Aligarh : Dr Rakhshanda Jalil today discussed her latest edited work, ‘An Uncivil Woman’. Published by the Oxford University Press, this book captures and conveys the sheer force that was the writer and grande dame of Urdu literature, Ismat Chughtai.

The discussion took place in a ‘Conversation with Author’ event at the Faculty of Arts Lounge in the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). The programme was organised by the Sir Syed Bicentenary Celebrations Committee and the Public Relations Office to remember AMU alumnae, Ismat Chughtai.

In conversation with Prof Mohammad Asim Siddiqui (Department of English), Dr Jalil said that Chugtai occupies the heart of Progressive Writers Movement that spearheaded socially engaged, politically driven literature. “She was part of a core group of the Bombay progressives who, during the high noon of the Progressive movement all through the 1940s and early 1950s, spoke in unequivocal terms of the need for social change and how literature can be the engine for change and reform,” said Dr Jalil.

She added that Chugtai was not just a provocative writer who wrote about women, but she wrote as she spoke, in the style of women from North-Indian Muslim families.

“It seemed important for me to have a collection of criticism on the writings of Chugtai,” said Dr Jalil adding that a crop of recent writings — available in excellent English translations — might help to correct seemingly established views on Chugtai’s writings.

“Chugtai’s non-fiction writings show an independent-minded, strong-willed person, one who had clear views on contemporary events and a coherent idea of a writer’s place in society,” observed Dr Jalil. 

Answering Prof Siddiqui’s question on how difficult is it to translate literary works, Dr Jalil said that it is challenging and particularly in the case of Chugtai’s works, where language is idiomatic. “It takes a lot of time and efforts to express how the author has used, contained and denoted expressions in natural ways in the translated works,” she added.

Dr Jalil further said that the translator is a facilitator, who has to carry through the idiomatic language and make it readable.

When Prof Siddiqui asked Dr Jalil about the similarities between Chugtai and Sadat Hasan Manto, she said Ismat and Manto had fairly humble beginnings and they share similarities in the topics they chose.

She pointed out that both the writers were actively involved with the Progressive Writers Movement and both were once asked to change their ways of writing by the critics. “While Manto was asked to change the graphic and explicit imagery, Chugtai was asked not to weave much of personal recollection into her assessments,” said Dr Jalil. 

“Chugtai and Manto had charges of ‘obscenity’ stemming from ‘Lihaaf’ (Ismat) and ‘Bu’ (Manto) and advocate Harilal Sibbal fought cases for both of them,” further said Dr Jalil pointing out that Chugtai and Manto were victims of marginalization. 

Answering on her views on Chugtai as a feminist, Dr Jalil replied that it is not correct to perceive Chugtai only as a feminist writer. “We need to understand that Chugtai‘s stories were bold, fierce and stunningly evocative addressing issues which were taboo at her time,” said Dr Jalil adding that Chugtai challenged the exploitative patriarchal structures by writing about certain ‘forbidden’ topics that people chose to put under the carpets; topics that were precisely the ‘question of silence.’

Prof Shafey Kidwai (Department of Mass Communications) said that Chughtai was one of the most powerful voices in Urdu literature and she was known for her free and fearless explorations of sexuality and middle-class morality in her writings. He pointed out that Chugtai had fierce determination with which she defended her right to express herself. He also pointed out that Public Relations Office of the University will be doing more programmes on literary personalities.

Prof Namita Singh said that Chughtai is considered as a path-breaker for women writers in the subcontinent, as many women during Chugtai’s time were considered too enmeshed in the ideology of slow, conservative and culturally sanctioned ideas. “In her career many of her writings including ‘Angarey’ and ‘Lihaaf’ were banned in South Asia because their reformist and feminist content offended conservatives and many of her books were banned at various times during their publication history,” said Prof Singh.

Prof Tariq Chhatari said that Chugtai with Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Quratulain Haider are four pillars of Urdu prose. He added that Chugtai’s works stand for revolutionary feminist ideas and aesthetics in twentieth century Urdu literature. “Chugtai explored middle-class gentility, and other evolving conflicts in modern India with her outspoken and controversial style of writing and passionate voice for the unheard,” said Prof Chhatari.

While conducting the programme, Prof Mohammad Sajjad (Department of History) said that Chugtai brought grief and humour of North-Indian Muslim middle-class in her writings. “Chughtai also wrote stories and dialogues for films,” said Prof Sajjad pointing out that the story of ‘Garam Hawa’, the iconic film on partition starring Balraj Sahni was written by Chugtai.

Prof Sajjad also proposed the vote of thanks.


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