Toba Tek Singh by Saadat Hasan Manto
In Toba Tek Singh by Saadat Hasan Manto we have the theme of confusion, identity, separation, change, control and ignorance. Taken from his Kingdom’s End and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Manto may be exploring the theme of confusion. None of the characters in the story know where they are to go. Their nationality is in question. Which may be the point that Manto is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that after the partitioning of India bureaucracy was so slow or unorganized that many people had to wait to discover if they were to resettle in India or Pakistan. If anything Manto may be ridiculing both governments over their handling of repatriation. It is also possible that Manto is exploring the theme of identity. Each man mentioned appears to identify with one country or another. It is as though they view either India or Pakistan as part of their make-up and the changes that are being imposed on them are unnerving. It is also interesting that nobody appears to understand the results of the changes.
The character who appears to be mostly effected is Bishen Singh who wants to know what country Toba Tek Singh is part of. This is the most important question on Bishen’s mind. But more importantly Bishen represents those in India and Pakistan who remained without a state when it came to people being relocated. Something that is symbolically noticeable when Bishen collapses on neutral ground between the barbed wire of India and Pakistan. It is though Bishen is making a statement at least symbolically. While others might be pleased to be returning ‘home.’ This is not the case for Bishen. Such are the extremities felt by Bishen that he lies on the ground lifeless. He has been given no security as to what country Toba Tek Singh is in (it’s in Pakistan) and his family have been moved to India. So in reality Bishen is separated from his family. His only real source of normality. Though it is noticeable that his family at the later stages of the story find it difficult to visit him. Perhaps out of an overpowering sadness (Bishen’s daughter) or perhaps because they now live in India and as such are unable to visit Bishen.
The setting of the story may also be important as Manto could be using the setting (lunatic asylum) to introduce irony into the story. At times the reader feels as though those in authority for the resettlement may be of a lesser mental capacity than those like Bishen who are living in the asylum. Nobody, including those in authority, appears to have any idea as to how the resettlement is to progress. As mentioned not only does this leave those in the asylum (and others) confused but Manto appears to be placing a spotlight on bureaucratic ignorance. The management of each patient in the asylum is also questionable with the administrative and medical professionals having very little or no control over the patients. Which is ironic as one would expect those in authority for a lunatic asylum to have some sort of control over their environment. This however does not appear to be the case. It might also be important that the guards in the asylum are described by the narrator as being ‘illiterate’ yet some of the patients have the ability to read a newspaper. It is as though Manto might be questioning the definition of madness or what exactly qualifies a person be put in a lunatic asylum.
Overall Manto does not portray those in authority in a favourable light and he may be suggesting that the real madness of what is happening lies outside the asylum. Resting firmly on the shoulders of those in authority who have not planned the course of action they intend to take. People are being displaced based on their religion as the only marker. Which is an indecisive line to follow as it raises issues of inequality. Some of the patients in the asylum identify themselves as Indian while others believe themselves to be Pakistani. Yet their religion is deciding their fate when religion is only a part of an individual’s identity and some people may choose not to be defined by their religion. Though in the case that applies to the story. No option is being given. Bureaucracy is defining or redefining who a person may be and where they will live. Unfortunately for those in the asylum. No one has a voice as to where they might like to go. Just as their freedom has been taken away from them so too has their voice.