Saadat Hasan Manto and the Poetics of the Urdu Short Story

Dubrow, Jennifer. "Saadat Hasan Manto and the Poetics of the Urdu Short Story," in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Indian Literatures, edited by Ulka Anjaria and Anjali Nerlekar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023). First published online, print edition forthcoming. DOI:

This chapter argues that the preeminent Urdu short-story writer Saadat Hasan Manto (1912–1955) utilized a fundamentally poetic style in his best work. The chapter analyzes three exemplary works— the 1942 short story “Bu”; the 1948 collection of vignettes and prose poems on Partition violence, Siyah Hashiye; and the 1948 story “Khol Do”—to show how Manto reinvigorated aspects of Urdu ghazal poetry to make meaning with minimal words. In “Bu,” Manto produced disjuncture and jar by contrasting an underlying lyrical structure with disturbing events. In Siyah Hashiye, Manto expanded this technique to create prose poems on Partition that further compressed the short story and overturned readerly expectations about poetry. Finally, in “Khol Do,” Manto displayed his style of extreme brevity by leaving the most important elements unsaid, using the ghazal’s reliance on audience familiarity with poetic convention to dierent ends. Manto’s style of extreme brevity helps mark him as a world writer, one whose career and work transcended national borders and continue to challenge dominant national and linguistic paradigms for the study of modern Indian literatures.

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