Review | Lihaaf (The Quilt) by Ismat Chughtai

#QOTD – Is it not enough to be a woman?

Why does she have to be a wife to have security? Why does she have to be a mother to be complete? Why should one need to stuff in so many condiments and chutney in just one morsel?

Ismat Chugtai posed this question in one of her short stories, Niwala (A Morsel). A very strong question, which is just as significant today as it was when it was originally penned. Even today an unmarried woman is considered unsettled in life, a woman being vocal about her sexual desires is a whore, and a woman who doesn’t give birth, is not worth defining.

This is the first time I read Ismat Chugtai, and I am absolutely fascinated with her. She is so unapologetic as a writer. Her stories talk about themes that are probably just as significant today as they were back then. 

This book is a collection of 10 very unconventional short stories. Some of my favourites went like this.

Lihaaf (The Quilt) is about a little girl who witnesses a lesbian relationship. There is same-sex desire, pedophilia and suppression of the woman’s sexual desires in marriage, all of which are enough to create massive controversy.
Gharwali (The Homemaker) is about a man wanting to make a woman his own, but the woman wanting an open relationship free of any social contract.
Gainda (Marigold) sees a lower caste widow falling in love with an upper-caste Hindu man. Something that is very off her limits according to the society.

She was faced with charges of obscenity for Lihaaf, and she had to fight a legal battle to defend her writing, but that didn’t stop her from writing on issues that challenged patriarchy.

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