did not purposely meet any of the witnesses beforehand because I wanted to hear them comment independently on the story, and see what they really thought of it.

On the date of hearing, the witnesses had to be present in the court early in the morning. They left their work to appear before the court and had to wait outside the courtroom for hours before they were called in. We, the accused, stood in the dock inside the courtroom, but their plight was no different. Like us, they stood against an iron fence, outside the courtroom, waiting their turn to be called in anytime. I felt very guilty for putting them in this situation.

My friend Sheikh Salim’s condition was especially pitiable. Being a habitual drinker, he would keep yawning outside the courtroom. Not being able to cope with the agony, he started bringing a small bottle of whiskey in his pocket and would take a swig from it at short intervals. He had no familiarity with or interest in literature, but was often seen and heard talking to people around him, telling them: “After all, what is obscenity? I haven’t read Thanda Gosht, but it cannot be obscene. Manto is an artist.”

Our first defense witness was Syed Abid Ali Abid (M.A., LLB), the principal of Dayal Singh College Lahore. He stated:

“I have read Thanda Gosht. It’s an outstanding piece of literature. I have read all of Manto’s writings. Manto has a special position among the prominent short story writers after Prem Chand. On reading Thanda Gosht, the overwhelming impression one gets is of the punishment Isher Singh (the main character of the story) is meted out by nature — impotence in return for his vile act.”

Answering a question from the court, Abid Sahib said: “From Wali to Gahalib, everyone, at one time or another, has written what can generally be labeled as obscene. Literature, in my opinion, can never be obscene. What Manto writes is literature.”

Prosecution: “Is literature produced for the sake of literature?”

Abid Sahib: “I have already said that literature is a critical commentary of life. That should answer your question. The words and deeds of every reasonable person can be meaningful. But everyone is not reasonable. Every word and deed can be interpreted as good or bad in the eyes of society. and there are several yardsticks to judge it.”

Answering another question from the prosecution, Abid Sahib said: “All my sons and daughters have read this story. I have had academic discussions with one of my daughters, a fourth-year student in college, on many subjects, including matters related to sex, which also happens to be part of her syllabus. On Thanda Gosht, I have also had discussions with several literary persons. They have all appreciated it.”

Our next witness was Mr. Ahmed Saeed, Professor of psychology, Dayal Singh College Lahore. He stated:

Thanda Gosht is not obscene. It discusses a serious sexual problem. In my view, the concept of obscenity is relative. A story like Thanda Gosht can only be sexually provocative to a person who is mentally sick.”

Our third witness was Khalifa Abdul Hakim (M.A, LLB, Ph. D.), former Director of Education Kashmir. He stated:

“Every person has both good and bad traits. The writer’s job is to present the different facets of human personality in a manner that helps understand the realities of life. The portrayal of an evil character should arouse disgust and repulsion for his evil deeds.”

Khalifa Sahib also added: “Reading the story in question, you feel disgusted towards Ishwar Singh, the main character of the story, and begin to hate him. His is an accurate characterization. Under certain circumstances, such characters, in spite of being otherwise healthy, can become psychologically impotent [as mentioned in the story].”

All these statements were considerably lengthy — and scholarly. The magistrate had to write them down, word for word. He would often get exasperated doing that and grumble to himself: “Am I a magistrate or a muharrar (stenographer)?” However, he did manage to do what was required of him.

Another interesting thing happened during the hearing. I was holding a can of cigarettes, probably Craven A. [This brand of cigarettes, and several others, came those days in round cans of 50 cigarettes each]. When the magistrate noticed it, he was furious.

“This is a court of law, not your home!”, he shouted pointing to the can.

“Your honor”, I answered,“ I am not smoking but just holding the can.”

“Keep quiet!” shouted the magistrate, “and put the can in your pocket!” I obeyed.

The magistrate then picked up his own can of cigarettes from the table, took out a cigarette, lighted it, and started smoking. Standing in the dock, I lustily inhaled the smoke that wafted through the courtroom.


We were given a new date for the next hearing. I turned up on the given date, but my lawyer, Mr. Tassadaq Hussain Khalid, could not come because of some family exigency. I requested the magistrate for another date, but he refused and ordered the proceedings to begin. I was helpless.

Dr. Saeedullah (M.A, Ph.D., D.Sc.), a civilian officer in the Pakistan Air Force, number four on our list of witnesses, was called to the witness stand. I didn’t know what to do without a lawyer. But, since a lot of legal blood flowed in my veins — most of my elders were lawyers, my father had been a sub-judge, two older brothers were barristers — I gathered enough courage to start examining Dr. Saeedullah myself, and navigated through his statement.

Every now and then, the magistrate would interrupt, forbidding me to ask this or that question, but I persisted. I was only halfway through examining Dr. Saeedullah when four smart looking, young lawyers in black coats entered the courtroom and stood near Dr. Saeedullah. One of them, with a thin mustache and dusky complexion, moved towards my enclosure and, leaning against the railing, whispered in my ear, ‘Manto Sahib, can we be your lawyers?’

“Yes!”, I promptly agreed.

Without much ado, the young lawyer started examining the witness.

“Who are you?” The magistrate interrupted the lawyer.

“Sir, I am Mr. Manto’s lawyer”, the lawyer answered and then looking at me, “Right, Manto Sahib?” I nodded in the affirmative.

His other three colleagues also started taking part in the proceedings. Their youthful enthusiasm was heartwarming. The magistrate, annoyed at the intrusive lawyers, asked, ”Why are you intervening? Who are you?”

“We are also lawyers for the defendant, Sir”, one of them answered and then looking at me, “Isn’t that so, Manto Sahib?” I nodded as before.

Dr. Saeedullah continued his statement:

“After reading Thanda Gosht, I have become ‘cold flesh’ myself. I felt sorrow and gloom. The story does not agitate you sexually. The writer has used profanities at times to present Ishar Singh’s true character. But he has used them in such a way that they do not sound like profanities. Even if they did, the overall story, in my opinion, isn’t obscene. I believe profanity is not necessarily obscene in itself. A good writer would not use profanity unless he had to. In this story, the writer has handled the profanities skillfully.”

It was the prosecutor’s turn now to cross-examine the witness. He started off with: “Different writers have been given different titles according to what they write. For example”, he continued, “Rashidul Khairi is called mussavir-i-gham (painter of pathos), Allama Iqbal mussavir-i-Haqeeqat (painter of reality or truth) and Khawaja Hasan Nizami, mussavir-i-qudrat (painter of nature). How would you …”

“Musavvar-e-Hayat”, interrupted Doctor Saeedullah anticipating the drift of the prosecutor’s question and stopping him mid-sentence. He then repeated, “I would give the writer of Thanda Gosht the title ‘Musavvar-e-Hayat’ (painter of life).”

It was now the turn of Col. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, editor Pakistan Times, to take the witness stand:

“In my opinion” Faiz proceeded, “the story in question is not obscene. It is meaningless to declare individual words in a story obscene or otherwise. While critiquing a story, one needs to look at the whole story in the entirety of its context … Mere nakedness does not make a thing obscene. The writer of Thanda Gosht has not written anything obscene,” “However”, Faiz added, “the story does not measure up to a high standard of literature either, for it does not satisfactorily analyze the basic problems of life.”

When cross-examined, Faiz said, “I would not mind using phrases like ‘baphian lay rahay thay’ (they were necking), ‘Munh bhar bhar kay bosay liye’ (they were having mouthful of kisses) or “choos choos kar sara seena thookon say lathair diya” (he slathered her breasts with drool by sucking at them greedily). Use of such phrases, if the story so demands, is legitimate. The words may not sound refined, but they are literary necessities.”

Next on the witness stand was Professor Soofi Tabassum of Government College Lahore. He stated:

“The story Thanda Gosht does not affect public morality. It is possible, though, that some of the sentences in the story, read in isolation, may sound obscene.” “ Discussing subjects related to sex in our literature is a positive trend,” he added. Answering a question, Soofi Sahib said, “As long the purpose of a writer is to create a literary piece, his/her story or essay cannot be called obscene. Literature is never obscene.”

Agitated, the prosecutor lifted the rimless glasses from his nose and put them back several times. He wanted to bring around Soofi Sahib to say things that he wanted him to say, but Soofi Sahib was not a child freshly admitted to a school. He had been teaching for 20 years, and wouldn’t easily get trapped by the prosecutor. At one point, he bluntly said to the prosecutor, “Look, sir, no matter what tricks you play, I will say exactly what I have to say”.

The prosecutor then asked a leading question, “If a story or a literary piece leads to immoral consequences, even when the writer’s intention is not so, wouldn’t you call that story obscene?” Soofi Sahib smiled and said, “No! The reader, too, has an independent mind and judgment, and the writer’s motive alone cannot influence him or her. A writer creates a story because it’s his/her creative compulsion”.

“But”, the prosecutor continued, “what if writing adversely affects the morals of the readers, wouldn’t you hold the writer responsible?”

“No!” Soofi Sahib replied, “The author is absolved.”

Exasperated, the prosecutor asked, “What is, then, immoral writing?”

“Immoral writing is where the sole objective of the writer is to undermine morality and encourage lustful or lewd conduct”, answered Soofi Sahib.

The prosecutor, once again, adjusted the glasses on his nose and rested his case.

Our next witness was Dr. I. Lateef, Head of the Psychology Department at F.C. College Lahore. I had heard his name but had never seen him before. He had been sitting next to the magistrate, during Soofi Sahib’s testimony, holding the Special Edition of Javed. I had not paid attention to him until he started speaking.

“I have just now read Thanda Gosht,” he said, and then, to our surprise, added, “I think, the story should not have been published in a popular magazine. Were it published as a case history in a scientific journal, discussing factors causing impotency, it would not be obscene… I would consider the offending words in the story obscene when used in ordinary conversation, but in a case study they would be considered important.” Then suddenly, in the midst of his statement, Dr. Lateef looked around and asked, “Who is Mr. Manto?” When I said “Janab yeh khaksar hai”, Sir, here, yours humbly, I noticed the doctor’s sharp and pointed mustache twitch a little. But he didn’t say anything to me and continued with his statement.

My lawyer whispered into my ear, “Manto Sahib, your witness has turned hostile. You may cross-examine him.”

“Let it be”, I replied, but my lawyer did ask him a question to which the doctor answered, “The story should not have been published in a magazine that can be read by young and old, boys and girls alike, for such impressionable minds can get agitated by reading this kind of stuff.”

When the Doctor was finished, he came to me, shook my hand and said, “Since you called me as a witness, you should have, at least, met me beforehand.”

“Inshallah (God willing), next time”, I smiled. He shook my hand again and left.

I must name those young lawyers who had made the dramatic entrance in the courtroom for my defense. The man with the thin mustache, sharp nose, and dusky complexion was Sheikh Khurshid Ahmed. The famous Coffee House in Lahore [where the city literati met] would be incomplete without him. [He remained Manto’s lawyer throughout the case] The other three were Mr. Mazharul Haq, Mr. Sardar Mohammad Iqbal [who later became Chief Justice of Lahore High Court in the 70s], and Mr. Ejaz Mohammad Khan. They had heard in the barroom that I was without a lawyer and was representing myself. They decided to help me.

Contrary to his earlier agreement with the defense to allow 14 defense witnesses, the magistrate allowed only seven.

The prosecution produced four witnesses, all heavyweights, to counter the extensive and scholarly arguments put forth by the defense. They were: Maulana Tajwar Najeebabadi, a professor at Dayal Singh College Lahore; Shorish Kashmiri, Editor weekly Chattan; Abu Saeed Bazmi, Editor Ehsan Lahore; and Dr. Mohammad Din Taseer, Principal Islamia College Lahore.

The first three witnesses unequivocally condemned Thanda Gosht as obscene, while Dr. Taseer said there might be literary flaws in the story, but he didn’t consider it obscene. Some words in the story, he said, were probably inappropriate, but he wouldn’t call them obscene, as he was not clear how the word obscene is defined.


After lumbering through several hearings and postponements, the trial finally came to an end, and the date when the verdict would be delivered was fixed for January 16, 1950. Mian A. M. Saeed, the magistrate, had revealed his bias against us on several occasions during the court proceedings. It became obvious when, after reading a written statement, which I had submitted at the end of the conclusion of the proceedings, explaining my views about the story, he remarked that my statement itself amounted to a confession and was sufficient to convict me.

I anxiously waited for January 16. My lawyer, Sheikh Khurshid (one of the three young lawyers who had turned up voluntarily to defend me), however, was confident that we would only be fined, and nothing more.

Naseer Anwer, the publisher of Javed, the offending magazine, remained unperturbed throughout the proceedings. However, his young editor, Arif Matin, was agonized all the time. One reason for his anxiety was also his old father, who was terribly worried about the fate of his son in the case.

Finally, 16 January, the ‘Day of Judgment’, arrived.

While leaving home for the Zilla Kutcherry that morning, I put Rs 500 in my wallet, just in case. Sheikh Salim was already there, with a bottle in his trousers’ pocket. He had been drinking since morning and was extremely worried, but that didn’t stop him from trying to console me. He kept saying, “Bahi Jaan, you need not worry, everything will be alright.” I only smiled back at his assurances.

Meanwhile, Naseer Anwer and Arif Matin also turned up. Naseer Anwer was calm as usual, but Arif Matin’s throat was bone dry. He asked me nervously, “Manto Sahib, what do you think, what will happen?”

“Whatever will be, will be”, I replied.

The magistrate, too, turned up early enough, but there was no indication when the verdict would be announced. We waited outside the courtroom until it was 11 o’clock and then 12, but no news. Then one of my ‘spies’ came out of the courtroom, took me aside and whispered into my ears:
“I have seen the judgment and also, hurriedly, tried to read it. I could only read the last lines. You are surely going to be sentenced and fined. I saw written in front of your name: ‘sentence him to undergo — — ’ and there was a blank after that.”
“Other accused”, he added, “will be fined only.” After giving me this piece of information, the ‘spy’ hurried out of the kutcherry, saying “I will go and arrange for someone to stand surety for you.”

Hearing the news the “spy” had brought, I started worrying about the prison sentence. How long will it be, I wondered? One month, two months or only a few days? I didn’t share the information with others but did mention it to Sheikh Khurshid, my lawyer. He immediately prepared the bail papers and said: “Don’t worry Manto Sahib, maximum sentence cannot be more than 10 or 12 days,” but then added rather apprehensively, “I hope the magistrate doesn’t refuse the bail plea.” Hearing him say this made me more worried.

To lighten my burden, I shared the information with Sheikh Salim. This sent the poor Sheikh into a state of panic. However, he continued consoling me: “Bhai Jan, don’t worry … you won’t have any problem in jail. I would take a cab and visit you there… I know how to handle such matters… Money can solve all such problems.” Then, he proffered his bottle to me, saying, “Here, I think, you need to have a double.”

“No, Sheikh Sahib”, I said, “Not now, later, in the evening.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll get it to you there.” I laughed openly.

It was 1:00 PM now. Sheikh Salim, Naseer Anwer and I went out to look for something to eat, bought “aaloo cholay” from a pushcart, and sat on the grassy lawn of the nearby hostel of Government College. We quickly ate our lunch and hurried back to continue our vigil outside the courtroom.

I had already hinted to Naseer Anwer and Arif Matin about the fine they might have to pay and advised them to arrange for the payment to avoid any last-minute problem.

Sheikh Salim continued drinking and scheming about how he would reach me in jail and what he might do to make my life there comfortable.

A friend of mine, Mushtaq Ahmed, had arranged to bring along a well-to-do friend of his, Mr. Sharif, to stand bail for me. Sheikh Salim was not happy about it, and protested that why did someone have to bring another guarantor when he was there?

“Sheikh Sahib”, I told him, “if you are so fond of being a guarantor, there were two other accused as well; you could be their guarantor” He smiled, took a swig from the bottle, and started scheming again.

It was 5 o’clock now. We were all getting anxious except Naseer Anwer, who seemed unperturbed as if nothing was going to happen. His unconcern was enviable. Arif Matin’s throat, however, had become so dry by now that he had stopped talking.

Finally, at 5:30 we were called in. We quickly informed Sheikh Khurshid, my lawyer who had moved away from the group. He came running. We all entered the courtroom.

Mian A. M. Saeed, Magistrate Class-I, sat there, absorbed in his thoughts, with a pen tucked in his teeth, staring at the papers lying in front of him.

My lawyer looked extremely tense. My heart was pounding hard. Sheikh Salim looked pale. Arif Matin repeatedly licked his dry lips. Naseer Anwer remained unconcerned as usual. The few press reporters in the room, with their notepads and pencils ready, waited impatiently. There was total silence in the room. The tension was palpable.

The magistrate cleared his throat, released the pen from his teeth, turned the papers back and forth, filled some blanks on them, and announced the verdict:


I was to undergo rigorous imprisonment (qaid-ba-mushaqqat) for 3 months and pay a fine of Rs 300 or, in case of non-payment, additional imprisonment for 21 days. The other two accused, Naseer Anwer and Arif Abdul Mateen, the publisher, and editor, respectively, were only fined Rs.300 each or, in case of non-payment, rigorous imprisonment for 21 days each.

It was a harsh punishment, more than we expected.

I paid the fine and, simultaneously, my lawyer, Sheikh Khurshid Ahmed, applied for bail pending an appeal to the Sessions court. The magistrate was reluctant to accept the bail plea, but after some back and forth between my lawyer and him, he agreed to grant me bail, which meant I didn’t have to go to jail until my appeal was decided.

Arif Matin’s father paid the fine for his son. When Naseer Anwer’s turn came to pay his fine, he coolly said he didn’t have any money on him. The magistrate ordered that he should be handcuffed and taken to jail. I had Rs 200 left with me (after paying Rs. 300 fine). We were still short by a hundred. Sheikh Khurshid, my lawyer, requested the magistrate that they would arrange to pay the fine by next morning and therefore Naseer Anwer may please be let go on surety. The magistrate accepted the plea. The lawyer asked the people present, “Who would be the guarantor for Naseer Anwer?” Everyone remained quiet. But then Sheikh Salim, who by now was decidedly drunk, spoke, his speech slurred. “I will be the guarantor for Naseer Sahib!” My heart started pounding hard. I was afraid the magistrate might notice that Sheikh Slim was drunk and he would definitely be arrested. Who would then stand surety for him, I wondered. The whole case, I imagined, would become a tangled mess. I felt so scared that I walked out of the courtroom, but would peep in repeatedly to see if Sheikh Slim was arrested or not.

Fortunately, nothing untoward happened. Naseer Anwer’s bail was accepted.

Sheikh Salim swayed out of the courtroom, embraced me, and, tears rolling down his cheeks, stammered, “God has saved my brother ”. Then he took out the bottle from his pocket, took a final swig from what was left in it, “let’s hurry before the shops close”, he said.

The others, too, paid their fine and decided to appeal.

We requested the court for a copy of the judgment, which we needed to file an appeal. At first, we didn’t get it, but when we attached ‘wheels’ to the request, we promptly received a copy.


We filed an appeal in the court of Mr. Mehrul Haq, Sessions Judge Lahore, on January 28, 1950. However, when the appeal came up for hearing, Mr. Mehrul Haq declined to hear it on the grounds that he knew my family very well as both of us came from Amritsar. He transferred the case to Additional Sessions judge Mr. Joshua [full name not given] who also declined to hear the case saying that since he did not understand Urdu very well he would not understand the story in question, and sent the case back to Mr. Mehrul Haq. After giving it some thought, Mr. Mehrul Haq transferred the case to Additional Sessions Judge Inayatullah Khan.

When we appeared before Inayatullah Khan, he told my lawyer that our case was the first of its kind before him and that he would need about a month to study it carefully. My lawyer agreed. The hearing was set for July 10.

My lawyer, Sheikh Khurshid, was satisfied with the new date as it would give him sufficient time to prepare the case well. However, he expressed his apprehension about the judge, saying that the judge was not only a practicing Muslim who wore a beard, prayed and fasted regularly, but also had a reputation of being narrow-minded. Never mind, I said, we could always go to the High Court if necessary.

We both agreed. Meanwhile, my lawyer asked me to write a short explanatory note on Thanda Gosht for his guidance, which I did.

Finally, July 10, 1950, the date of the court hearing, arrived. I was terribly anxious. Everyone in my family prayed for my success in the case. I only hoped the judge would not be hostile like Mian A. M. Saeed, who had convicted us.

The judge had set aside four hours for discussion of the case. When we were all in the courtroom, he turned to Sheikh Khurshid, my lawyer, and spoke softly, “excuse me, you will have to wait for about half an hour, I have a few things to sort out before we can start.”

We came out of the courtroom.

Arif Mateen was very quiet, and so was my lawyer. He had brought thick volumes of law books with him. Perhaps he was going through them in his mind. I was already thinking of the next step — the High Court. Naseer Anwer, the publisher, unperturbed as ever, spread his handkerchief on a thin patch of grass on the ground outside the courtroom and sat on it, humming a song.

After about 45 minutes, we were called in again. All three of us defendants proceeded towards the defendant’s enclosure, to stand there, as we always did in the lower court. “Please, you may take a seat,” the judge said softly. I thought the judge was talking to someone else, but then realized he was addressing us, the defendants. I was pleasantly surprised. We sat down.

“I have studied the case thoroughly”, the judge began, “and have studied the judgment of the lower court and also read the story Thanda Gosht carefully.” Then he discussed some legal points with the lawyers on both sides and asked for some clarifications. After about half an hour of arguments and legal hairsplitting, the judge looked at the audience, towards no one in particular, and smiled. “If I punish Saadat Hasan Manto,” he said, “Manto will blame my beard for it”, and then continued commenting on the judgment of the lower court.

Finally, the judge turned to us and asked if we had paid our fine. “Yes”, we all replied. Then, without raising his voice, he announced:

“You are all acquitted! And the fine that you have paid already will be reimbursed to you.”

The judge’s verdict came so unexpectedly that I didn’t quite absorb his announcement, and continued sitting in my chair. Sheikh Khurshid, my lawyer, shook my shoulder and said, “Get up, you are acquitted!”

Only when I came out of the courtroom and paid a bakhsheesh, gratuity, of Rs.10 each to the court chaprassis, I realized I was free. I was happy. I thanked God that the nightmare was finally over. Sheikh Khurshid, my lawyer, was also very happy, justifiably so.

Ironically, a day after our acquittal, on the morning of July 11, Chaudhry Nazir Ahmad, the owner of ‘Naya Idarah’ and also the editor of ‘sawaira’ came over. He had, earlier, declared me a “conservative” and publicly declared that he would not publish any of my writings in his magazine. Some others had also supported him in his stance. However, this morning he embraced me, warmly congratulated me on my acquittal and then requested that I give him Thanda Gosht for publishing in one of his magazines. I do not want to comment any further on Chaudhry Sahib’s request.

Sometime after my acquittal, I received a letter from an officer cadet, Mazhar Ali Khan, from Kohat. It read:

“I hope you remember me. After meeting you at Riaz Sahib’s shop a few times, I had become your ardent fan. I read in the papers that you have finally gotten over the problems related to Thanda Gosht. I am sorry, I could not send you a letter of congratulations earlier. Please accept my felicitations. I am sure, with all the hostility you have faced, the number of your fans will increase even further.

“I have heard that Chaudhry Mohammad Hussain [the person who had originally triggered the charge against Thanda Gosht], who kept you busy for so long, has passed away. Without him, it won’t be fun anymore. But there is no shortage of crazy people in this world. Someone else will take his place.”

I was sad to hear about Chaudhry Mohammad Hussain’s death. God bless him. Since he is no more in this world, I don’t want to say anything about him. If anyone else takes his place, all I will say is:

sar-i-dostan salaamat, keh tu khanjar aazmaai
سر دوستاں سلامت کہ تو خنجر آزمائی

Saadat Hasan Manto, Lahore, 29 August 1950


Saadat Hasan Manto walked out of the courtroom of Sessions judge Inayatullah Khan, a free man. The story Thanda Gosht was declared not obscene, and Manto’s conviction by the lower court was quashed — his sentence declared void and his fine, which Manto had already paid, ordered reimbursed.

Manto was a happy man once again. He wrote this delightful account, Zehmat e Mehr e Darakhsan, the saga of his trial, in August 1950, which was published as the foreword to the collection of stories, titled Thanda Gosht. Publishers who, earlier, wouldn’t publish Thanda Gosht, started approaching Manto for the story.

Manto’s relief, however, was short-lived. The Punjab government, not pleased with the Sessions court’s judgment, went into an appeal.

The case landed with Justice Mohammad Munir of Lahore High Court. Justice Munir had a reputation of being a fearless, unbiased, and independent judge. However, he ruled the story obscene, re-imposed the fine on Manto, but, mercifully, waived the imprisonment sentence. It seems Pakistan owes more than just the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to Justice Munir.

Manto lived for another 4 years to write numerous stories and short pieces, including his most famous Toba Tek Singh. He passed away shortly before reaching his 43rd birthday, on 18 January 1955, broken-hearted and in extreme poverty.

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Manto has been described as one of the greatest short-story writers of South Asia, but the Pakistani establishment never acknowledged him during his lifetime, nor till many years after his death.

In 2005, however, on his 50th death anniversary, the government officially recognized Manto by issuing a commemorative postage stamp in a series of stamps called the Writers of Pakistan, and then, in 2012, awarded him Nishan e Imtiaz (Order of Excellence).

Ironically, Justice Munir’s judgment on Thanda Gosht still stands, but, practically, there is no ban on Thanda Gosht or any of Manto’s stories in Pakistan. They are freely produced and sold.

It would be interesting to see what if someone petitioned the Supreme Court today to overturn Justice Munir’s judgment on Thanda Gosht — or else ban the book.

Now, a little bit about the title Manto chose for his account, Zehmat-e-Mehr-e-Darakhshaan. It is a phrase borrowed from a couplet of Ghalib.

Larazta hai mera dil, zehmat-i-mehr-i-darkhshaN par
Main hooN woh qatra-e-shabnam, keh ho khaar-i-bayabaN par

لرزتا ہے میرا دل زحمت مہر درخشاں پر

میں ہوں وہ قطرہ شبنم ، کہ ہو خار بیاباں پر

I am like a drop of dew that rests on a thorn in the wild
My heart trembles at the thought of the sun that will (soon) rise (and annihilate me.)
Translation of the couplet by Khaled Hasan.

This is how Manto saw his daily life. Every new day brought new worries, new trials, and tribulations.

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” — Oscar Wilde

Note: All pictures are from Ayesha Jalal’s book, The Pity Of Partition.

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