Manto and Sir Ganga Ram

Sir Ganga Ram was a venerable figure who earned much more fame than the wealth he gathered. It appears most of his accomplishments were on lines of Sir M. Visveswaraya, the late Dewan of Mysore state and a great engineer. Son of a police sub inspector from Pakistan side of Punjab, Ganga Ram studied engineering at Thompson College for Civil Engineering College in Roorkee. He turned 50,000 acres (or 200 sq. kms) of barren land into smiling fields in Montgomery district, now in Pakistan by laying down an irrigation system in mere three years. He was later appointed assistant engineer in the British civil administration and built all the important buildings on the majestic Mall Road on Lahore. These edifices include Lahore Museum, Punjab University, Aitchison College, Mayo College of Arts, Punjab High Court, and Ganga Ram Hospital. Later in his life, he spent much of his wealth on building homes for the widows, destitute children and such other noble ventures.
Partition took Lahore to Pakistan and triggered a communal hysteria on unprecedented scale. Hindus and Sikhs were targeted in areas that eventually went to Pakistan and Muslim blood was spilled in areas they were vacating. History bears no repetition here. A riotous mob was seen stoning the statue of Sir Ganga Ram on a public square in Lahore. A rioter climbed up the pedestal and was seen putting a garland of shoes around the statue’s neck. The police who arrived at the scene, opened fire and some of the miscreants were injured. One among them was the man who had climbed up the pedestal. Someone in the riotous mob shouted: “Take him to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital”.
Celebrated Urdu short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto, whose birth centenary we are observing this year, spun the short story titled ‘The Garland’ around the incident and highlighted the meaninglessness of dividing a country on the basis of religion. Manto had the uncanny knack of poking dark humour and doing it without batting an eyelid. He would dissect the hypocrisis and demolish reputations without even the slightest prick of the conscience. The rebellious writer faced countless court cases for tearing the reputation of the ones who did not deserve it. He tore the mask of morality that the middle classes wore and the suffocation that women endured in the process. The futility of defining a nation in Hindu and Muslim terms was a recurring theme of Manto’s work. It is only now that we realize how religious extremism has pushed Pakistan on the brink of Talibinisation. But Manto had seen it much before it happened and the final decade of his life (he died in 1955 in Lahore) provided him enough fodder to show his ominous forebodings coming true.

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