Ismat Chughtai – Pakistan-India (1915 – 1991)

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Ismat Chughtai was an eminent Indian Urdu writer. She was born in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh and grew up largely in Jodhpur where her father was a civil servant.

Noor Shah writes after her death (excerpt): … There is no denying the fact about her literary greatness. She was really a great short story writer and in the words of Qurratulain Haidar, she was Lady Changez Khan … I want to reproduce an extract from the letter written by film actor Janki Das which he had written immediately after her death. The letter said, ‘Ismat Chughtai had the habit of saying or doing something startling in her life. She had once said that she should be thrown into the sea where fishes would swallow her and when the people would eat the fishes, she would come back to them’. (Read the whole long article in the MG Milli Gazette).

Ismat Chughtai – Pakistan-India (1915 – 1991)

In 1941, she was charged with obscenity for her short story “The Quilt” (”Lihaaf” in Urdu) which dealt with lesbianism, among other issues. She was acquitted after her lawyer successfully argued that the story could not be a corrupting influence because the subject would only be understood by someone who has had a lesbian experience. Along with Rashid Jahan, Wajeda Tabassum and Qurratulain Hyder, Ismat’s work stands for the birth of a revolutionary feminist politics and aesthetics in twentieth century Urdu literature. She explored feminine sexuality, middle-class gentility, and other evolving conflicts in the modern Muslim world. She was briefly associated with the membership of the Urdu Progressive Writer’s Movement in Lucknow. She appeared in Shyam Benegal’s 1978 film Junoon, and she died in Bombay in 1991. (Read the rest of this article on wikipedia).

She died as she lived, in the midst of controversy, doing her own thing. The news that she had left instructions she was to be cremated became cause for heated debate in both India and Pakistan and even those who knew her, who expected her to be unpredictable, were taken by surprise. But the furor over funeral rites could not divert attention from Ismat Chughtai the artist. Her greatness as the grand dame of Urdu fiction, as one of the four pillars of modern Urdu short story (the other three being Manto, Krishan Chander, and Rajinder Singh Bedi), as the indomitable spirit of the Urdu afs≥na, the last chronicler of the Uttar Pradesh Muslim culture and its associated semantics, was affirmed again and again in tributes by old friends and contemporaries, new and young writers, journalists, and critics. (Read the rest of this Tribute to Ismat Chughtai on this Urdustudies article).

Book reviewe by Rosemary Martin on Ismat Chughtai: ‘Tehri Lakeer’ (”Crooked Line”) – Ismat Chughtai and Quratul-ain-Haider were the two greatest Urdu women writers to emerge in the last century. In terms of sheer content, volume, style, narrative, social insight, wit, the size of their writing canvasses & agendas, they are in many ways parallel to the European writers such as the Bronte sisters [ Jane Eyre is likened to Tehri Lakeer in many ways ] , Simone de Beauvoir , Honore de Balzac, Camus. Tehri Lakeer is to Ismat Chugatai as The Rebel is to Camus. (Read the rest of this review on

(She was) a crusader for the rights of women and the downtrodden, Ismat Chughtai was a leading fiction writer in Urdu. Her major short story collections are Kaliyan (The Buds), Choten (Injuries), Chooi Mooi (Fragile), Ek Baat (A Point) and Do Haath (Two Hands). Her novels are Tehri- Lakeer (The Crooked Line), Ziddi (The Obstinate), Ek Qatra-e-Khoon (A Drop of Blood), Dil Ki Duniya (Heart’s World) and Bahroop Nagar (The Deceptive Town). (See on, and aso on their homepage).

A Chughtai Collection: This collection of one of Urdu’s boldest and most outspoken women writers of the subcontinent, Ismat Chughtai, should have pride of place in all libraries and private collections. Her greatness as the ‘Grand Dame of Urdu fiction…as one of the four pillars of Urdu short story writing’ makes her an icon in the world of literature. Tahira Naqvi has translated many of Urdu’s well-known writers, including Manto, Ahmed Ali, and Premchand. She is also an accomplished and published author. Syeda S. Hameed has translated Mohammad Yunus, S. M. H. Burney, Khan Abdul Wali Khan and Hali. She has also edited the four centenary volumes of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, ‘India’s Maulana’. (Read the rest on

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