Critique on “Noor Jehan” by Saadat Hassan Manto

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This text is a translation of ‘Noor Jahan’ from Manto-Nama written by Saadat Hassan Manto. Manto is an Indo-Pak novelist and short story writer, notorious for deviating from conventional writing style and being one of the pioneers in bringing obscenity in formal Urdu writings. In this short essay, the author talks about a famous Pakistani actress and singer Noor Jehan and introduces her in a very chaotic way. The introduction comprises of several mixed emotions and expressions as it is harder to tell whether the writing is from the perspective of a true fan or by an ordinary observer. If anyone is a music lover without distinction of specific time then Noor Jehan might be the best possible choice as she was blessed with a melodious voice and that is what the author’s intended audience is. The use of more direct speech reflects the author’s reckless behaviour while commenting on a credible and honourable public figure. He also does not care about the feelings of the person being reviewed and the audience which is the fan of that legendary public figure. In his essay ‘Noor Jehan’, Manto uses a lot of experiential and commemorative tools to introduce the Noor Jehan however at some points he does a lot of exaggeration, misinterprets few words, provide insufficient evidence for some claims, unclear statements, personal biases, and the use of logical fallacies makes the text unsubstantial for the reader to comprehend it.

The essay is not merely a short introduction of Noor Jehan but also the writer’s experiences and memories associated with her. Basically, in this text writer does not follow the formal writing style and ethics. He discusses things in a very haphazardous way and there is an absolute expression of writer’s biases about the character. He tells us about the diversity in the fan following of Noor Jehan which ranges from an ordinary cook to a household servant, a four-year-old child and an eccentric Barbour who was ready for any kind of devotion to show his enigmatic affection for Noor Jehan. The last sentence of the essay also left the readers with the perplexed state of mind.

Manto from the very beginning of text keeps his audience in a baffling state. His arguments are so random and incoherent that it is impossible to extract any point from them. At the start of the text, he admires Noor Jehan when he says that “It was simply her voice that caused such a commotion”. But right after this claim, he abruptly starts to compare her with Lata Mangeshkar’s voice and says that “Noor Jehan’s voice no longer has the sweet, youthful quality that once distinguished it”. The reader is left with several questions lingering in his mind about the main theme or point of this essay. It looks like that writer does not want to portray himself as a fan of Noor Jehan. It is being conveyed from the text that writer might have some personal grudges with her. The confusion is not confined just to the establishing paragraphs of the text. In the concluding paragraph of the essay, the writer discusses the diversity in the fans of Noor Jehan. But again, the final sentence of the essay “And then there’s me” subjects the reader to conceive it in both positive and negative ways with respect to the following paragraphs which again enforces the point that the whole text is disoriented.

Furthermore, there are several parts of the essay in which writer does a lot of exaggeration which is entirely indifferent to the point that writer actually wants to portray to his readers. Manto fantasizes her a lot when he says that “I’ve always thought that if the girl wanted to she could hold a single note for hours, like an acrobat who stands on a tightrope without slipping”, this babble use of simile in his essay shows that how impractical writer’s approach is towards the text. This argument is irrational too because it is not possible for human beings to hold their breaths for several hours. The argument is flawed because both points are different from each other and do not have a single link between them. Apart from this, he also intensifies four-year-old child, ‘Taku’ by presenting him as a mad lover of Noor Jehan. The point that “He knows practically all her songs by heart” is nothing but an intended logical fallacy. An infant can never be in such a sensible state to memorize even a single song; there are few exceptions but this is very uncommon. A child even cannot have any concept of marriage. This amplification of the child’s point is also contradictory to his own text; in the very beginning when he says that “It wasn’t about her face or her body” because in the successive sentences writer wants to say that she was not much pretty. Her respect and fame were because of her melodious voice. But Taku’s point display’s an extraordinary lover’s side. This extensive exaggeration of some points makes his claims irrelevant and incredible for the readers.

Not only this, the use of more direct approach incubating personal judgments rather makes the text looks like a personal diary instead of a public writing. If people have given her a title of Baby, the writer totally misinterprets the word and comments that “her body had every feature that a young girl could possibly need”. The writer should understand the meaning of Baby in the context of that whole scenario in which Baby depicts the extreme cuteness of someone. But the point Manto is trying to make here is that he does not want to be influenced by any kind of audience or anyone else in his writings. Manto thinks that he has freedom of expression, he should be true in his writings and uncover the bold realities whether someone likes them or not. There is also a flat involvement of personal biases which inhibits the writer to be rational in his thoughts. The comments like “Noor Jehan has an arrogant streak” can hurt the feelings of Noor Jehan. But Manto does not stop here, after calling her arrogant claims that she has an artificial behavior and she has never been true to anyone. He accuses her of lying when she visits his home on his invitation. The use of direct speech projects the fallacious image of not only the Noor Jehan but also characterizes the author being unethical in his writings.

Despite all the personal biases, Manto makes the text interesting by discoursing the diversity in the fan following of Noor Jehan. One of the fans of Noor Jehan is a cook when he says that “I know several cooks who keep her picture over the stove”, he illustrates the divergence in the ways her fans proclaim their love. Manto makes his point, even more, stronger when he talks about the household servants, “they cut it out and stick it in their broken tin trunks so that they can warm their eyes by staring at it in their spare time”. These are the fans of Noor Jehan and writer claims that they are ready to fight with anyone who criticizes her. This whole point generates a wave of fear in the author’s body because he is in any way criticizing her. Then it ranges through a four-year-old child, Taku to whom writer affirms to be the biggest fan of Noor Jehan, wants to marry her. The madness of her fans extends to a barber who in an endeavour to prove his craziness and get his love story associated with the story of Sony Mahinwal, is ready to do anything. “Cut out any piece of my flesh that you like”, this is what barber says when asked by his friend to prove his love. His friend puts a cut on his arm and he is admitted to hospital and when the barber woke up in Mayo Hospital, the first words that passed his lips were “Noor Jehan”. By enlightening diversity in the fans of Noor Jehan, the author sustains an element of elation in the text.

Even though there are several interesting parts of essay including Manto’s personal experiences and diverse fan following of Noor Jehan but the author fails to meet the formal requirements of writing by not constraining himself to a single main theme. This text is both valuable and formidable for a neutral audience because instead of quoting some general factual information about Noor Jehan, Manto starts sharing his personal views about her. There is an extensive use of unethical statements that writer makes about Noor Jehan. A public writer is such a person who interprets his words through all dimensions but writer tries to show just one side of the figure. He fails to interpret some words like Baby in a certain context. The imbalanced exaggeration at some points makes the text even more unclear. Manto tries to introduce Noor Jehan but the abruption in his biased statements leaves the reader confused about the main purpose of the text. Not only this, the writer gets more personal when he interferes in her marital life by saying, “I’ve often wondered if her married life with Shaukat was equally artificial? I don’t think so”. He not only gets personal but comments on her marital life and tags it as the most artificially handled subjects of her life. The author’s claim that she has never been true to anyone, lacks the quotation of proper evidence from some unbiased sources.Thisin turn,leaves the reader to understand the text vaguely. There is a vibrant exposure of biases in his text. Manto believes that Noor Jehan’s fame circulates around his commendable voice but she is not pretty. His claim that she is not as pretty as people think, is stated many times in his text. The last sentence of the essay leaves the reader with several questions in his mind about the author’s own stance like why he does not want to be portrayed as a fan of Noor Jehan. Another flaw of his text is that he does not conclude it with a clear statement.

The author’s biases and use of unethical direct phrases bring into question his credibility as a writer. Although the author tries to make the text interesting but the components mentioned latter, leave an overall negative impact on the text. In the essay, the author’s main purpose remains unclear as the text is neither a mere persuasion nor a critique. Writing this essay as a neutral writer would have enhanced the credibility of Manto’s text rather than making personal comments or implying a lot of exaggeration. Also, writer’s behaviour towards his audience is so awkward as he images a reckless response to them by not caring about their feelings. Manto’s writings most of the times differ a lot from conventional writing style. The author usually writes what comes into his mind without screening his ideas properly. That is why most of his writings end abruptly without any effective conclusion which keeps the reader perplexed throughout till the end of the text.


Feature Photo: Dawn

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