A lot has been written about Saadat Hasan Manto – the prolific Urdu short story writer – on the Urduwallahs blog and in recent journalistic tributes to his birth centenary. We are apprised of the fact that Manto was tried for obscenity in his short stories, several times, on both sides of the then-newly-formed borders of India and Pakistan. His short story Bu (Odour) was one of them, which has come to be known for its candid depiction of sexuality and his skilful portrayal of the underbelly of society. Here is an insightful article which furthers the understanding of this story and its writer.
Anatomy of an obscenity trial: An unearthed file gives new insight into Saadat Hasan Manto and his short story ‘Bu’ – by Sarah Waheed.
Link to the entire article: Anatomy of an Obscenity Trial
Here is an excerpt:
..But ‘Bu’ is different, I realised, after reading it once again. There was something disturbingly un-ironic to me, about the silence of its low-caste, tribal female lead, known only to the readers by virtue of her smell and sexual availability. Unlike so many of the women in Manto’s short stories – robust human characters like Sultana, Saughandi, Mozail, Mrs. Stella Jackson – the girl in ‘Bu’ is a caricature. In addition to being considered backwards, tribal peoples are often represented in literature and film as sexually exotic, depicted as being particularly prone to ‘carnal passions’. Re-reading ‘Bu’ complicated my initial impressions of Manto’s nuanced portrayal of female characters in his fiction. I wondered what others had to say about it. I came across some interesting voices: contemporaries of Manto including a communist critic and a feminist short-story writer. But, I will get to them in a moment. For this is as much a story about the banning of ‘Bu’ as it is the story of how I came to make sense of ‘Bu’ for myself.