Ismat Chughtai (15 August. 1915 � 24 October, 1991) was an eminent Indian Urdu writer, known for her indomitable spirit and a fierce feministic views.
She was considered the grand dame of Urdu fiction, as one of the four pillars of modern Urdu short story, the other three being Saadat Hasan Manto, Krishan Chander, and Rajinder Singh Bedi.
Her outspoken and controversial style of writing made her the passionate voice for the unheard, and she has become an inspiration for the younger generation of writers, readers and intellectuals.
She was born in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh and grew up largely in Jodhpur where her father was a civil servant. She was ninth of ten children (six brothers, four sisters), and since her older sisters got married while Ismat was very young, the better part of her childhood was spent in the company of her brothers, a factor which she admits contributed greatly to the frankness in her nature and writing.
Her brother, Mirza Azim Beg Chughtai, already an established writer, when Ismat was still in her teens, was her first teacher and mentor.
In 1936, still working on her bachelor�s degree, she attended the first meeting of the Progressive Writers' Association in Lucknow. After her B.A., Ismat worked for a B.T. (a Bachelor�s in Education), thus becoming the first Indian Muslim woman to have earned both degrees. In this period she started writing in secret.
While she was still in college, her first short story Fasaadi (The Troublemaker) was published in Saqi, a prestigious literary magazine.
From 1939-41, she taught at the Raj Mahal Girls' School in Jodhpur and, later, in Bombay, she became Inspector of Schools. She also worked in Aligarh for a time. Here she met Shaheed Latif, who was at the time working on his Master�s degree. The two developed a close friendship, and later they were married in 1941, and had two daughters.
In 1941, just two months before her marriage, her short story "The Quilt" ("Lihaaf" in Urdu) which dealt with lesbianism, and the needs of a woman in cloistered household, established her as a fierce writer and a feminist. It also lead to her being charged with obscenity by then government. Though she was later acquitted when her lawyer successfully argued that the story could not be a corrupting influence because the subject would only be understood by someone who has had a lesbian experience.
In 1943 she completely took to writing as a career.
Through her short stories, novels and political essays, Ismat's work stands for the birth of a revolutionary feminist politics and aesthetics in twentieth century Urdu literature. She was found company amongst writers like Rashid Jahan, Wajeda Tabassum and Qurratulain Hyder.
She explored feminine sexuality, middle-class gentility, and other evolving conflicts in the modern Muslim world. She was briefly associated with the membership of the Urdu Progressive Writer's Movement in Lucknow. She is considered one of the more prolific writers of Urdu short stories.
In collaboration with her husband, Shaheed Latif, Ismat wrote twelve film scripts, and made five films independently. She appeared in Shyam Benegal's 1978 film Junoon for which she also wrote the dialogues. She won the 1975 Filmfare Award for Best Story in Garam Hawa.
She won the 1974 Ghalib Award for Urdu Drama.Terhi Lakeer (translated into English as The Crooked Line by Tahira Naqvi) is considered her best novel. The ups and down of the life of its heroine Shaman can be compared to those of the author.
Her major short story collections are Kaliyan (The Buds), Choten (Injuries), Chooi Mooi (Fragile), Ek Baat (A Point) and Do Haath (Two Hands). Her novels are Tehri- Lakeer (The Crooked Line), Ziddi (The Obstinate), Ek Qatra-e-Khoon (A Drop of Blood), Dil Ki Duniya (Heart�s World), Masooma (The Innocent), and Bahroop Nagar (The Deceptive Town). She was awarded the Samman Award for Urdu literature in 1990. She died in Bombay in 1991 and was cremated according to her wishes.
Her autobiography is entitled "Kaghazi Hai Pairahan" (Paper-thin is the apparel).
Ismat Chughtai is considered a path breaker for women writers in the subcontinent, as the many women writing at the time of Ismat's birth and childhood - including, notably, Muhammasdi Begum, Sughra Humayun Mirza, Tyaba Bilgrami (to whose novel Anwari Begum Chughtai refers in Terhi Lakeer), and Khatun Akram, were considered to be too caught up in the ideology of slow, conservative and religiously sanctioned changes for women advocated by such male reformers as Mumtaz Ali, Rashidul Khairi and Shaikh Abdullah. However, in Ismat's formative years, Nazar Sajjad Hyder had established herself an independent feminist voice, and the short stories of two very different women, Hijab Imtiaz Ali and the Progressive Dr Rashid Jehan were also a significant early influence on Ismat. (See Aamer Hussein's article, Forcing Silence to Speak, on early women writers in the AUS online).
A Chughtai Collection, Sama Publishing, 2005. ISBN 969-8784-16-0.
Lifting the Veil, Penguin, 2001.
The Heart Breaks Free/The Wild One, South Asia Books, 1993.
My Friend My Enemy: Essays, Reminiscences, Portraits, New Delhi, Kali for Women, 2001.
Quilt and Other Stories, New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1996
Terhi Lakhir (The Crooked Line), New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995