The woman behind the words came to fore, as writer and translator Nirupama Dutt, and author Noor Zaheer shared some personal moments spent with Urdu fiction writer Ismat Chughtai. The memories were a befitting prelude to the stories that Zaheer presented with deep emotions and eloquence, as she brought alive the enigmatic characters created by the courageous and controversial Urdu writer.
In the countdown to Chandigarh Literature Festival (CLF 2015), being organised by Adab Foundation, the birth centenary of Chughtai was celebrated in Chandigarh with an absorbing session at the Alliance Francaise on Thursday.
“It’s a 100-mile road… I remember spending many beautiful moments with Chughtai and the many conversations about her work and philosophy. I recall her telling me in her humorous style how bad she felt for men, as both the home and the children belonged to the women. She also said her story ‘Lihaaf’ became so popular and controversial that a lot that she wrote later got buried,’’ Dutt said.
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Close to Zaheer’s family, Chughtai was a regular at their home and Zaheer recalled how her mother once told Chughtai to convince her to wear an old school blazer of her sister, as it was in a perfect condition, “Appa told me, chahe pneumonia ho jaye, lekin utran kabhi nahin pehna,’’ laughed Zaheer.
Chughtai carved a niche for herself among her contemporaries of Urdu fiction writers — Rajinder Singh Bedi, Saad Hasan Manto and Krishan Chander — by introducing areas of experience not explored before.
“Her work not only transformed the complexion of Urdu fiction, but it brought about an attitudinal change in the assessment of literary works. Although a spirited member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement in India, Ismat Ji spoke vehemently against its orthodoxy and inflexibility. She was often perceived of as a feminist writer and she explored female sexuality, while exploring other dimensions of social and existential reality,” said Zaheer, whose latest book is ‘Denied by Allah’.
Zaheer began the evening by reading ‘Lihaaf’, which told the story of Begum Jan who is married into a rich Muslim household where she begins to find pleasure in her housemaid Rabbu’s service – in her massages, her company and in her touch. The story led to an uproar and obscenity trial, where Chughtai had to defend herself in the Lahore Court for her work, but ultimately won the case.
Zaheer, whose other works include My God is a Woman and Aaj ke Naam, a biography Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, continued with Chughtai’s satire on the institution of marriage, as well as on the social mores of 1940s with ‘Gharwali’, bringing close to the audience the bold and beautiful ‘Lajo’.
Adab Foundation plans to organise similar sessions in the run up-to the 4th Chandigarh Literature Festival scheduled from November 6 to 8.