Ismat Chughtai The Most Critically Acclaimed Writer From India

Ismat Chughtai The Most Critically Acclaimed Writer From India

Ismat Chughtai (21 August 1915–24 October 1991) was an Indian Urdu language writer. In the early 1930s, she wrote on themes including female sexuality and middle-class gentility. She also wrote on class conflict, often from a Marxist perspective. She faced literary realism. Chughtai became a significant voice in the Urdu literature of the twentieth century. She got Padma Shri award 1976 by the Government of India.

Ismat Chughtai The Most Critically Acclaimed Writer From India

Early life and career beginnings (1915–41)

Ismat Chughtai was born on 21 August 1915 in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh. Her parents were Nusrat Khanam and Mirza Qaseem Baig Chughtai. she was ninth of ten children–six brothers, four sisters. The family shifted homes as Chughtai’s father was a civil servant. she spent her childhood in cities including Jodhpur, Agra, and Aligarh. She remained in the company of her brothers as her sisters had all got married while she was still very young. Chughtai described the influence of her brothers which influenced her personality. She thought of her second-eldest brother, Mirza Azim Beg Chughtai, a novelist, as a mentor. After Chughtai’s father retired from the Indian Civil Services they settled in Agra.

Chughtai studied at the Women’s College at the Aligarh Muslim University. She graduated from Isabella Thoburn College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1940. Despite strong resistance from her family. She completed her Bachelor of Education degree from the Aligarh Muslim University. During this period that Chughtai became associated with the Progressive Writers’ Association. She attended her first meeting in 1936 where she met Rashid Jahan. She was one of the leading female writers involved with the movement. She was later credited for inspiring Chughtai to write “realistic, challenging female characters”. Chughtai began writing in private but did not seek publication for her work until much later.

Chughtai wrote a drama entitled Fasādī فسادی (The Troublemaker) for the Urdu magazine Saqi ساقّی in 1939, which was her first published work. Upon publication, readers mistook it as a play by Chughtai’s brother Azeem Beg, written using a pseudonym. Following that, she started writing for other publications and newspapers. Some of her early works included Bachpan بچپن (Childhood), an autobiographical piece, Kafirکافر, her first short story, and Dheet ڈھیٹ (Stubborn), her only soliloquy, among others. In response to a story that she wrote for a magazine, Chughtai was told that her work was blasphemous and insulted the Quran.[9] She, nonetheless, continued writing about “things she would hear of”.[9] Her continued association with the Progressive Writers’ Movement had significant bearings on her writing style; she was particularly intrigued by Angaray انگارے, a compilation of short stories by the progressive writers. Other early influences included such writers as William Sydney Porter, George Bernard Shaw, and Anton Chekhov. Kalyān (Buds) and Cōtēn (Wounds), two of Chughtai’s earliest collections of short stories, were published in 1941 and 1942 respectively. Her first novella Ziddi, which was first published in 1941 was later translated into English as Wild at Heart.

Niche appreciation and transitions to film (1942–60)

Chughtai wrote a drama entitled Fasādī فسادی (The Troublemaker) for the Urdu magazine Saqi ساقّی in 1939. It was her first published work. Readers mistook it as a play by Chughtai’s brother Azeem Beg, written using a pseudonym. She started writing for other publications and newspapers. She met Shahid Latif, who was pursuing his Master’s degree at the time and the two developed a close friendship. Chughtai continued to write for various publications. During her stay at Aligarh; she garnered widespread attention for her short-story Lihaaf (The Quilt). It appeared in a 1942 issue of Adab-i-Latif, a Lahore-based literary journal. Inspired by the rumored affair of a begum and her masseuse in Aligarh. The story chronicles the sexual awakening of Begum Jan following her unhappy marriage with a Nawab. Lihaaf attracted criticism for its suggestion of female homosexuality and a later trial. Chughtai summoned to the court to defend herself against the charges of “obscenity”. In the intervening years, Lihaaf has attached a greater significance. It was noted for its portrayal of the insulated life of a neglected wife in the feudal society. It became a landmark for its early depiction of sex, still a taboo in modern Indian literature.

Chughtai moved to Bombay in 1942 and began working as an Inspectress of schools. She married Latif later that year in a private ceremony with Khwaja Ahmad Abbas serving as a witness. She found success with such short-stories as Gainda and Khidmatgaar and the play Intikhab. Latif, who himself worked as a dialogue writer in Bollywood introduced Chughtai to the Hindi film industry. Chughtai’s novel Terhi Lakeer (The Crooked Line) released in 1943. The book chronicles the lives of marginalized women in the backdrop of the waning British Raj. Tehri Lakeer translated into English by Tahira Naqvi. She compared Chughtai’s writing style to that of French writer and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir.

Progressive Writers’ Movement member Sadat Hassan Manto was also charged with similar allegations for his short-story Bu (Odour). He accompanied Chughtai to Lahore. Both Chughtai and Manto were exonerated.

Chughtai made her debut as a screenwriter for Latif’s 1948 successful drama film Ziddi. Starring Kamini Kaushal, Pran, and Dev Anand in his first major film role, Ziddi was based on a short-story by Chughtai; she rewrote the narrative in form of a screenplay for the production. She wrote the dialogue and screenplay for the 1950 romance drama film Arzoo, starring Kaushal and Dilip Kumar. Chughtai expanded her career into directing with the 1953 film Faraib, which featured an ensemble cast of Amar, Maya Daas, Kishore Kumar, Lalita Pawar, and Zohra Sehgal. Having again written the screenplay based on one of her short stories, Chughtai co-directed the film with Latif. Upon release, both Arzoo and Faraib garnered a positive response from the audience and performed well at the box-office.

She and Latif co-founded the production company Filming. Her first project as a filmmaker was the 1958 drama film Sone Ki Chidiya, which she wrote and co-produced. Starring Nutan and Talat Mahmood in lead roles, it told the story of a child actor, who was abused and exploited over the course of her career. The film was well received by audiences and rise in Chughtai’s popularity. as noted by writer and critic Shams Kanwal. Sone Ki Chidiya has been described as a significant production for “[chronicling] a heady time in Indian cinema” and showcasing the “grime behind the glamour” of the film industry. Nutan, who garnered a good response for her performance in the film, herself described it as one of her favorite projects. Also in 1958, Chughtai produced the Mahmood-Shyama romance drama Lala Rukh.

Chughtai continued writing short-stories during the time despite her commitment to film projects. Her fourth collection of short-stories Chui Mui (Touch-me-not) released in 1952. The eponymous short-story has been noted for its “pertinent dissection of our society” and contesting the venerated tradition of motherhood, especially its equation of womanhood. Rafay Mahmood highlighted, in a 2014 editorial, the relevance of the story in the twenty-first century. Chui Mui was adapted for the stage by Naseeruddin Shah as a part of a commemorative series Ismat Apa Kay Naam, with his daughter Heeba Shah playing the central character in the production. ān (Buds) and Cōtēn (Wounds), two of Chughtai’s earliest collections of short stories published in 1941 and 1942. Her first novel Ziddi was first published in 1941 was later translated into English as Wild at Heart.

Influences and writing style

Chughtai was a liberal Muslim whose daughter, nephew & niece were married to Hindus. In her own words, Chughtai came from a family of “Hindus, Muslims, and Christians who all live peacefully”. She said she read not only the Qur’an but also the Gita and the Bible with openness.

Chughtai’s short stories reflected the cultural legacy of the region in which she lived. This was well demonstrated in her story “Sacred Duty”, where she dealt with social pressures in India, alluding to specific national, religious and cultural traditions.

In Chughtai’s formative years, Nazar Sajjad Hyder had established herself an independent feminist voice, and the short stories of two very different women, Hijab Imtiaz Ali and Rashid Jehan, were also a significant early influence.

Many of her writings, including Angarey and Lihaaf, were banned in South Asia because their reformist and feminist content offended conservatives (for example, her view that the Niqab, the veil worn by women in Muslim societies, should be discouraged for Muslim women because it is oppressive and feudal. Many of her books have been banned at various times.

In popular culture
Publications on Ismat Chughtai

1. Ismat: Her Life, Her Times. Sukrita Paul Kumar, Katha, New Delhi,2000. ISBN 81-85586-97-7.
2. Ismat Chughtai, A Fearless Voice. Manjulaa Negi, Rupa, and Co, 2003.81-29101-53-X.
3. “Torchbearer of a literary revolution”. The Hindu, Sunday, 21 May 2000.
4. Kashmir Uzma Urdu weekly, Srinagar, 27 December 2004, 2 January 2005.
5. “Ismat Chughtai – Pakistan-India (1915–1991)”, World People, 5 May 2006.
6. Eyad N. Al-Samman, “Ismat Chughtai: An Iconoclast Muslim Dame of Urdu Fiction”, Yemen Times, 13 April 2009

Stage productions

Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah have presented ‘Ismat Aapa Ke Naam’عصمت آپا کے نام for the past nearly twelve years. Her story ‘Chouthi Ka Joda’ چوتھی کا جوڑا is presented frequently by many theatre groups. A Bengali adaptation of ‘Chouthi Ka Joda’ by Pushpal Mukherjee, entitled ‘Chothurtir Jor’ was staged in Kolkata in 2017 by the theatre group Bohuswar under the direction of Tulika Das. Danish Iqbal adapted her story ‘Mughal Bachcha’مغل بچہ for the stage which was presented at the Theatre Festival organized by the Government of Delhi to commemorate her birth centenary. This play also contained biographical references about her works and early influences. Danish Iqbal also wrote a play, عصمت اور منٹو, highlighting the love-hate relationship between Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto.

Films Base On Her Stories

Film Year
1948 Shikayat شکایت
1948 Ziddi ضدی
1950 Arzoo آرزو
1951 Buzdil بُزدل
1952 Sheesha شیشہ
1953 Fareb فریب or
1954 Darwaza دروازہ
1955 Society سوسائٹی
1958 Sone Ki Chidiya سونے کی چڑیا
1958 Lala Rukh لالہ رُخ
1966 Baharen Phir Bhi Ayengi بہاریں پھر بھی آئیں گی –
1973 Garam Hawa گرم ھوا
1978 Junoon جنون


Year Work Award Category Result
1974 Terhi Lakeer Ghalib Award Best Urdu Drama Won
1974/75 Garam Hawa National Film Awards Best Story Won
Filmfare Award Best Story Won
– The government of India State Award – Won
1976 – Indian civilian awards Padma Shri Won
1979 – Andhra Pradesh Urdu Akademi Award Makhdoom Literary Award Won
1982 – Soviet Land Nehru Award – Won
1990 – Rajasthan Urdu Akademi Iqbal Samman Won

Courtesy: Wikipedia

Ismat Chughtai Books & Short Stories:

  1. Bari Sharam Ki Baat بڑی شرم کی بات



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