The Assignment by Saadat Hasan Manto
In The Assignment by Saadat Hasan Manto we have the theme of conflict, fear, loyalty, trust, hatred and betrayal. Taken from his Selected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Manto is using the setting to explore the theme of conflict. Though Mian is very relaxed about what is happening Sughra in particular knows that what is occurring (partitioning of India) is a serious affair. The country is being divided along the lines of religious persuasions and as such Mian and his family are at risk due to the fact that they are Muslims. It is also interesting that Akbar decides upon abandoning the household as there is a sense that should Mian not be aware of what will happen. Akbar is only too aware of how dire the circumstances are. It is also possible that by introducing Akbar into the story Manto is exploring the theme of loyalty or rather the lack of it being shown by Akbar. Though some critics may suggest that Akbar was simply in fear for his life due to the ongoing violence that was occurring in the city.
Santokh is an interesting character. At first the reader suspects that he is an honourable young man. Following the wishes of his father and bringing some sawwaiyaan to Mian as his father had done before he died. However as the story closes it becomes clear to the reader that Santokh is not really showing the same loyalty to Mian as his father did. If anything he has helped rioters to accurately pinpoint Mian’s house in order that they may destroy Mian’s home and in all likelihood kill him too. It is as though Santokh makes use of his father’s goodwill to ensure the removal of Mian and his family. Based solely on their religious faith. It may also be important that Sughra trusts Santokh as the trust she shows him will only end up with her losing her life. So strong is the religious hatred that existed at the time between religious faiths in India. Whereas Mian is judging Santokh on the character of his father he is inevitably making a mistake. Not the only mistake that Mian makes in the story.
In fact every decision that Mian makes is detrimental to his family’s well-being. He is unable to accurately gauge the temperature of what is occurring in the city and believes things will be fine. Nothing could be further from the truth. Things will not be fine for Mian and his family. The fact that Mian has a stroke may be significant as in many ways Mian and his family are trapped in their home as the city becomes more and more violent. There is no escape for them from the inevitable. It may also be case that Manto by introducing Sughra and Basharat into the story is highlighting the innocence of some of the people who were affected by the partitioning of India. They are after all only children and have done no wrong. They wish to live their lives as children might wish to live their lives. However due to what is happening in the city and the worsening of Mian’s condition Sughra at seventeen is forced to take responsibility for the family. If anything Sughra is too young to understand the animosity that exists between each religious group in the city. She has enough on her plate trying to look after her father and Basharat.
It is also possible that Manto is attempting to highlight just how dangerous the religious divide in India was at the time. With neighbours killing neighbours and people forgetting about friendships that they might have had. Something that is clear to the reader through Santokh’s actions. There is also a sense that Santokh because of his religious and political beliefs has not only betrayed Mian and his family but he has also betrayed his own father too. Forgetting about the relationship that his father had with Mian. If anything Santokh has become a pawn in order that others might vent their frustration and anger. Yet he does not appear to be aware of this and if he is. It does not seem to bother him. Something that is noticeable by how relaxed Santokh is at the end of the story when the men in the turbans ask Santokh has he completed his assignment. It is as though Santokh is giving the men permission to kill Mian and his family despite what Mian has done for his father. If anything Manto may be suggesting that Santokh is no better than the men who are waiting to burn down Mian’s home. The reader aware that the sole justification for such action is because Mian and his family are Muslims.