I first read one of Ismat Chugtai’s story when I was in first year of my graduate college and what spell-binding effect she had on me. I couldn’t stop giggling, not because the story was funny, but by imagining what a controversy she must have stirred up in her society. She satiated my hunger for people and stories which scandalized a hypocrite society.
Ismat Chugtai was born on August 15, 1915 in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh. She spent a large part of her life in Jodhpur where her father was a civil servant. As one of the youngest children of a brood of ten, Ismat spent most of her childhood in company of her brothers. She was specially close to her brother Mirza Azim Beg Chugtai who was himself a writer and served as one of the first teachers for Ismat. He also often served as co-conspirator for mischief’s Ismat planned.
Ismat was a prolific Urdu writer who often exposed the hypocrisy rampant in her contemporary society and consequently also invited the ire of many authorities and individual. In real life, Ismat was a woman who loved to blur boundaries. Despite the constant displeasure of her mother, Ismat would read books and had rebelled against her mother to study in the Women’s College of Aligarh Muslim University.
Ismat recounted in her writings how her mother would constantly taunt her for not adhering to the conventions of society about how a girl should behave. Ismat never paid heed to what was expected of her and continued to challenge the society. While she was still studying, Ishmat attended her first meeting of Progressive Writer’s Association. She was also the first Muslim Woman to earn both BA and a BEd degree in India.
In her lifetime, charges of obscenity was leveled against her for obscenity in her short-story Lihaf. Chugtai was summoned to Lahore Court alongwith writer Sadat Hasan Manto who was also charged for portraying obscenity in his story Bu. Instead of apologizing, Chugtai decided to contest the charges leveled against her and won the case.
Ismat Chugtai was a feminist, a rebel, and a woman of indomitable will. She stands as an inspiration for women not just in India but over the world to believe in themselves and not abide by what society demands of them.
To this date, Lihaf remains her most celebrated story. Here I am attaching a copy of the story which is not only an interesting read but also quite relevant even today.