Ismat Chughtai’s Short Stories

Though her life wasn’t as drastically messed up as that of her friend and contemporary, Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chughtai was definitely a born rebel. She lived her life the way she wanted, and wrote the truth in her many stories, novels, and nonfiction essays. ismat chughtai.jpg

Chughtai’s most famous story is “Lihaf” (The Quilt), which deals with a lesbian encounter within an all-woman setting (Zenana) in a traditional Muslim household. It’s a funny and scandalous story (read it here), but actually, my favorite short story by Chughtai is called “Sacred Duty.” I came across it in a recent collection called The Quilt and Other Stories. It’s been beautifully translated by Tahira Naqvi, who has been Chughtai’s committed translator and one of her great champions.

“Sacred Duty” is not online anywhere, so perhaps I should briefly summarize it and quote a little. Samina, who comes from a respectable Muslim family in Delhi, is engaged to be married to a respectable Muslim boy. However, the day before her wedding she runs off with her boyfriend with Tashar Trivedi, a Hindu whose family lives in Allahabad. Samina accompanies Tashar to Allahabad, where converts to Hinduism and is married to Tashar in a Hindu ceremony. When her parents get Samina’s note explaining her disappearance, her mother’s first reaction (the story is told from her parents’ perspective) is “Let’s go to Allahabad and shoot them both!” Lovely. After some months tempers have cooled, and Samina’s father goes on a mission to Allahabad to reconcile, and to invite Samina and her husband to their house in Delhi. He is so gracious and understanding that the Trivedis agree. But in Delhi the young couple find that the Siddiqui family have quietly arranged a second, Muslim marriage ceremony, which requires Tashar to convert to Islam and Samina to reconvert. He’s ready to do it, though Samina isn’t, and a great deal of poisonously comical bickering ensues. Finally, from their hotel, Samina and Tashar sneak off by themselves to an undisclosed city, leaving both their manipulative families behind. The high point of the story is the delciously snarky letter that Samina sends her parents as she and her husband disappear:

And then, Papa, you arrived on the scene; you’re such a good actor — how genially and amicably you convinced Papaji [Samina's father-in-law] — I was so touched. My father’s so broad-minded, I told myself. Papaji had managed to whisk us off to Banaras with the help of his cronies. First it was Papaji who waved the magic wand at us, but when you warmly expressed forgiveness and brought us to Delhi, you too exposed yourelf as someone really petty; you also made us dance like a monkey and its mate. And we took everything as a big joke, that comic drama too. Don’t worry, we’re not going to give away your secret — tomorrow morning, when Papaji [Tashar's father] looks at the newspaper there’ll definitely be an explosion [when they hear about the Muslim ceremony]. No, we only said goodbye to them. Goodbye to all of you too — no, you don’t want to know where we’re going. If we’ve hurt you, please forgive us. No, we haven’t hurt you, it’s you who have caused us pain, you’re the ones who should apologize. You have made us a laughing stock. What kind of parents are you, who make your children dance like monkeys to any tune you like?

I love that reversal of guilt onto the parents themselves. In the name of “respectability” and “the family honor,” they seem willing to do any number of disreputable and hurtful things. (Indeed, the old tradition of the “honor killing” is alive and well, even in the South Asian diaspora.)

With its rude ending, “Sacred Duty” is a brilliant and fitting change-up on the old arranged marriage drama. And as a story it still feels completely fresh and relevant though it was written fifty years ago. Many of Chughtai’s other short stories work the same way, especially when they’re competently translated.

Who Was She? Some Biographical Background

Chughtai was greatly helped in her aspiration to be a professional writer because her husband, Shahid Latif, was a successful script-writer who actively encouraged her (through him, she also tried her hand at script-writing, and was involved in some fourteen or fifteen films in the 1940s and 50s). Chughtai wrote in Urdu and was early on associated with the Progressive Writers’ Association. She was a friend of Manto’s, and often compared to him, so this post is in some sense a complement to my earlier post on Manto. Manto’s inspired take on Chughtai in his essay on her, included in a splendid collection called Ismat: Her Life, Her Times (Edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar and Sadique), is well worth reading. Some of Manto’s comments about Chughtai’s status as a woman writer are a bit controversial (Manto was no feminist; he wanted Chughtai to write like a woman). But others are witty and affectionate:

Ismat’s pen and tongue both run fast. When she starts writing, her ideas race ahead and the words cannot catch up with them. When she speaks, her words seem to tumble over one another. If sheenters the kitchen to show her culinary skill, everything will be in a mess. Being hasty by nature, she would conjure up the cooked roti in her mind even before she had finished kneading the dough. The potatoes would note yet be peeled although she would have already finished making the curry in her imagination. I feel sometimes she may just go into the kitchen andcome out again afer being satiated by her imagination.

I’ve tried that, and I must admit it doesn’t work so well for me.

Incidentally, Chughtai also wrote an essay giving her take on Manto, which I haven’t been able to track down.

An Excerpt from Chughtai’s Memoirs Online

The excerpt from her autobiography published at Chowk is well worth a read. Chughtai talks about her sense of rebelliousness, which began in childhood and continued up through her decision to marry the film-writer Shahid Latif. The anecdotes she tells and her style of telling them reinforces the sense one has of Chughtai as someone with a quick wit with an extraordinary ability to use humor to point out the truth — and get her way. Here, for instance, is how, as a young girl, she convinced her father to excuse her from learning how to cook, and give her instead the opportunity to go to school and get an education:

“Women cook food Ismat. When you go to your in-laws what will you feed them?” he asked gently after the crisis was explained to him.

“If my husband is poor, then we will make khichdi and eat it and if he is rich, we will hire a cook,” I answered.

My father realised his daughter was a terror and that there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.

“What do you want to do then?” he asked.

“All my brothers study. I will study too,” I said.

My uncle was assigned the job of teaching me. After a month of extensive study, day and night, I was accepted into the fourth grade at a local school. After that I got a double promotion and was promoted to grade six. I wanted to be free and without an education, a woman cannot have freedom. When an uneducated woman gets married, her husband addresses her as “stupid” or “illiterate”. When he leaves for work, she sits at home and waits for him to come back. I thought that no matter what happens, I would never be intimidated by anyone. I would learn as quickly as I could.

It’s not as if Chughtai’s family were that much more progressive than other affluent Muslim families of her generation. But Chughtai knew how to work her family members to ensure access to an education, through which she was able to get out of her parents house and eventually marry a man she herself chose.

The Obscenity Trial for ‘Lihaf’ (The Quilt); Her Account Online

Chughtai’s account of her obscenity trial in 1944, over “Lihaf,” picks up where the autobiographical sketch leaves off. This is the incident in Chughtai’s life for which she is most famous, and it’s interesting to see that at the time she took it rather lightly. She emphasizes the pleasant time she and her husband had with Manto in Lahore, where the trial was held, over the legalities and the question of whether or not her story was actually obscene.

In this memoir of her trial Chughtai does of course get into some of the specifics regarding her interest in the subject of “Lihaf,” though these discussions happen not in the actual trial, but in the informal “trial” she went through from the respectable people in her social circle. Here is her response to one of her husband’s friends, Aslam, when he criticizes her for her story:

Using a mild manner and a tone of entreaty, I said, ‘Aslam Sahib, in reality no one ever told me that writing on the subject I deal with in “Lihaf” is a sin, nor did I ever read anywhere that I shouldn’t write about this . . . disease . . . or tendency. Perhaps my mind is not the brush of Abdur Rahman Chughtai but only a cheap camera instead. Whenever it sees something, it releases the shutter on its own and the pen in my hand becomes helpless. My mind tempts my pen, and I’m unable to interfere in the matter of my mind and pen.” (link)

It’s a rather ingenious defense: the issue of homoerotic desire between women was such a profoundly unspoken thing that it wasn’t necessarily clear to Chughtai that it was in fact a “sin.” (Of course, this defense doesn’t hold if you actually read the story closely — there one sees there is a strong sense of shame in the chld protagonist’s perception of the acts committed by Begum Jan and her lover, the servant Rabbo.) The second part of Chughtai’s defense of her writing may be the more important: she saw what she was doing as in some sense an act of recording. In fact, there is some indication that the story was based on real people.

Here is how Chughtai describes the actual trial:

There was a big crowd in the court. Several people had advised us to offer our apologies to the judge, even offering to pay the fines on our behalf. The proceedings had lost some of their verve, the witnesses who were called in to prove that “Lihaf” was obscene were beginning to lose their never in the face of our lawyer’s cross-examination. No word capable of inviting condemnation could be found. After a great deal of search a gentleman said, “The sentence ‘she was collecting ashiqs (lovers) is obscene.” “Which word is obscene,” the lawyer said. “Collecting,” or “ashiqs”? (link)

And from there the case against her begins to crumble.

The question of obscenity and censorship is still very much with us today, as many recent incidents have reminded us. The only difference now is that while representing sex acts are considered more or less acceptable in works of literature in India at least (Shobha De has never been tried for obscenity), now the censorship battleground is religion. But even if the theme is different, the arguments are the same: the question of what specifically makes a serious literary work obscene or offensive is as hard to answer now as it was in 1944. Most people recognize that there is a difference between representing an act of communal violence and celebrating or encouraging it. But somehow one still finds that the works of writers and filmmakers whose works criticize communalism — most recently, Taslima Nasreen — are banned because they “hurt religious sentiments.”

“Lihaf” can be found online in numerous locations, but I would recommend the version translated by Tahira Naqvi here. (The other translation I came across does something odd with the ending.)

More materials online:

Fran Pritchett’s Ismat Chughtai links

An essay by Chughtai: From Bombay to Bhopal (PDF)

An essay by Chughtai: Communal Violence and Literature (PDF)

A review of Ismat: Her Life, Her Times

I also want to thank Ruchira Paul for inspiring me to do this post, and for sending me a copy of Ismat: Her Life, Her Times.

33 thoughts on “Ismat Chughtai’s Short Stories

  1. Dr. Dhruv’s Lit classes are the BEST, ever. Such a fantastic selection of Authors, most of whom I’m being introduced to, much to my delight. Now where’s that evaluation? My #2 pencil is ready to sing.

  2. Allah! I dove headlong into my sheets!!

    oh..!! my word… !! that was quite a ride.

  3. ::The only difference now is that while representing sex acts are considered more or less acceptable in works of literature in India at least …::

    Well, there was the Arundhati Roy censorship case – I believe the charge was “undermining public morality”.

  4. Nice. Could the name of the man in the short story be “Tushar”? Tashar Trivedi doesn’t sound Allahabadi Hindu to me, but Tushar Trivedi does.

  5. Ajk, that’s right, I forgot about the Arundhati Roy case. I stand corrected…

    Hairy_d, glad you enjoyed ‘The Quilt’!

    And reader, the translator has put down ‘Tashar.’ But I agree, Tushar does sound like a more familiar Hindu name. It might be that it’s Chughtai’s misspelling in Urdu, though I think someone who reads Urdu would have to go to the original to see.

  6. “her seven silver stretchmarks from her twins. The line of down that led from her navel to her dark triangle, that told him where she wanted him to go. The inside of her legs, where her skin was softest. Then carpenter’s hands lifted her hips and an untouchable tongue touched the innermost part of her. Drank long and deep from the bowl of her. She danced for him.”

    Is this what the roy censorship was about? that’s probably as graphic as it gets. Talk among yourselves.

  7. Amardeep, you could very well expand the wikipedia stub on Ismat Chugtai.

    Also a question: Why is it that the Progressive Writer’s Movement is always associated with Urdu and not the colloquial Hindi-Urdu which was used at its birth. Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, and Nehru were all members (none of which prescribed solely to Urdu); Mulk Raj Anand was one of the founding members of the movement along with Sajjad Zaheer. And of course Premchand (Satranj ke Khiladi) was a proponent of Hindi-Urdu. Why then the ownership of Urdu and not the linguistically correct Hindustani?

  8. i’m just beginning to realize my old mum is way deeper than i gave her credit for. she introduced me to amrita pritam, chughtai, manto, and nehru’s niece… (i forget her name, she was a writer in her own right). i suppose i’m hitting the age when i realize that all the trails i’ve been blazing are not in spite of my folks – but because of them… oh! i am so mr. conventional.

    To get away I ran for miles, climbed a rock And all i am is bourgeois desi stock


  9. Well, there was the Arundhati Roy censorship case – I believe the charge was “undermining public morality“.

    In which case, if Sepia Mutiny fell under Indian legal jurisdiction I’d probably be hung, drawn and quartered for my comments here.

    I’ve realised that some of my recent badmaash posts on this blog make me sound like SM’s version of Colin Farrell…..

  10. Vikash, that’s a good question, and I don’t have a great answer for you. You’re right that it was Hindi-Urdu or Hindustani that was the dominant language of the PWA.

    I think the best explanation for the strong association with Urdu is that it was Urdu writers who started the movement rolling. The first ‘volley’ in the Progressive Writers’ Movement was a collection of stories called Angarey (published in 1933 in Allahabad). It was in Urdu, and had contributions from four peeople: Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmad Ali, Mahmud Zaffar, and Rashid Jehan. Of the four, Ahmed Ali is the only writer who is still widely read today. As the only woman of the four, though, Rashid Jehan got most of the negative publicity and the scorn for her involvement.

    To get away from the glare of public hostility, Sajjad Zaheer escaped to England for two years. After he returned, he organized the first meeting of the PWA at Allahabad, an event which included Premchand. Since the conference and the organizational structure of the Progressive Writers’ Association that began in 1935 was inspired by the publication (and the scandal) surrounding that first book, perhaps the Urdu association comes from that.

    Interestingly, what got the writers in trouble in Angarey was their irreverence towards Islam, not sexually explicit content. The book was denounced as blasphemous and banned by the U.P. government.

    Incidentally, most of my information on this comes from a book called “The Book On Trial” by Girja Kumar, if you’re interested in reading more. (Priyamvada Gopal, who we talked about a few weeks ago in relation to Niall Ferguson, also has a chapter on this episode in her book.)

  11. Great post. These ‘intro to author’ posts are among the best on SM. Looking forward to more.

    And personally, they give me some insight into my own 80 something Allahbadi grandmother. She always seemed unusually progressive, though I’ve never mustered the courage to ask her about Allahbadi lesbians. What is ‘lesbian’ in Urdu anyway?

  12. Thanks Vinay (#12)

    Guys, do you think the english translation linked by Vinay added a line at the end…?

    What I saw when the quilt was lifted, I will never tell anyone, not even if they give me a lakh of rupees.

    It’s not there in the hindi text Vinay linked.

  13. sorry -aboot that. i meant the “english translation linked by amar deep” in #14.

  14. I know that last sentence was there originally because Manto actually mentions it specifically in his essay on Ismat Chughtai some years later. He mentions that soon after he met her he complained about that one sentence, and said it wasn’t really elegant Urdu. She defended it, and later he regretted making the comment.

    It’s odd, because in this English translation the last sentence is also missing. It’s somewhat possible that Chughtai herself decided to remove it at some point down the line, and that’s why it’s sometimes translated without the sentence. There’s quite a puzzle there!

    Incidentally, I realize that I don’t know the word “Gadaap” (“Allah! Me gadaap se apne bichaane me”). Is it like quickly or rapidly?

  15. Thanks for the pointer in #16 Amardeep.

    Incidentally I felt the story had a better ending at “Allah! I dove headlong into the sheets!” as I pointed out in #2 above – superior craftsmanship. I had to mentally tune out that last sentence to savor the finish. So, I am actually quite pleased there is a version without that little appendage at the end. There is truth and beauty in the world.

    I am quite pleased.

  16. Incidentally, I realize that I don’t know the word “Gadaap” (“Allah! Me gadaap se apne bichaane me”). Is it like quickly or rapidly?

    I was puzzled too – but dismissed it as my inadequate command over the language. It could be onomotopoeic (aargh – you know what i mean Amardeep – I can never quite spell or pronounce that word.)

  17. 16 Yes, Amardeep you are right word “gadaap” means quickly or rapidly as in “Woh gadaap se 5-6 roti kha gya”

  18. It could be onomotopoeic

    on·o·mato·poe·ic (as you can see, I checked the dictionary). And yes, it IS one of those. Hindi/Urdu have a heap of such words. Some others are chhapaak, ta.Daak, dha.Daam. ga.Daap is less common though. I think it is used for exactly the action that is happening in the story – ‘to get into a lihaaf or something similar in one action’. One thing’s for sure – no translation can do full justice to such words.

  19. I have been able to retrieve the following bits from the class notes I took while attending a workshop on Narratives and Narrations by the eminent film theorist Dr Madan Gopal Singh

    The Quilt

    One could identify here four registers of subjectivity.

    The feudal-patriarchic register is perhaps the central referent. The argument of the story, despite all its avowed radical perspectives on feminine desire, could well be that Begum Jan would not have ‘fallen on ways of deviant sexuality if her honorable sexual desires had not been so callously spurned’ by a deviant old Nawab. This is hardly a radical argument. Our worst suspicions are confirmed later in the story as we see the question of feminine desire being totally overwhelmed by an uninterrupted and almost visceral lapse into sexuality. The feudal-patriarchic register is severe in its maintenance of social sanctions and pretences but strictly as a ritual code. Thus, one may follow the institution of marriage and continue to practise ‘deviant sexuality’.

    The first register functions through the largely absent persona of the elderly Nawab.

    Begam Jan is the active carrier of the other register of subjectivity – namely, the feminine desire. Her character is doubly negotiated. She is a woman from a distinctly lower economic strata married into a far richer feudal family. The disparity is further underlined by the Nawab’s ‘deviant’ sexuality as well as by the huge gap in age that exists between the two. Her presence is primarily a decorative, ritual presence within the matrimonial cosmology sanctioned by the feudal into which she seems to have been despairingly inserted. Her desire is unfortunately articulated only through a carnal self-expression of a visceral sexuality. She seems distinctly devoid of any creative potentials to reconstruct herself out of her moribund misery. Soon enough, she is transformed into a kind of a monster who would not hesitate to molest a child while her ‘slave’ is either away on leave or generally sulking.

    Rabbu, Begum Jan’s perpetual massuese, represents the third register albeit in a muted and almost unseen seams of the quilt. It is surprising that in all the debates about feminine desire vis-à-vis The Quilt, how not one feminist critic has deemed it fit to place the question of desire at Rabbu’s door. Is she a willing partner or is she economically forced into a situation she would much rather avoid. An answer is hinted at in the mysterious withdrawal of Rabbu’s son from the service of the elderly Nawab. Rabbu’s somewhat inchoate subjectivity also in a way puts Begum Jan’s own existential dilemma in a much sharper focus. For, the Begum is perhaps as much a victim of economic mismatch as Rabbu herself.

    Interesting question however is the position of the author-child. There is clearly a playfulness constituted by establish…. the Two of these registers constituted in the persona of Begum Jan and the author-child are in the active mode. The other two represented by the elderly Nawab and Rabbu exist on the narrative margins and could be constituted only through inference. The Nawab, in fact, remains an absent carrier of subjectivity. The author-child, on the other hand, has a somewhat complex dual existence vis-à-vis the narrative schema. Within the narrative, she is both an outsider as well as an insider. For one, she has literally come from an outside world

    Quilt as a failed narrative

    Much has been written on Ismat Chughtai’s Quilt as a symptomatic representation of the feminine repressed and its radical potentials vis-à-vis the question of feminine desire. We propose to question both these assumptions and establish on the contrary that the Quilt is a failed narrative window on the important question of woman’s desire.

    First of all the main narrative body is split along two authorial positions. The author is a participating and indeed curiously terrified witness to the lesbian going-ons below the quilt as a forced child visitor from the outside. More importantly, the author is also the adult, bemused and almost compassionless arbiter from the outside. The last sentence of the story (not included in the official translation issued by the University) where the child-author finally winds up the story with a tongue-in-cheek, almost gastronomic, remark comes across as a particularly cruel joke.

    Begum Jan’s choice of lesbian relationship with Rabbo is projected as a forced choice. In such construction of sexual choices there is a built-in quasi sympathetic but morally indignant stance alwaysalready. The argument could well run like this : if only the Nawab Saheb had not acquiesced ‘deviant’ sexuality, Begum Jan could have saved from ‘going down’ the path of lesbian ‘damnation’! Lesbian sexual desire as merely a filler, a choice in lieu of a better choice – that is how Ismat Chughtai seems to build her case study on ‘deviant sexuality’.

    Structurally, though the plot seems neatly laid out, the story is not a little problem-ridden. The little girl-child’s – who is more of a tomboy than a girl – punishment for fighting with boys is to be dispatched to a distant aunt who is known to be a compulsive lesbian. We emphasise the word ‘compulsive’ because her mode of sexuality is nothing short of an addiction. She needs to be kneaded and doughed all through the day by her constant companion and consort Rabbo who seems to have no other chores to attend as a maidservant. The question of feminine desire is thus reduced to visceral sexuality. If Begum Jan does not receive the attention of her masseuse, she begins to get the cold-turkey effect. If Rabbo happens to be away on leave, the Begum seems perilously close to losing her sanity if not actually in fear of dying. This is where she would not hesitate to attempt to molest even the little girl child. The author could not present the case of feminine desire more unsympathetically.

    Other considerations of socio-economic disparity are conveniently glossed over. It is emphasized, for instance that the reason why a good-looking but relatively impoverished Begum Jan is married off to a rich and ageing Nawab Saheb has its basis in social sanctions and economic disparity. The façade of matrimony has to be kept ritualistically alive within the overall patriarchic control. But similar logic is not extended to the relationship that unfolds between Begum Jan and Rabbo. The question of feminine desire is kept confined to Begum Jan and Rabbo is conveniently excluded from the universe of desires.

    If the child is an outsider who becomes an unwitting privy to the happenings on the inside, Rabbo is an insider whose own desires are almost clinically kept on the outside. If this is not a case of failed narrative drive, then one wonders what is.

    A lot has been written about the radical and, for its times, the daring theme of alternative sexuality with regard to Ismat Chughtai’s The Quilt. The gender question, especially inrelation to the feminine (sexual) desire has also been the focal point of discussion. It has been pointed out, for instance, how sensitively the theme of lesbian sexuality has been handled by the author through the agency of the child-narrator. However, one would like to seriously challenge some of these assumptions – namely, if, indeed, The Quilt is a story about alternative sexuality; if, indeed, it takes on the question of feminine desire at a philosophical or even existential level; and, if, indeed, it approaches the sensitive issue of lesbianism through its child-narrator.

    To take up the question of the child-narrator first, one would notice that the position of the narrator continuously shifts along two registers – that of the adult narrator removed from the incident in time and the child narrator who is some sort of a terrified and even mesmerized witness to the strange goings-on under the quilt and the monstrous shadow-play on the wall in the middle of the night. Nearly half the story is in the voice of the adult narrator. All the information regarding Begum Jan “rolling on a bed of live coals” in the vain hope of receiving the Nawab’s attention while the latter is busy in his mysterious escapades with “young, fair-faced boys with slim waists” is in the adult narrator’s voice. It even carries a tinge of dismissive sarcasm when it comes to Begum Jan’s attempts to turn to books etc. The child narrator comes in later. The confusion is so stark that finally when the child musters up recoils from what she actually sees – the last sentence has been coyly censored out from the scheduled translation – one is no longer quite sure if it is the child responding to the forbidden or the adult to the spice.

    The problem with The Quilt is clearly compounded by the unaddressed hierarchy of relations permeating the small universe of Begum Jan’s household. The first hierarchy is the cut and dried relationship between the husband and wife sanctioned by a feudal order. Here the Nawab is free to indulge his fantasies as long as he fulfils his social obligations – namely that of acquiring a wife – a Begum – albeit as a piece of furniture.

    There is a second hierarchy to which, strangely enough, commentators have turned a deaf eye. This is the relationship between Begum Jan and her maidservant Rabbu. Even though the narrator mentions that “it was Rabbu who pulled her (Begum Jan) back from the brink”, details are conspicuously absent. At the end of the day it is as unequal a relationship as indeed that which exists between the Nawab and his Begum. It is determined by economic control which the Begum seems to wield. It is curious that no one speaks about Rabbu’s desires. The radical theme begins to go awry.

    The third hierarchy is that which obtains between the Begum and the child narrator. This too is a grossly unequal relationship determined as it is by the awesome power the Begum seems to wield over the child. It is somewhat disturbing that not a single commentator has reflected upon Begum Jan’s nearly successful attempt to sexually molest the child when Rabbu has gone away temporarily.

    The essential problem with the story is that it links up the question of lesbian sexuality almost exclusively with the husband’s inability to sexually gratify the spouse. This trivialises a number of important issues pertaining to feminine desire, lesbianism and the institution of marriage. Finally, as one looks back, The Quilt appears to be a visceral shroud in which an entire universe seems to be subsumed in a frightfully active and perhaps hypnotic bed. A debate about feminine desire, alternative sexuality and lesbianism has not as yet begun

  20. I wonder if Professor Amardeep would now also carry a post on Ajeet Caur’s (not Kaur but Caur as against her daughter’s Cour – the name game becomes curiouser with some writers/painters who live literally by the word and its visual lure) short story “Lesbian” – a piece of writing which is so blatantly and self-righteously anti-lesbians.

    I also suggest that we open up a genuinely critical debate about some of these grossly overrated writers rather than getting overwhelmed by the spurious cultural-studies potentials that some of the desi respondents here “sitting so far away from home” – mostly and presumably the inhabitants of north-south US campuses – are.

  21. Dear Rupinder ji,

    I thought we were talking about writers here – howsoever ‘under’ or ‘overrated’ they may be. My opinion matters little when it comes to gastronomic approach to literature. However, “every one who is trying to write or does write” does not necessarily qualify as a writer. It takes a lot, lot more to be a writer.

    There is many a pen-pusher whose writing is merely ink-flow. People like me who are unable to distinguish between an ‘is’ and an ‘are’ also nurture visions of finding acceptance as writers and push vastly exaggerated entries on their purely imaginary creative achievements on the Wikipedias of the world in the desperate hope of hitting the bull’s eye some lazy morning when the world would be too hopelessly tired to resist. What is one to do with such blinding narcissism?

    Manto and Ismat Chughtai are both writers regardless of what I think of their writing – and I think Ismat especially is pretty mediocre. I would have to however put my critical faculties under severe strain and embarrassing compromise to accept Ajeet Caur as a writer of any consequence. I am in complete disagreement with Professor Amardeep’s assessment of Ajeet Caur. Problem with primary blogging is also a bit narcissism related. It encourages secondary blogging only as opinions and discourages possibilities of debates.

  22. hairy_d, nehru’s niece is nayantara sehgal.

    you guys should also write a post on mahasweta devi. she campaigned for the tribal people and her short stories, translated and introduced by gayatri chakravorty spivak are heartstopping. draupadi/dopdi is particularly famous. I was introduced to Ismat Chughtai through a story called Chauthi ka Jaura, in this book called the Inner Courtyard, which was an anthology of Indian authoresses. It was in the BA literature syllabus. Fabulous book. Get a hold of it if you can – it is linked on most university search engines.

  23. Oh also, I dont know about the Urdu, but the closest word for homosexual in hindi is “samlaingik” – “same sex”.

  24. sorry Amardeep, I meant to post here. Please please please, more on Punjabi Lit

  25. I agree with panini here. Whatever little i’ve read of Ismat so far has been shockingly mediocre

  26. If you like Ismat Chugtai, here’s something you should read. Made Ismat so much more real. Just the way I had imagined her to be. I don’t know how true or untrue this information is, but it makes me admire Ismat so much more.



    Don’t forget to read the editor’s response at the end of the angry letter.

  27. can somebody plz tell me a website or an online link where i can find the urdu text of NANHI KI NANI? ive been trying to look for it but havnt been successful so far!

  28. Ismat was one of great urdu writer and great actress also. We can see her remarkable work in move jonoon.