A 1955 publication by twentieth century colonial Indian-Pakistani writer Saadat Hasan Manto, Toba Tek Singh is an engrossing and profound short story about the relationship between India and Pakistan, a satire on the idea of partition. Manto, known for his daring representation of distressed state of Indian partition in his stories has set the stories amid the time of partition between India and Pakistan. Originally written in Urdu language , the story deals with the inmates of the “lunatic asylum at Lahore.” The characters and the setting are tools of reflective reality of the contemporary time of distress and chaos. With a tinge of autobiographical memory, Manto uses the mental asylum as a picture of miniature of the world where people of different caste and religion dwell and face the psychological trauma and imbalance. The main character of the story, Bishan Singh, is symbolic of the pain and trauma of displacement. In addition to him, the fellow inmates of the asylum are the partition refugees who suffer from mental illness but are seen to appear saner than the outer world of political chaos and governmental rift.
The first two paragraphs of the story give an introduction about the time when the story is set and the plot that follows. The two paragraphs foreground the time of exchange and the circumstances under which the “governments of India and Pakistan” came upon a pact of exchanging the lunatics of the counter religion of the respective countries, i.e., India and Pakistan. It is in the third paragraph that Manto brings into the story the dilemma of the time of exchange and the theme of mental illness. The asylum is the representative symbol of the whole continent and madness a metaphor for trauma that people and refugees went through. The forceful movement of people is evident of the “tough job” and the “pure bedlam” when the people were reluctant to migrate from their native places for the mere reason of their religion of birth. The border lines are arbitrary and artificial. The lunatics show a more humanistic aspect of the society where the governmental aids are nothing but pure politics.
While the story is a piece of fiction, it is imbibed with light of the real exchange in the year of 1950 when the Hindu and Sikh patients from Pakistani asylum were moved to India and the Muslim counterparts moved to Pakistan. Thus, the Asylum of Lahore showcases the big picture in small confinement. The madness of these inmates of the asylum is more about the madness of partition violence than their personal impairment. The trauma of partition appears to be so absurd that it has a profound psychological impact on these inmates, in particular, and the sufferers of the partition, in general. The ruthlessness prevailing in the humankind is the cause of the uncertainty and loss of sense of belonging and disturbed identities. The character of a Sikh lunatic interrogating about the exchange with a fellow Sikh offers a speculative insight on the insignificance of demarcation on basis of caste and religion.
“Sardarji, why are we being deported to India? We don’t even know their language.”
The above words also throw a light on the innocence of people who are caught in the web of political world and suffer a loss of identity when try to align with the outer world of chaos. Manto shows underlying righteousness of these lunatic inmates of the asylum with the words that “Not all the inmates were insane.” The innocence of their minds and hearts deny them any influence of the outer world. “They had only a vague idea about the division of India or what Pakistan was. They were utterly ignorant of the present situation.” Another reason for their ignorance is the lack of literacy among them and the absence of their reach to media, “Newspapers hardly ever gave the true picture…” The only thing they were aware about was some “Quaid-e-Azam” who had made the state of Pakistan. But “they were all at a loss whether they were now in India or in Pakistan.” The inmates are distressed with their loss of identities and belongingness: “I don’t want to live in India and Pakistan. I’m going to make my home right here on this tree.” All the outer chaos of partition is displayed in the hubbub in the asylum when the Muslim lunatic proclaims himself to be Jinnah and Sikh lunatic to be Tara Singh. The induced violence symbolizes the communal riots amid the times of partition. Moreover, the absence of psychiatrists in the asylum shows Manto’s criticism of the partition by emphasizing the diplomatic government and bureaucratic procedures.
Manto’s use of easy style and language with words like “zamindar,” “bloody Indians,” “Sardarji” keeps the reader involved, and the use of omniscient narrator keeps the story intact. However, the main conflict is shown with the character of Bishan Singh who utters “gibberish” words and is interrogative about his town Toba Tek Singh. While his attachment of Toba Tek Singh implies his identity and belongingness, his mutterings represent the amalgamation of varied religions, languages, and thoughts, all mixed without balanced proportion. “It was all so confusing!” However the coming of Fasal Din gives an idea of hopeful humanity. The division of Gods, separation of love, the inability of communities to take the decisions et al is all represented by Manto with his own suffering and confusion.
The action reaches the peak when Bishan Singh gets mad over the situation of his Toba Tek Singh and refuses to go to any place, but sit stiff between the two borders and claim this nameless land his place of belonging as “no power on earth could dislodge him.” The last paragraph of the story evokes pity and despair to the humanity criticizing the insignificant border lines made by humans to separate the people who belong to no religion but to religion of humanity and their birth. The psychological trauma of such partitions tear the belongingness of people apart and disturb their identities which Manto was always against of and thus criticized in his works. The narrator ultimately refers to Bishan Singh as Toba Tek Singh. It is the place that belongs to him and not him who suffers for psychological belongingness. Saadat Hasan Manto thus succeeds in posing a satire on loss of psychological equilibrium of people during partition and relationship between the governments.