Ismat: Living life to the hilt

Updated on Aug 01, 2003 09:41 AM IST

Ismat Chughtai's voice, above all, was a voice for courage, for freedom, for individualism and expressing the unspoken.

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Ismat Chughtai
A Fearless Voice

Manjulaa Negi
Rupa and Co
Pages: 72
Price: Rs 195
ISBN: 81-29101-53-X

For her numerous fans, Ismat Chughtai's voice, above all, was a voice for courage, for freedom, for individualism and expressing the unspoken. And these are qualities that this latest brief biography in Rupa's Charitavali series amply brings out.

The prolific writer's life had been marked by a streak of rebelliousness almost throughout her life, right from her childhood. She had to assert her right to play, to study and be part of a world her brothers, and later other men occupied. Trained as a teacher, she was appointed Principal of a Bareilly school and later worked as an inspector of schools in Bombay.

However it was her inimitable writing that focused the spotlight on her early on. While Lihaaf caused her to be dragged her to court on a blasphemy charge, she stuck to her views and style. Associated actively with the Progressive Writer's Association, her house was often the venue for many of Bombay's intellectual outpourings of the period. That is her writings faced criticism and charges of sensationalism as well is mentioned.

Her marriage to scriptwriter Shaheed Lateef, and the circumstances surrounding the event make for interesting reading, though the chronology is not always clear. Her interaction with her contemporaries - many equally prominent and sharing her humanist views - finds brief space.

What adds to this biography is that Chughtai's own voice (the writer refers to her Apa in the book out of respect) which are sprinkled right through. Also found are voices of some of the memorable characters she created.

Another great plus are the photographs, many rare, including the one in which she is with Sadat Hasan Manto, Habib Tanvir, Ali Sardar Jafri, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Sahir Ludhianvi and other close friends. The appendices are detailed and add to the volume as well.

As is the issue with almost every book in this series, the space is often inadequate to do justice to the subject. And the feeling gets accentuated when a multi-faceted person someone like Chughtai, a voice that reflected the times as much as it spoke for the marginalised, the forgotten or the victimised. This book offers glimpses into the multi-faceted person she was and makes one want to know her better.

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