Manto to Uncle Sam
TSI | January 4, 2009 00:00
This is second letter in the series of letters that Saadat Hasan Manto sent to the then American President. These letters to Uncle Sam was an opportunity to comment on the strangeness of his new country (read Pakistan), and the surreal aspects of American life as discerned from magazines and newspapers. In the letters, Manto talks about different aspects of American and Pakistani life. The letters are as irreverent in their treatment of “Uncle” as they are of life in Pakistan.
15 March 1954, 31 Laxmi Mansions, Hall Road, Lahore
I write this after a long break. The fact is that I was ill. Beauty has fled this land. While women have come out from behind the veil, one look at them and you wish they had stayed behind it. Your Max Factor has made them even uglier. You send free wheat, free literature, and free arms. Why not send a couple of hundred examples of pure American womanhood here so that they could at least serve a drink as it is supposed to be served? (a la Omer Khayyam)
In the three months I was in a hospital’s general ward, no American aid reached me. Our foreign publicity leaves a great deal to be desired and our government, in any case, has no interest in writers, poets and painters.
Our late lamented government, I recall, appointed Firdausi-i-Islam Hafiz Jullandhri director of the song publicity department at a monthly salary of Rs 1,000. After the establishment of Pakistan, all that was allotted to him was a house and a printing press. Today you pick up the papers and what do you see? Hafiz Jullandhri bewailing his lot, having been thrown out of the committee appointed to compose a national anthem for Pakistan. He is one poet in the country who can write an anthem for this, the world’s largest Islamic state, and even set it to music. He divorced his British wife because the British are gone. He is said to be now looking for an American wife. Uncle, for God’s sake help him there so that he can be saved from a sorry end.
The number of your nephews runs into millions but a nephew like yours truly you will not find even if you lit an atom bomb to look for him. Do pay me some attention therefore. All I need is an announcement from you that your country (which may it please God to protect till the end of time) will only help my country (may God blight the distilleries of this land) acquire arms if Saadat Hasan Manto is sent over to you.
I want to live in Pakistan because I love this bit of earth, dust from which, incidentally, has lodged itself permanently in my lungs. I like the American way of life. I also like the design of your casual-wear shirts. It is both a good design and a good billboard. You can print the latest propaganda item on it every day.
As for your military pact with us, it is remarkable and should be maintained. You should sign something similar with India. Sell all your old condemned arms to the two of us, the ones you used in the last war. This junk will thus be off your hands and your armament factories will no longer remain idle.
And what is this I hear about Charlie Chaplin having given up his US citizenship? What did this joker think he was doing? He surely is suffering from communism otherwise why would a man who has lived all his life in your country, made his name there, made his money there, do what he has done? Does he not remember the time when he used to beg in the streets of London and nobody took any notice of him!
Why did he not go to Russia? But then there is no shortage of jokers there. Perhaps he should go to England so that its residents learn to laugh heartily like Americans. As it is, they always look so sombre and superior? It is time some of their pretence came off.
I now close my letter with a freestyle kiss to Heddy Lamarr.
Saadat Hasan Manto