Manto’s choice of a dog to be the innocent victim of brutality in “The Dog of Tithwal” is appropriate and effective in many ways. Although the story’s subject matter is remote from the experience of contemporary Western readers, Manto’s use of the dog gives the story universal impact.
The relationship between dogs and humans is, of course, unique. With no other animal have humans formed a bond so close and complex. In most cultures, the dog is esteemed and even loved, though in a few parts of the world dogs are shunned by humans. The vast majority of human beings respond to dogs as innocents and as members of a species with which humans have entered into a mutual agreement of trust and harmlessness. Human treachery and cruelty toward dogs, therefore, is seen as especially repugnant.
In many cultures, including the modern Western one, the dog is not only a beloved companion but also a symbol of loyalty, protection, and nobility. In some cultures, such as that of the ancient Greeks, the dog has been considered a messenger and a guardian of passageways. Hinduism’s perspective can be summed up in a story from the Mahabharata, the great epic of Hinduism. Near the end of the epic, a noble hero, Yudhishthira, approaches the gates of heaven with his faithful dog. When he is told that he may enter heaven but must leave his dog behind, Yudhishthira replies that he will not abandon the dog who has been so faithful to him and who has come to trust and depend on him, even for the joys of heaven. The gatekeeper repeatedly tries to convince Yudhishthira that it would not be cruel to abandon the dog, even saying that the dog is an unclean animal and has no soul. Yudhishthira’s final response is:
“I do not turn away my dog; I turn away you. I will not surrender a faithful dog to you…. Whoever comes to me from fright or from disaster or from friendship—I never give him up.”
The heavenly gatekeeper tells Yudhishthira that this has been one last test of his goodness, and the dog is revealed to be Dharma, the god of justice, in disguise. Accordingly, in Hindu culture dogs are considered unclean animals, yet all creatures are deemed to deserve compassionate treatment. Dogs that are companions of warriors and hunters are especially esteemed. In Islamic culture, however, the dog is a symbol of impurity and is considered a positive presence only in the role of guard dog.
Consciously or not, Manto has constructed his story in such a way that all these human views of Jhun Jhun’s species are demonstrated. The Muslim (Islamic) soldiers, indeed, respond to Jhun Jhun as if he is impure. Subedar Himmat Khan, far from seeing the dog as loyal, distrusts him because he left the camp during the night. Jhun Jhun did not act as a guard dog for the Pakistanis, and so they have no affection toward him, only suspicion. Although Subedar Himmat Khan’s treatment of Jhun Jhun is extreme in its cruelty, his attitude toward the dog is grounded in his religious and cultural background.
The Indian soldiers in the story are Sikhs, not Hindus, as indicated by the designation “Singh” after their names. Sikhism is a blend of elements of Hinduism and Islam. Appropriately, the Sikh soldiers have a mixed reaction to Jhun Jhun. It is an Indian soldier—a warrior, as Yudhishthira was— who befriends the dog; it is also an Indian soldier who kills him.
In these depictions of the soldiers’ responses to Jhun Jhun, Manto has drawn from his characters’ cultural realities and has made his story authentic. But Manto himself emphasizes, in Jhun Jhun, the qualities that Western cultures attribute to dogs. Both groups of soldiers make Jhun Jhun a messenger, and he is also a guardian—or at least a traverser— of the passageway between the two hills and the two camps. Each side hangs around Jhun Jhun’s neck a message for the other and sends him into the no-man’s land that serves as a passage between the camps.
But it is the qualities of loyalty and nobility that make Jhun Jhun and, in turn, the story so effective and affecting. Jhun Jhun’s loyalty is not to one camp or the other, as the soldiers would have it. It is a loyalty of a higher order: to all humans and to the bond between the two species. Whereas the two groups of soldiers see only differences between themselves, Jhun Jhun sees only similarity. As the men have certain culturally based expectations of Jhun Jhun, the dog has certain inbred expectations of the men. He expects them to behave as humans are supposed to behave toward dogs, according to that age-old agreement between the two. He expects that his friendly, trusting approach to all men will be recognized as a signal of harmessless and loyalty. Jhun Jhun conveys, “I know about the agreement between us. I intend to abide by it.”
When the men torture and kill Jhun Jhun, they are not just killing a dog; they are breaking a longstanding and sacred trust between humans and dogs. Men, having long ago tamed the dog’s viciousness and engendered its trust and loyalty, now turn on the dog with a senseless cruelty that even a wild creature could neither comprehend nor anticipate. This is the most despicable kind of brutality.
Terrified and wounded, Jhun Jhun, to the end, honors the relationship that the men disregard. In this, he shows the nobility attributed to his kind. There is only one thing more heart-rending than seeing an innocent treated cruelly, and that is seeing the victim remain noble in the face of betrayal and death. Jhun Jhun does not growl, threaten, or attack. As men show themselves absolutely inhuman, Jhun Jhun remains harmless and submissive; he remains true to the nature that better men have bred into him.
In Jhun Jhun, Manto has created the ideal foil for his human characters. Jhun Jhun shows the reader, more effectively than any human character could, how debased these men are. The dog, with its inability to comprehend cruelty and with loyalty and nobility that surpass that of many humans, shows by its death that, in the name of religion and country, these men have sunk beneath the level of beasts.
Western readers may feel a distance between themselves and the issues and events of partition. They may even feel a distance between themselves and the human victims of partition, because those people were remote in time, place, and culture; it is a fact of human nature that people have more empathy for others who are like them. But Jhun Jhun is not remote. Any reader who has known any dog immediately grasps this dog’s nature. Every reader is aware of that eons-old agreement and bond between Jhun Jhun’s species and human beings. Thus, every reader feels the magnitude of the crime committed against Jhun Jhun. The shock waves of that wrong reverberate across time, place, and cultures, much as the shock waves of partition still pulse through India and Pakistan.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Saadat Hasan Manto, Published by Gale, 2002.
Candyce Norvell, Critical Essay on “The Dog of Tithwal,” in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.