Category Archives: Ismat Chughtai

The Crooked Line by Ismat Chughtai. Translated from the Urdu by Tahira Naqvi

413WM8yVqeL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_ Title: The Crooked Line (Tehri Lakeer)
Author: Ismat Chughtai
Translated from the Urdu by Tahira Naqvi
Publisher: Feminist Press
ISBN: 978-1558615182
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation, Feminist Literature
Pages: 393
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When I got to know of Women in Translation month toward the end of July, I knew that Chughtai would have to be one of the authors that I would read. Chughtai is something else. I can never use the past tense for her, because she lives on and on and on through her works no matter how cheesy it might sound to you. I recall the first time I had heard of that name and most people in my college only associated her with “Lihaaf”, her most popular short-story on love between women. But there is a sea of work that Chughtai wrote and while most of it is fairly popular, it isn’t as famous as her short stories. Her novellas, novels and even her memoir, Kagaji Hai Pairahan (loosely translated to a life of words) are stunning. Everything she wrote will go down in history.

My relationship with Chughtai’s works is of fierceness. I always associate the word fierce with her and her heroines. Their inner lives as captured by her remain as probing and mysterious as they were when first published. There is no recipe for emancipation in her books. Her heroines don’t try to break free from their worlds in ways which are extreme, but work around them. I don’t mean this as a good or a bad thing, it is just how things were then, when Ismat Appa was growing and observing the world of women around her.

“Tehri Lakeer” one of Chughtai’s most autobiographical work (translated wondrously by Tahira Naqvi as “The Crooked Line) tells the story of Shamman and her world, the women in her family – from her mother to her sisters and cousins, to her time at a boarding school and experiences there and how she grows into a woman on the brink of India’s independence, at the same time fighting her inner battles. “The Crooked Line” is about Indian women living in purdah (the world Shamman is born and grows into in the first part of the book) – her Amma who is callous enough to let Shamman being taken care of by her sisters. Her Bari Appa (oldest sister) who is a premature widow and uses this to her advantage time and again in the family. Her cousin Noori who very early on understands how to wield power over men. Chughtai’s characters may appear weak and subdued but don’t be fooled. They are strong and yet know when to appear weak.

The world of purdah disappears as Shamman grows up, with its own set of rules and it all comes down to how women control men around them. Shamman, now educated sees herself different from her family and is almost alienated by them. She doesn’t even understand her place in the modern world and is somewhat stuck in a limbo. Ismat Chughtai’s characters are also known to traverse paths of identity confusion more often than not. Be it Masooma (from the novel of the same name) or even Bichchoo Phoophee, they are always stuck, always searching and breaking paradigms in their small ways. Shamman does the same and is seeing the world change drastically – be it through her friend Alma, who has a child out of wedlock and is unable to love it fully or abort it – or through Bilqees, the femme fatale who uses men and is always surrounded by them, without knowing if she loves them or is just using them.

This is also a constant in the book – women who are neither here nor there. Women who were in purdah had no control and women who have the freedom don’t know what to make of it. In all of this is Shamman’s role as a headmistress (which reminded me so much of the Brontë sisters) and her relationship with the gossiping colleagues to her own sexuality as and when it blossoms, Chughtai’s feminism is not contained or a listicle of sorts. It is the kind of feminism that questions and makes you very uncomfortable while asking those questions. She isn’t apologetic and neither are her characters. Tahira Naqvi’s translation from the Urdu is top-notch as she keeps all phrases and words intact, where they should be. There is also a glossary behind for those who might need to refer it. This was perhaps the last Chugtai book that I had left to read. Knowing me though, I will go back to her works, almost every year. She was truly a woman of gumption and it reflected in her writing all the way. Read her. Breathe her works. And I would be very envious of you, if you haven’t read her at all, because there is so much there for you to read and adore.

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365 Stories: Day 10: By the Grace of God (Allah ka Fazl) by Ismat Chughtai

a-chughtai-collection

I remember being fascinated by watching The Quilt being performed by Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre troupe Motley. I remember watching Chughtai’s four short stories being performed on stage. That was the day I was introduced to her writing.

The story read today (the 10th of January 2016) was Allah Ka Fazl, translated by Syeda S. Hameed. I know it is not one of her better-known works, but this is what I was aiming for. This story is about a mother, a daughter who is married to an older man – almost 65 and she cannot produce a child, an aunt (friend of the mother’s) who wants to help by getting her married to someone else she knows and what comes of it all in the end.

Chughtai’s stories are all about women, their issues and the ferocity with which they deal with them. Even in that time and age, I guess women were more liberated than they are today. True-blue feminists with issues to target bang-on seemed to be the order of the day. Anyhow, this story is superb. You might be able to predict the end, as you go along, but worth every turn of the page.

Book Review : Ismat : Her Life, Her Times : Edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar & Sadique

Ismat - Her Life Her Times Title: Ismat : Her Life, Her Times
Author: Sukrita Paul Kumar & Sadique
Publisher: Katha Books
ISBN: 9788185586977
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Biography
Pages: 300
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

When an author has had a kind of life which no one can match up to, that is when books such as these are needed. I think to a very large extent, only a few authors can rise to this rank from the plentiful in the literary sea, existing as of now. I have always felt this rare closeness to Ismat Aapa and I do not know why. I think to a very large extent (and I am only guessing here) is the marginalized context – of both of us that I am able to relate to her, the way I do. The bold texture of her life, the choices made against the grain of the norm and more than anything else, to fight for the cause of her work, is something worth admiring, perhaps a hundred thousand times over. Where else can one see this passion today? I may be getting ahead of myself here, but that is only because I love her so.

“Ismat: Her Life, Her Times” is a wonderfully constructed book. There is a lot in this book and I can recommend it to any Chughtai lover. Both, Sukrita and Sadique have managed to almost write a canvas of her work and the woman that she was. She is one woman who had so much to say and she always said it with a bite, with humour and emphasizing on the fact of breaking all barriers and boundaries. This book encapsulates her life the way she lived it – from a writer to her advent in the Indian Film Industry to her lens and the way she viewed everything with it.

What is even more enchanting is the range of contributors – who have written about her and are collated in this book – from Faiz Ahmad Faiz to Manto to Krishan Chander and Qurratulain Hyder, commenting on Ismat – the person and the writer.

“Ismat: Her Life Her Times” is a dedication to a writer beyond words. It is her life, through pictures, through letters, through her work and the personality she was. The book could be seen as a starter, as a guide to all her works (her vast body of work that is), and to encourage readers to go and read more of her books, her stories and if possible watch the movies she wrote for and acted in.

To me this book embodies the woman beautifully. Of course not as beautifully as Kaghazeen Hain Pairan, but it does bring to fore mostly everything about her. A book not to be missed out on. A book which takes the writer beyond everything else and gives her the due and credit she has always deserved.

Here is a forty seven long interview of hers, if you are interested and by the way you should be:

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387 Short Stories: Day 13: Story 13: Touch-Me-Not by Ismat Chughtai

Ismat Chughtai

Title: Touch-Me-Not
Author: Ismat Chughtai
Taken from the Collection: The Quilt and Other Stories

So while, “The Quilt” happens to be everyone’s favourite Chughtai story, given the context and the uproar it created on publication, I decided to read something else by her for today’s story. “Touch-Me-Not” seemed that it wanted to be read and so I did.

Ismat Aapa wrote about women – behind closed doors, the ones who wanted to go out and do something, and the ones who never got around to doing anything, but just being a body that gives birth or is made for that and of course to please her husband. “Touch-Me-Not” is one such story of the narrator’s Bhabhijan who has been married for over three years to her brother and not being able to give birth to a child. When she is pregnant again, the narrator’s Ammijan and Bi Mughlani decide that the delivery should happen in Aligarh – away from Delhi and the story unfolds as the narrator, Ammijan, Bi Mughlani and Bhabhijan are headed to Aligarh, with an entire train bogey booked for them.

Chughtai conveys a lot through this short story. She speaks of how Muslim women who do not give birth, have no other option than to witness their husband’s second marriage, and in turn resort to prostitution. Bhabhijan constantly goes through that fear and in that wake the story ends, with a pregnant peasant woman entering their compartment and things going out of control.

I loved the story. It made me wonder and think of times – this of course is set pre-partition, that the writer lived in and what prompted her to write such tales. Chughtai’s prose is simple and hits the reader in all the right places. The translation by M. Asaduddin is also quite clear and precise. Chughtai was a feminist like no other. A writer like no other. Read her and cherish her works.

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