Book of a Lifetime: The Quilt and Other Stories, By Ismat Chughtai

Kishwar Desai in The Independent:

IsmatWhy is it that, most of the time, life-changing events appear to come out of nowhere? Or are we always unconsciously preparing for that moment, and the destiny-diverting collision (even with a book) is never as coincidental as it seems? There are few books that I have read which have not shaped my mind and fate in some way, especially when I was growing up. Whether it was the PG Wodehouse Jeeves series, or the collection of Oscar Wilde stories I constantly enjoyed…or Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Daphne du Maurier. I was a greedy monster, devouring them all.

But it was only in my thirties that I stumbled upon two Urdu authors, Ismat Chughtai (1911-1991) and Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955), whose work had a seminal impact on me – and whose rebellious lives I carry about with me like a talisman. Since I was drawn to the unconventional, was I searching for iconoclastic writers who challenged social and moral attitudes, but who had roots in the East? Their image of the “outsider” was something I could identify with, and they wrote in a very accessible style. It was a collection of short stories by the perceptive and outspoken Muslim woman author Ismat Chughtai, which contained an astonishingly provocative story called “Lihaaf” or “The Quilt” (originally published in 1941), that finally deflected my staid career as a TV professional in the 1990s. The other stories could be considered equally inflammatory, but “Lihaaf” was an unusual narrative for a woman writer in India. It was about a rather thinly disguised lesbian relationship.

More here.