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The story brought me so much notoriety that I got sick of life. Lihaaf , indisputably, remains one of her most in famous works and the controversy it sparked hung like a perceptible shadow over everything that Chughtai wrote since. The story was charged with obscenity and she was summoned to Lahore to defend it. He was defending his story, Bu that faced similar charges. The story, narrated by a woman, is mostly recounted by her from the time when she was a child and was left with Begum Jan by her mother.
Much like her other works, Chughtai in Lihaaf unabashedly wrote about female desires and wants and thereby even acknowledged them. But Chughtai places a lihaaf or a quilt of vagueness and euphemism over her writing as she explores the homoerotic theme in her story. Although veiled, the references were not missed by the readers.
Lihaaf gained Chughtai notoriety as well as the epithet of being a radical feminist author — almost putting her next in line to Rashid Jahan, who too had raised the ire of the general populace by writing about the oppression faced by women.
The story, over the years, has emerged as a fitting example of the triumph of feminism and Begum Jan is often viewed as the champion of it.
Left alone in the zenana, she creates a world for herself. Once in there, she is no longer at the mercy of the Nawab to placate her urges. And she does. The zenana then becomes a feminist utopia where women seem to be reliant only on each other and where desires can be voiced and satiated. Mohan, in her argument, departs sharply from the general accepted reading of the text.
She has written about the same in an upcoming article. It is not hard to guess that reading the text just as a feminist narrative — one that glosses over the class divisions and the molestation faced by the child narrator— is what Mohan refers to as a selective reading. They might be two different physical spaces but they mirror each other in the purpose they served. The relationship that Rabbu has with Begum Jan might be seemingly homoerotic but it is not equitable.
Rabbu is dependant on Begum Jan and is situated in a social stratum much lower to hers. Their relationship is then akin to a transaction as Rabbu is reduced to a pair of hands and Begum Jan is transformed into a sexual predator, merely feeding on her prey without reciprocating. Begum Jan is bereft of any maternal instincts and sees the narrator merely as a replacement of Rabbu.
Her de-formation as a predator is complete when she tries to molest the narrator, disregarding her age and the fact that the latter was left to her care. This, however, does not make Lihaaf any less of a feminist text even though it might challenge some accepted tenets of feminism.
Chughtai blurs the lines between the powerful and the powerless untill each resembles the other in their morbidity. Mohan believes it is not Begum Jan but the child narrator who can be deemed be as a feminist. Her defiance results in her mother sending her to Begum Jan and the zenana, that was supposed to empower her, punishes her instead- silencing and pacifying her. Mohan approves of such a reading. Click here to join our channel indianexpress and stay updated with the latest headlines.
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These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. The story proceeds with the perspective of a small, innocent girl, and deals with certain themes considered "obscene. The young girl is the niece of an important character in the story, namely Begum Jan. While the story is told from the point of view of the niece, it is essentially about the life of Begum Jan, who is caught up in domestic drudgery and is a victim of patriarchal oppression within the setup of her household. There is a substantial age difference between the begum and her husband, the Nawab. The husband commands much respect for a number of reasons, among which, one is the fact that he has a reputation for not visiting prostitutes. However, it is subtly revealed that this may be because of his sexual orientation.
The Quilt & Other Stories
The story brought me so much notoriety that I got sick of life. It became the proverbial stick to beat me with and whatever I wrote afterwards got crushed under its weight. Begum Jaan in the story can be seen as a sexually-deprived woman who gets no attention from her husband, Nawab Sahab. Their marriage stands more as an economic contract between their families.
Ismat Chughtai's The Quilt
Published in the Urdu literary journal Adab-i-Latif , it led to much controversy, uproar and an obscenity trial, where Ismat had to defend herself in the Lahore Court as well for this work. She was asked to apologize which she did not and also won the case, after her lawyer pointed out that the story makes no suggestion to a sexual act, and prosecution witnesses could not point out any obscene words, and the story is suggestive and told from perspective of a small girl. In the coming decades it was widely anthologised, and became one of her most known works, besides Angarey which remained banned for several decades. It became a landmark for its early depiction of sex, still a taboo in modern Indian literature , let alone Urdu literature. The story is told from the point of view of a small girl who is the niece of the protagonist, Begum Jan.
The Quilt Summary
This banner text can have markup. Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. Not given to playing martyr, she won the day by sheer guts and a charming sense of humour— all of which contributed as much as her bold writing to making her a famous and immensely popular literary heroine very early on in life. That sets my mind racing into the labyrinth of times past. Memories come crowding in.