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The Quilt and other stories – Ismat Chugtai

Spending a melancholic moody Monday evening in the company of Ismat Appa with “Quilt (Lihaaf) and other stories”. This book is a fabulous collection of short stories by the grand dame of Urdu fiction “Ismat Chughtai”. She was a well-educated, well read and very prolific writer of Urdu literature who constantly defied society and broke the rules that it laid down upon her.

 

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The crust of her writing was set in the Indian Muslim middle-class society centred especially around women. Her stories were bold, funny, sharp, very thought provoking and dripping with sarcasm. The use of the local language and dialect which was called as “Begumati Zubaan” by another amazing writer Qurratulain Hyder is what added various layers and flavors to her stories. As a reader you feel compelled to enter the homes of her characters and stay with them while they went about their lives. In the story Lihaaf, you can sense the shock of the young girl Amiran, when she discovers the lonely Begum Jaan and her maidservant romping about in the night under quilt. This was the story that brought Ismat a lot of notoriety because in those days’ homosexuality was not even discussed in private, let alone splashed on the pages of a book and that too by a woman. It led to the filing of a case of obscenity against the author in the court of law along with the bad boy of Urdu literature “Sadat Hasan Manto” with whom she got along famously. Of course this did not deter her from writing bolder stories. As you read further you feel the desperation of “Kubra’s “mother to get her daughter married before she fades away into spinsterhood in “The wedding Shroud”. Every character feels like someone you have met and lost; every chapter seems straight out of the homes of someone you may have known. As a reader you feel drawn into the reality of her make believe world and offer comfort to a protagonist who has been treated unkindly. It is hard to put this book down and even hard to forget the characters that she etched in the pages of literature.

 

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