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The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2020

All Issues
FEB 2020 Issue
Fiction

Seventh Letter to Uncle Sam

Dear Uncle,

Hello, I hope you’re well.

Please forgive me but I’m a little at a loss for words. I still haven’t heard back from you and I’m wondering why. My sixth letter, remember? I made sure to have someone mail it, and yet now I’m faced with the realization that it must have got lost somewhere.

Of course it’s common for mail sent from Lahore to Sheikhupura to reach its destination only after two and a half or three years, and this a deliberate joke since we Pakistanis are a poetic folk. But no one in the post office would have allowed anyone to play such a trick on you because everyone there is dependent on you for their free wheat.

As far as I can understand, Russia must be responsible for the mischief. India, too. A little while ago a conference was held on your humble nephew in Lucknow, and someone said I’m ready to raze Pakistan as soon as you command it. But the truth of the matter is that you still haven’t sent bulldozers, and everyone knows this. So go ask the geniuses in India how I’m supposed to raze Pakistan without bulldozers! Please.

Are you even listening? Or are you busy testing your hydrogen bombs? When you do, you become so entranced that, practically speaking, you’re lost to the world. My Dearest Uncle, please put an end to your bombs. Things have got pretty bad when the Communists steal my letters.

If it were in my power, I’d twist the ears of those mischief-makers so hard they’d cry out in pain, and yet the problem is that—well, how should I put it?—the fact is the most active Communists in Pakistan are all my friends. For example, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Sibte Hasan, Abdul Malik (but I’m mad at him—he hardly does anything for the cause), Ferozuddin Mansur, Ahmad Rahi, Hameed Akhtar, Nazish Kashmiri and Professor Safdar.

Dear Uncle, I can’t denounce these men because they loan me money. You must understand why I can’t complain about them in their presence, and yet what have you done for me lately? After I sent my first letter, you were so impressed that you sent three hundred rupees as a token of your good wishes. I was so taken aback by your kindness that I decided to take your side from then on out, and yet you haven’t thanked me for my commitment nor have you continued sending money.

My Dearest Uncle, please tell me what has led you to punish me so. At your consulate in Lahore, even the errand boys won’t give me the time of day, and my two or three Pakistani friends with low-level government jobs start cursing me as soon as they hear my name—that’s what your praise has won me!

What did I do? If I extended my heart-felt thanks when you helped out with a little cash, where’s the harm in that? You’ve already sent hundreds of thousands of dollars of aid to India; they say thank you. You’ve sent free wheat to us in Pakistan—I thank you! In Karachi, we paraded through the streets on the backs of camels, thanking you for your goodwill. (It’s a separate matter that we had to Americanize our guts in order to digest your wheat.)

I don’t understand it. You’re giving billion-dollar loans to India, and you promise military aid to Pakistan. Yet what about me? People will start talking—only three hundred rupees to such a famous Pakistani short-story writer and then … nothing? This is a disgrace for us both. I mean, if you don’t want to give me money, then don’t. But where’s the harm in a loan? Please have some compassion and send a one-hundred-thousand-dollar loan so that I can breathe a little easier.

You must know Agha Khan—he’s a big capitalist like you. We just celebrated his golden jubilee. I want a jubilee too. My Dearest Uncle, my very very very Dearest Uncle! If I can’t ask you, to whom can I turn? Our Prime Minister Mr. Muhammad Ali? For God’s sake, give me a jubilee so that my soul will rest peacefully in the grave.

Pakistan—my Pakistan—isn’t lax in patronage of the arts, and yet the problem is that the list of those more deserving is quite long. Recently my government awarded a monthly stipend of five hundred rupees for life to Khan Bahadur Muhammad Abdur Rahman Chughtai. By the grace of God, he owns property, so I can see how he needs the money. Then Mr. Khan Bahadur Abu-Al-Asar Hafeez Jalandhuri got the same stipend; he happens to be rich, too.

God knows when my time will come since I live in a house awarded through the allotment and can’t pay even its rent!

There are so many deserving! For example, Bashir Ahmad B.A. (Oxford), the editor of the monthly “Humayun” and former ambassador to Turkey. Or Syed Imtiaz Ali Taj. Or Mr. Akram PCS. Or Fazal Ahmed Karim Fazli. And so on and so on. They get money because they don’t need it. But my government has a clean conscience—it responds to “services rendered” and isn’t influenced by money, right?

What great feat have I accomplished that the government might forget these others and turn its attention my way? Honestly, what claim to fame do I have other than being your nephew? So please arrange a jubilee for me.

I’m not destined to live long, and to tell you the truth (even though it hurts) your esteemed reverence is the cause of this abridgement. If you cared about my well-being, at the very least you’d send Elizabeth Taylor to nurse me back to health. But you don’t do even that. Why are you so cold-hearted? Is it that you want me to die, or is it something else you’re hiding from me?

That said, it’s no secret that Communism is spreading like wildfire. I can’t pretend there haven’t been many occasions when I wanted to join. You know all too well the danger of this, and that’s why, my Respected Uncle, I advised you to send a goodwill delegation of pin-up girls to counteract the one sent by the Russians. The rainy season is coming, and that’s when we get very romantic. It would be great if you could send your delegation then—call it the Monsoon Delegation.

Uncle, I heard some very disturbing news about your economy. Thanks be to God, you’re very smart, but please listen for a second to this ignoramus. This downturn in your economy is due only to your ending the Korean War. That was a big mistake. Now where’s the market for your tanks, bombers, howitzers and guns?

It’s clear that you ended the war due to international public opinion, and yet what’s that to you? I mean, you can erase the world with one hydrogen bomb, right? In any event, you ended the Korean War, a grave error on your part. But, no worries, you can start over with a war between India and Pakistan, and if its benefits don’t outstrip those in Korea, then I’m not your nephew.

Dear Respected Uncle, please consider it. Just think how good for trade it will be! You can keep your armament factories running all day. Both sides will buy from you. You’ll be in seventh heaven, on cloud nine!

Anyway, keep supporting the war between India and China. Keep trying to convince people it’s a good idea. The French and their government can go to hell if they don’t want to participate. Who cares about them? We’re trying to bring peace and stability to the world, isn’t that right, Uncle?

I really liked what Mr. Dulles said—that the aim of the Free World is to eradicate Communism. Wow! This is the type of free speech you get from having the hydrogen bomb! The naïve think that the West should solve the problems of the rest of the world without the use of force. I ask you—has any conflict ever been resolved without the use of force? Today’s world is full of differences, and yet when conflict arises we’re just supposed to bow down and accept whatever you say?

Why don’t you try to shut up Britain’s Mr. Bevan? Where does he get off biting the hand that feeds him? The moron is spewing poison about you. He goes on about how Mr. Dulles is out of touch with contemporary thinking and is trying to get his way by threatening others with the H-bomb. What a jerk.

Uncle, I get mad when that British clown goes out of his way to insult you. My advice is to erase the British Isles from the map. They’ve always been a headache for the ambitious. If you don’t want to nuke them, at least fill in the English Channel so they’re not separate from Europe. Napoleon and Hitler really hated them, and if they’d not been foiled by the English Channel, then Mr. Bevan wouldn’t be around today and you’d be the lone superpower. In any case, you’re sure to reach heaven for all the trouble you’re going through now.

But, I’m telling you, Britain’s going to make things hard for you. You’ll want to move on but Britain won’t let you. In World War I, Germany got Italy to join them but for poor Italy it turned out to be a trap. The tables suddenly turned. Please don’t let the same happen to you—just rely on your old principle of “cash and carry.”

As soon as you get this letter, promise to fill in the English Channel. With your engineers, it won’t take even a month.

Remember I’m writing first and foremost to request a jubilee, as I’m very fond of them. I’ve been writing for twenty-five years, and that’s the God’s honest truth. My one request, my one wish, is that, if nothing else, you plan a jubilee in my honor.

Because I’m a writer, it would be right to weigh me not against gold but Parker 51 pens. I’ll borrow a scale from Ihsan Bin Danish. I don’t know how much a pen weighs, but I’m about eighty-five pounds, though by the time of the jubilee my weight’s sure to be eighty. If it takes you too long, I’m certain to get very disappointed and I might wither all the way down to zero. Figure out how many Parker 51s balance out eighty pounds, but, for God’s sake, please hurry.

Everything’s good here. Maulana Bhashani and Mr. Shurawardi are—God is great—getting stronger each day, but they seem a little upset at you. If you send Maulana an American rosary and Mr. Shurawardi an American camera, you’ll be forgiven.

Shorish Kashmiri tells me the dancing girls of Diamond Bazaar send their very best.


Your obedient nephew,
Saadat Hasan Manto
31 Lakshmi Mansions, Hall Road, Lahore
14 April 1954

Contributors

Matt Reeck

Matt Reeck has published translations from the French, Hindi, Urdu, and Korean. The Chronicle, his translation from the Urdu of the Man Booker International finalist Intizar Husain, was published in Nov. 2019 by Penguin-India.

Saadat Hasan Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto (1912–1955) is a giant of South Asian fiction. His Urdu stories, vignettes, anecdotal prose, and satire place him squarely at the center of the Urdu canon. His continued cultural relevance can be attested to new dramatic works centered on his life and writing: the 2018 film Manto by the famous Indian actress, activist, and director Nandita Das, and the 2019 staging of Manto’s work by Motley, the Mumbai theater troupe of the famous Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah.

Aftab Ahmad

Aftab Ahmad earned his PhD in Urdu literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Having served as the Director of the American Institute of Urdu Studies Program in Lucknow for five years, he began teaching as an Urdu lecturer at UC-Berkeley in 2006. “Reflections on Growing up Muslim in India,” his essay about being a religious minority in India, was recently published serially in Fire, an Urdu-language newspaper in Lucknow.

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The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2020

All Issues