March 5, 2020, was a fateful day for us because Journalist and Writer Hasan Mansoor left for his eternal abode due to a heart attack. He was not more than 55 years old. At that time, he was working as a reporter in the daily Dawn, Karachi. Before joining this daily, he remained associated with the Daily Star, Karachi, and the international news agency AFP. His journalistic career started with Sindhi newspapers, but very soon he joined English journalism. Born and bred in Lyari Karachi, he was also a poet and short story writer in the Sindhi Language. His anthology of Sindhi Short stories has just been published on his first death anniversary, which he was yearning to get published for the last few years.
He used to write very interesting and philosophic short posts on Facebook and Twitter. He promised to save them when I have advised him. But I don’t know the fate of these pieces. Another activity he adopted in the last years of his life, was uploading the pictures of Karachi in the album titled Colors of Karachi on his Facebook account. Most of these pictures showed the sky of Karachi in the backdrop of renowned buildings etc. These pictures need to be collected and saved for posterity. His last picture upload was the following.
His posthumous collection entitled Pathar Manj Passah (Breathing Stone) contains 27 Sindhi short stories. Almost all stories are based in and revolve around Karachi, which is a departure from the Sindhi writers’ norm, where the majority of Sindhi writers use the characters and milieu of rural Sindh.
As Rauf Nizamani has written in the preface of the anthology, Hasan was an extroverted fiction writer. The main themes of his stories are the socio-economic situation, environment, and worsening political, religious, and ethnic conditions of Karachi, especially during the eighties and nineties when this peaceful city transformed into a violent and ethnic striven city. We don’t find any internal outpourings in his stories, but his stories populate with characters, which we observe in our society.
His longest short story titled Closed Alleys is a lucid account of a poor youth, who has to look after his wife, mother, and minor son. Somehow, he is allured by the religious terrorist group to become a suicide bomber, but at last, he realizes the futility of his new role and therefore, he returns to his earlier way of life. His story Ruins is a sad tale of the criminalization of politics and ethnicity in Karachi. In another story Father of Nargis, we meet a very committed and diehard political worker, which used to abound in the past but now they are difficult to find in political parties. Story Reflection depicts the degradation and unruliness of the police force, which instead of protecting citizens have become a terror for them. Story Vanished is about the sudden disappearance of persons, which is now almost a norm in our country for eliminating dissent or opponent views. Death of Dead Person is a heart-wrenching tale of an innocent young person, who is forced to become a mercenary, but when his services are not needed, then he is eliminated. Story Tomb Custodian, which was also translated in Urdu by Shahid Hinai, is a symbolic political tale of our country, which was experienced a few years ago.
Most of his stories are symbolic, but one can easily discern underlying themes in them. His story Shadows tells us that due to socio-economic deprivations, people become dependent on some forces, which exploit them and make them ever dependent upon them, hence they remain deficient and deprived. But when they get themselves free from these crutches, they can realize their full potential.
His stories Sea, My Brother Fig Tree, and White Butterflies are about the repercussions of environmental degradation and their adverse impact on our lives.
Strangely only one of his stories entitled Flower blossomed in the Autumn, the last story in the anthology, paints a tale of love for a damsel by the protagonist of the story. Whereas in other stories, women are around as companions or main characters in different roles, etc. In the story Blanket, we came across a penniless lady, whose husband after becoming bankrupt in business took his life, and now she has to look after his family. Being illiterate, she becomes a domestic Worker in a Bungalow. Son of Hunger is also an account of another woman beggar, who was exploited by numerous males and has given birth to a son. She is under the attack of the crowd. The story deftly paints her tormentors. When forced to tell the name of the father of her son, she says hunger is the father of her son. Sexual exploitation of female beggars is also the theme of another story You Are Within Me. Here the protagonist is invisible from the main scene because she disappeared after leaving her newborn on the ground. However, in the end, when the crowd disperses and no person takes this newborn, she comes back and starts to nourish her children.
Women are not the only victims of socioeconomic dispossessions. His stories Hooter, Vacant Sky, Patches, Echoes, Deal have male protagonists, who are victims of socioeconomic and politico-religious inequalities of society. On the other hand, the story Ode of Silent Wall depicts symbolically how values have changed and affected our lives.
Buried Also Breathe is an account of a young Indian Sindhi, who has come to Karachi to see the neighborhood, where his father was lynched on the eve of partition and his family was made to flee to India.
Behind Broken Glass, Tale of Centuries Entrapped in Moments, Breathing Stone, Flower Blossomed in Autumn are symbolic stories, but except the last one, they weave the ethos of our society.
In some stories, his character development and dialogue pattern seem to be influenced by Amar Jalil, who used to put funny dialogues in his characters, while describing a very serious situation.
Further, it seems that this book has been compiled and printed in a rush. Firstly, it does not contain a list of contents. Secondly, its layout is lacking and should have been given more attention. Hasan was also a poet. One can hope that his poetry anthology would be compiled and printed.
Pather Manj Passah (Sindhi Short Stories Collection)
Published by Kitab Publishers, Karachi