Manto’s ‘Toba Tek Singh’

Annals KEMU


No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality’

      Shirley Jackson "The Haunting of Hill House"


‘Toba Tek Singh’

 ‘Toba Tek Singh’1 is a tale about the partition of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. It is, by some accounts, the best short story ever written on this subject2. Ironically, the story shows us that when faced with the chaos and bloodshed of partition, the response of a person committed to a mental institution appears more 'sane' and appropriate than those around him.

      Published in 1955, the story takes place inside the Lahore insane asylum (today called the Punjab Institute of Mental Health), two or three years after partition. At a high-level conference, a decision has been made for the exchange of lunatics in insane asylums. When news of this decision spreads, it causes consternation among the inmates of the asylum. Their fear is made worse by their ignorance of 'Hindustan' and ‘Pakistan’. According to one of the inmates, Pakistan is ‘the place in Hindustan where razors are made.’1 Another volunteers that the people in Hindustan ‘go strutting around like devils.’1 One of the in mates

climbs a tree, seats himself on a branch and gives an unbroken two hour speech about the subtle problem of Pakistan and Hindustan. When the guards ask him to come down, he climbs even higher. When he is warned and threatened, he says, “I dont want to live in either Hindustan or Pakistan. I'll live right here in this tree.” A quiet radioengineer, for some obscure reason decides that the situation warrants freedom from clothes and starts to wander around the garden completely naked.

      Manto gives us brief, pithy descriptions of some of the lunatics e.g. A Muslim lunatic from Chiniot, a past member of the All-India Muslim League, announces that he is Quaid-e-Azam and then promptly declares war on a Sikh, who, in his madness considered himself Master Tara Singh.

      Midway through the story, Manto introduces the titular character, known to everyone as Toba Tek Singh’. His real name is Bishan Singh and he has been confined to the asylum for fifteen years, during which time, he has not, even once, sat or lain down. The only words he has spoken during the fifteen years are the nonsensical, ‘Upar di gur gur di annex di be dhyana di mung di dal of the lantern.’1 Once a month when his relatives came to meet him, he agrees to take a bath and cleanup. He has a daughter who has grown older visiting him, and still cries every time she sees her father



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(C) Annals of KEMU, King Edward Medical University, Lahore, Pakistan.