ABOUT THE STORY Even sixty years after it was written, ‘On Top, Under and In Between’ (‘Upar, neechay aur darmiyan’), a story by the Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto that invited the ire of a young Islamic Republic of Pakistan, brings to mind the perversity and complexity of free-speech controversies in India today. The story actually features one of Manto’s most discreet fictional narrators, almost proving that censors have much more lurid imaginations than the artists whom they would suppress.
Aakar Patel, the translator, writes, “Manto was prosecuted for four of his stories (‘Bu’, ‘Kali Shalwar’, ‘Thanda Gosht’ and ‘Dhuan’) in British Lahore, but finally convicted by a Pakistani court. This came in 1952 after a Karachi magistrate judged ‘Upar, neechay aur darmiyan,’ to be obscene. The story’s subject is: how should someone write about sex in the Islamic republic? Manto approaches the subject as obliquely as he can, writing about a couple that goes about it as innocents but ends up breaking the bed. The fine imposed on Manto, Rs 25, was the minimum and could not be appealed, thus leaving the conviction against the writer’s name forever.”
Soon after the verdict, in 1952, Manto published the story himself, with the note, “My publisher refused to print this story. That upset me. I was prosecuted and convicted by a Karachi court for writing it. And I was fined Rs 25 after being found guilty. I wanted that my publisher pay me another Rs 25 as recompense for my trauma, but that didn’t happen. Anyway, I somehow scrabbled around for the money to publish this on my own, so that you could read it. I’m quite certain you will honour the piece—for you are my dear reader, not my publisher. Yours, Saadat Hasan Manto.”
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