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Ismat Chughtai In Her Own Words: Letters & Interviews

Reviewed by Soma Basu

Published : Saturday, 18 May, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 821

Ismat Chughtai In Her Own Words: Letters & Interviews

Ismat Chughtai In Her Own Words: Letters & Interviews

The translated collection of the personal correspondence of Ismat Chughtai carries the hallmark of her unapologetic writings in Urdu and the beauty of her language…

Translator, writer and clinical professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, Tahira Naqvi, sayS in her introduction to Ismat Chughtai In Her Own Words: Letters & Interviews, that letters by writers have little meaning unless read in tandem with their works. And that reading someone elses letters becomes a subtle act of voyeurism for nosy readers who were not meant to be privy to the authors inner life.

The letters written by rebellious Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai to her family, friends, editors, and other associates, actually enables readers to develop a connect with the people she is writing to. Her candour and outspokenness that made her the one-of-a-kind literary icon are definitely not worth missing.

Fearless expressions
Chughtais words breathe power; her imagery, description, style and fearless expressions seamlessly build the narrative of the times she lived in, even though the carefully curated collection contains letters from different decades and many that were left incomplete or not posted. It exposes the conflicts and tension between men and women created by society and how only those who could break free from social conundrums moved forward.

Succinctly translated by Naqvi from Chughtais original Urdu letters, the compilation draws an interesting canvas about life in an upper middle class progressive Muslim family in early 20th century. There is a delightful amount of revelation packed in the 275 pages of the comprehensive volume that contains eight interviews and more than 50 letters written over a 30-year period.

Written or spoken, words that flow out of Chughtai are full of uncanny wisdom, wit and sarcasm. Her letters are moving and admonishing at the same time, sometimes funny, but consistently reveal her deep love for her family and her involvement with their problems. The texts are conversational, informal and filled with everyday reflections. With same gusto, she could shock people with her frankness and also show empathy with her literary preoccupations.

Ahead of her time
The doyenne of Urdu literature was ahead of her times. Chughtais towering status as thinker-writer endeared her to her followers. The interviews about her life and work are marked by truthfulness, honesty and spontaneity and her audacious approach when she was charged with obscenity for her story Lihaaf and other strident writings, is a learning for all those who embrace feminism, socialism and secularism.

Included in the carefully curated collection is an unposted letter to actor Saira Bano whom she reprimands for her failure to fight like a wild cat for her rights when her marriage with Dilip Kumar was failing. Chughtais advice, "don make people pity you", underlines her dislike for women sacrificing or succumbing to societal pressures.

Taken together, her letters of encouragement to friends or family to cheer them up during partition or her angry exchanges with Urdu editors in India and Pakistan over joblessness and violence, her endearing deals with her grandson over movie time, detailing her visits to villages, capture reality and provide a collective update on history. The readers assessment of Ismat Chughtai, a fiercely independent and self-assured woman who told things the way they were, can only be further illuminated because reading her is a journey to reason, much like her life.

Courtesy: THE HINDU







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