| New Delhi
Updated: August 21, 2018 20:56:57 hours
"I am still labeled as the writer of" Lihaaf. "The story brought me so much notoriety that I became sick of life, it became the proverbial stick to beat me and what I wrote afterwards was crushed. under his weight, "wrote Ismat Chughtai in her memoirs, A life in words. In Chughtai's words you can recognize a feeling of regret that is riddled with anger. Lihaafundeniably, one of her most (in) famous works remains, and the controversy that caused it hung like a perceptible shadow over everything that Chughtai wrote afterwards. The story was accused of obscenity and she was summoned to Lahore to defend it. Sadat Hassan Manto, who called it the "only great story" she had written, was there too. He defended his story, "Bu", which was confronted with similar accusations.
Published in 1942 in a literary magazine – Urdu Adab-i-Latif, Lihaaf or The Quilt, is set in the household of a Nawab. Chughtai writes with her demanding eye for detail about his virtue – "Nobody had ever seen a nautch girl or prostitute in his house", his strange hobby – to keep his house open for "students – young, honest and slender waisted boys whose costs were borne by him", and his negligence towards his wife, Begum Jan. The story, told by a woman, is usually told by her from the moment she was a child and was left with Begun Jan by her mother. What follows is the documentation of the child about the time spent there – her misunderstanding about Begum Jan and the friendship of her servant Rabbu, her disgust about seeing the quilt, used by Begun Jan, who & # 39; puzzling forms on the wall and her fear when Begum Jan asks her, "How many ribs do you have?" and continues to find out.
Lihaaf: Feminist or not?
"Ismat began to write at a time when South Asian women were still being isolated and their voices suppressed," writes Farhat Bano in her thesis, The rise of feminist awareness among Muslim women in the case of Aligarh. Perhaps this explains the kind of controversy Lihaaf sparked. Like her other works, Chughtai unabashedly wrote about female desires and desires in Lihaaf. The enraptured Chughtai's protagonist, Begun Jan, is left alone by her husband and takes charge of her life and navigates her way through the ties of the patriarchal line up to express and satisfy her sexual drives. But Chughtai places one lihaaf or a quilt of vagueness and euphemism about her writing as she examines the homoerotic theme in her story. It is never said out loud and the trick of using a child storyteller and borrowing its lexicon to tell the story, serves the purpose of Chughtai well.
It is therefore no surprise Lihaaf achieved both the reputation of Chughtai and the epithet of being a radical feminist author – almost keeping her in step with Rashid Jahan, who had also aroused the anger of the general population by writing about the oppression faced by women . The story has evolved over the years as a fitting example of the triumph of feminism and Begum Jan as its champion. She may be isolated in her husband's household, but she uses the imposed seclusion in her favor. Left alone in the zenena, she creates a world for herself, where she is no longer at the mercy of the Nawab to calm her urges and can without hesitation express an "itchy" on which her whole existence revolved and which should be constantly inclined to by Rabbu.
"Even though she (Regum Jan) adheres to patriarchal norms and possesses all the qualities necessary for a virtuous woman in a patriarchal scheme, it is within the zenana that she refuses to give up her needs and desires for sexual gratification, even as the only way to satisfy her is to fulfill them by resorting to a deviant way of sexual relationship, "writes Tanvi Khanna in her article, Sex, self-representation and sexualized spaces: a lecture by Lihaaf of Ismat Chughtai. The zenena then becomes a feminist utopia in which women only seem to trust each other and where desires can be expressed and pondered. "It (zenena) becomes a space for expressing subversive desires under the garment of normality," she adds.
"Lihaaf is not a queer-friendly story, "says Anupama Mohan, university lecturer at the University of the Presidency, Mohan sharply differs from the generally accepted reading of the text, and has written about the same in her forthcoming article." To appreciate the richness of the text, you have to be able to fully read it and not just pick it up. "It is not hard to guess reading the text, just like a feminist story – one that disguises the class divisions and the molestation with which the child narrator is confronted – is what Mohan refers to as a selective reading.
Begum Jan may have created her world in the zenena, but enough evidence in the telling bear bears witness to the fact that it increasingly resembles & # 39; the door in the saloon & # 39; that the Nawab had opened for the â € œfooted, smoothly tailored guysâ €. "The self-empowerment of Begum Jaan must be seen in combination with her class and sexual domination over Rabbu and then about the narrator of the child," says Mohan. Rabbu's relationship with Begun Jan may seem to be homo-erotic, but it is not fair. Rabbu is dependent on Begum Jan and is in a social layer that is much lower than hers. Their relationship is then related to a transaction, because Rabbu is reduced to a few hands and Begum Jan is transformed into a sexual predator, merely feeding her prey without moving back and forth. "Rabbu's body is fragmented and is mainly used as a passive toy by Begum Jan," says Mohan.
Chughtai robs Begum Jan of all maternal instincts and the only time she surrender to the narrator is when the latter "rubs her back" to reduce her "itchiness". In fact, the de-formation of Begum Jan becomes gorier and perhaps complete as Begum Jan tries to molest the narrator, regardless of her age and also the fact that the latter was left to her.
However, this does not matter Lihaaf a less feminist text as Chughtai blurs the boundaries between powerful and powerless, until they resemble each other in their morbidity.
"Lihaaf is a text that challenges some of the most important principles of a certain kind of feminism. What, for example, should we say about the transformation of the Begum into a sexual predator? Should we view her "de-formation" as herself as a reaction to her patriarchal domination by the Nawab and by her immediate hyperconservative milieu? Or would we say, because we want to call her aggressive that she is a hero and a villain of her own making? ", Mohan asks.
Reading the text purely as a feminist text has also led to our misplaced identification of who the feminist is in Chughtai's story. Mohan believes that it is not Begum Jan, but rather the child storyteller. "I think, the core of"Lihaaf"Feminist self-understanding lies in the child's narrator who, in violation of her mother's motherhood, can think of an egalitarian, open relationship with her brothers and fellow male friends (rather than just" gathering "). aashiqs & # 39; as young girls, is told, just done at her age) and who, even terrified, courageously gathers and speaks ("I spoke courageously, but nobody heard me!"). "Her defiance resulted in her mother who sent her to Begum Jan and the zenena, who had to empower her, who punishes her instead of silencing and bringing her to peace. "This punishment was much heavier than I deserved for fighting with my brothers" says the narrator.
Much of the relevance of the text lies in Chughtai's ability to interweave themes of class, gender and sexuality and not to overwhelm each other. Mohan agrees to such a reading of the text. "When it is read so multidimensional, Lihaaf provides rich benefits for the scholar who wants to go beyond the banal guarantees of a non-reflexive identity politics and wants to understand the ways in which literature makes the complexity of social relations alive. "
Chughtai, who wrote about the time she came to know about the obscenity claims, had described Lihaaf as an "ill-fated story" that had become "a source of torment" for her. Although the author might have been right about being "a source of torment," the relevance of the text over the years shows how wrong she thought it was "fatal."
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