MANTO & the Waters of Indus as Weapons


Great writers are prescient. Not only are they able to capture the anxieties of the Age they live in, but are also able to predict how the awaam shall respond in different situations . Saadat Hassan Manto is known as ‘Premchanda of Partition’. Of course, their writing styles are different as chalk and cheese. Munshi ji was an upaasak of ‘daridra Narayan’,while Manto’s inspiration emanated principally from pimps,whores ,gossips and alcohol. Sauciness was Manto’s forte, as humility  was Premchand’s.And yet, Manto’s understanding of that era was second to none.Both the authors packed as much realism in their writings as was warranted by the excesses of the early 20th century. Premchanda passed away in 1936. Had he lived longer, his writings would have become darker with passing years.

While reading Manto’s short story collection ‘My Name is Radha’, I came across a story titled ‘Yazeed’. This is the story of a Pakistani couple,Karim Dad and Jaani, who have suffered personal losses during Partition. While Jaani is still deeply affected by the shock of her brother’s lynching, a stoic Karim tries to move on. Some years after Partition, Jaani is pregnant when speculation in the village becomes rife that India might divert waters of the river that passes through it.

The Pakistani villagers are gripped with panic.The prospect of the upper riparian controlling their destinies (and crops) is sobering as well as frightening.Some indulge in badmouthing of Pandit Nehru, even as others hurl abuses and curses at all Indians.There is nothing more that common village folk could have done. Karim asks them to hold their tongues and maintain calm.His argued that once Pakistanis had accepted the relationship of enmity with Indians,the latter could scarcely be expected to play by rules. It was not as if Partition was akin to signing of some marriage contract! Pakistanis could not possibly expect to be killed only by weapons of their choosing. What else did they expect when they chose this enmity ? That Indians would send cool fruit juices from across the border? It didn’t suit the Pakistanis to crib about the choice of Indian weapons, be it water or shells ,or guns of such and such bores. He argues that even Pakistan would have cut water off ,had that been possible.Karim also slips in a line that is shocking and yet demonstrative of their mindset.He warned that Indians would even poison the waters if they believed  they  could get away with it.Karim advocates readiness for any eventuality that arises as a consequence of this relationship of enmity. He exhorts his people to plan for the future since even India cannot just divert the waters immediately as it would require a lot of planning.Those were the days when an Indo-Pak war seemed imminent.


As history shall bear,the Pakistanis did invade Kashmir.That was perhaps their answer to this feeling of insecurity of being the lower riparian.India could have diverted the waters ,but never did.Therein lies the greatness of the Hindu  Civilization. But to have signed the Indus Water Treaty in 1960 and fritter away all the advantages that come with being the Upper riparian state smacks of bad diplomacy,and poor strategic sense.India could have ensured it had some leverage over the Pakistani awaam by its control over the Indus system.Not only did we commit a faux pas by signing away our rights,we also failed to utilize our quota of waters of the western rivers.This is poor policy-making and neglect of the highest order.In the short story, Karim Dad suggests that it would take time to divert the waters of the system. That situation remains to this day. It will still take a lot of  time if we want to hurt our neighbour through water diplomacy. Karim also wants his people to prepare in the meantime ,and declares that any weapon would be justified . Don’t say that Pakistan surprised India by use of illegal infiltration into India from across the border!

After pacifying the villagers ,Karim goes back home to his wife and names his yet unborn son, Yazeed. She is shocked at this because the name was highly inappropriate considering the circumstances. Yazeed was the one who had blockaded the Euphrates with five thousand horsemen and had driven Hussain’s army towards thirst and starvation in the deserts of Karbala. When Hussain had asked for some water for his six-month old dying son,an arrow was shot that pierced the baby ,spurting founts of crimson. The thirsty army and its leader,Mohammad’s nawasa,Hussain were slain in the battle .

Karim ,smiling,assuaged his wife saying maybe their Yazeed would free the waters,unlike the previous  one,who had blocked them.

Being an Indian, we cannot ever resort to water blockades or diversions as means to our ends. Our cultural values of tolerance and respect for human rights cannot admit of such a possibility.But a little more shrewdness would have ensured that we were in a position to use this potent weapon to keep the foe in check.Alas,Nehru or succeeding PMs never thought along these lines.They have a lot to answer.

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