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LETTER TO SHAKILA RAFIQ ABOUT ISMAT CHUGHTAI

  

Dear Shakila, I would like to congratulate you on writing the book Ismat Aapa . It is a masterpiece. The book is so inspiring that it compelled me to read it more than once, one of the characteristics of great works of literature.

            On the surface your creation is an interview with Ismat Chughtai, but in reality it is an interview with history and Urdu literature. It has a story inside a story communicated in the form of a stream of consciousness. It reminded me of Virginia Woolf, one of the great feminist writers and founders of stream of consciousness writings. You have woven the tapestry of Ismat Chughtai’s life highlighting her personality, philosophy and politics. You have brought her alive creatively by sharing excerpts of her short stories and her relationship with her brother Azeem Baig Chughtai, who was her role-model and hero, fellow writer Saadat Hasan Minto, a revolutionary writer and many other contemporary writers. Your book highlights not only what you agree and disagree with Ismat Chughtai but also talks about the opinions of her admirers and critics.

            I used to believe that Ismat Chughtai was a feminist writer, fighting the cause of women, but after reading your book I realized that she was also a humanist. She was not only a supporter of women’s rights but also men’s rights. She was a supporter of all human beings who suffered social injustices.

            Ismat Chughtai shared with you that abuse of power in history was more related to who was in power rather than gender. She reminded you that when women used to be in power in matriarchal societies they were not much different than men as used to abuse power as well. Ismat Chughtai was aware how the abuse of power was intimately related to the social and economic dynamics of a community. She dreamt of a society that was based on love, peace and social justice for women as well as men.

            While reading your book I was quite impressed by Ismat Chughtai’s attitude towards loving relationships between men and women. She was not impressed by traditional marriage that she found suffocating for love. She had suggested to her sweetheart Shahid Lateef to live common-law but he insisted on getting married. He was not as liberated as she was. He even insisted that she take his name and for a while she wrote as Ismat Shahid Lateef, but her publisher insisted that she write as Ismat Chughtai, because that name had become so famous and infamous that she had become a bestseller by the time she was married.

            Ismat Chughtai also believed that human beings can love more than one person at the same time. She confessed that she had loved so many men that she lost count, including Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ali Sardar Jafri. Ismat Chughtai was very respectful of human passions and dreams as they reflected genuine creativity and was critical of those religious and cultural traditions that suppressed or oppressed creative talents and ideals. Even in her old age, unlike other writers, she supported those young writers who tried to break old traditions and tried to explore novel forms of creative expression. She believed life moved forwards not backwards.

            Ismat Chughtai was as honest and candid in her interview, as she is in her writings. She acknowledged and confessed that she and Shahid were better friends than husband and wife.

            The part of the book that I enjoyed the most was when she gave your daughter an autograph stating, ‘Keep the doors of your heart and mind open’ [zehan aur dil kay darwazay khulay rakho ]. It reminded me of a famous quotation of an anonymous philosopher who said, ‘Human minds are like parachutes, they work only when they are open.’

            In the end I want to congratulate you once again for creating a masterpiece. I am confident it would be treasured by Urdu lovers and will be a wonderful addition to Urdu literature.

                                    Affectionately, Sohail      June 26, 2009