Unconventional, independent, open-minded and that too 100 years ago – That’s Ismat Chughtai for you.
I was 17 when I read her short story ‘Lihaaf’ and it was liberating. This was the first time that I was reading Indian literature that talked about female sexuality something I wasn’t even allowed to think much about. Talking, God forbid, thinking about it was an issue. To know that something like this was written more than sixty years ago made me feel how normal the concept is. Ismat was born on August 21, 1915 in Badaayun, Uttar Pradesh. Her stories have dealt with female sexuality long before people could dare to think that even women have sexual needs, desires and preferences. In 1942, her most controversial story was published – Lihaaf. Lihaaf dealt with lesbian relationships. She had to appear before High Court for the same and eventually she won the case.
Lihaaf openly talked about a woman’s need to have sex and how she copes up with it. The truth behind closed doors was coming out through her stories and as expected this made people furious.
She started writing at a very young age and because of her free spirited and open style of writing her family tried to stop her from writing but nothing could deter her.
She had been awarded Padmshree in 1976 for her contribution to Urdu literature. She had also won Sahitya academy award and many more. Ismat Chugtai was also known as Lady Changez Khan for her fearless style of writing. Some of her well known creations are – Chotein, Chui Mui, Kaliyan, Ek Raat, Shaitaan, Tedhi Lakeer, Maasoom, Saudai.
Ismat Chughtai was a great woman writer and it is important to read more about such powerful women who had the courage to stand against all odds and fearlessly express themselves.