Uncle Sam, Manto and Bin Laden

The News, June 18, 2005
Day After Friday
Bin Laden living Manto’s dream

Malik Shahnawaz Khar

Bin Laden and Saadat Hasan Manto have many things in common. For starters, both have spent the most creative part of their career in hiding. Bin Laden is hiding because everybody is looking for him and Manto while he was alive remained hidden because nobody ever came looking for him.

Nobody gave him any lift. Close to his death, Manto was admitted in a hospital’s general ward, where he began composing his ‘Letters to Uncle Sam’. In these letters, he became a self-professed loyal nephew of the Americans. Although these letters never saw the sight of an envelope because Manto could never afford postage stamps.

In his third letter to Uncle Sam, Manto requested the Americans to coax Pakistan into handing him over to them and in case of refusal Americans should stop supplying weapons to Pakistan. Manto felt that once Pakistanis knew that he was important to the Americans, his social clout would exceed ten-fold and everybody would want to associate with him. He also requested that if the Americans decide to grant him a Most-Wanted Status, then they should also provide him with a chauffeur-driven American car, which he would need, in order to maintain social pretences. He also asked the Americans that in case they agreed to provide a car, then they should also be willing to dish out some extra cash for the gas. He wrote that as a compensation for all these favours, the Americans could label his activities: the Americans could make him wear a T-shirt and advertise Coca-Cola or any other product they wanted on the T-shirt, free of cost, while he drove around the Mall road in his gifted car.

In his second letter to Uncle Sam, Manto mentions that an official from the American Embassy came to visit him and requested that he write something in favour of America. Manto writes that he lied to the official by telling him that he charged Rs200 for a story; although at the time, he was selling a story for less than Rs20. But the American official turned around and embarrassed Manto by saying that they were ready to even pay Rs500. Manto regretted that like every other Pakistani, he had sold himself too cheaply to the Americans. Manto further elaborated on the concept of selling oneself cheaply, (Pakistani diplomats, please take note): in the business of quoting prices to prostitute oneself, one should always be a little careful because it is too embarrassing to change one’s rate later. Finally, Manto settled for three hundred rupees but with a lifelong regret on missing out on the extra two hundred rupees.

Unlike Manto, Osama has no such regrets in life. He doesn’t need to worry about social relevance in Pakistan; as long as the Americans want him, he will always be the centrepiece of discussion in Pakistan. According to the latest newspaper advertisement; Mr. Bin Laden carries a price tag of 25 million dollars. Which might make him guilty of many things but like Saadat Hasan Manto and Pakistani policy pundits, at least he is not guilty of selling himself cheaply!


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