In Her Own Words: Letters and Interviews – Ismat Chughtai, Tr. Tahira Naqvi


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“These days,” said Ismat Chughtai to Shama Zaidi, “national unity is being emphasised as though all the problems in the country are being caused by a lack of national unity… Bharat’s leaders denounce each other, call each other names… If those in power are seen as thieves and looters, why should stealing, looting, violence not be regarded as elements of the national character? The public learns from them… this is national unity!”

Ismat first rebelled at age five, when she threatened to “run away from home and become a Christian” if her mother didn’t let her go to school. She survived childhood “by writing about my failures and feelings of hopelessness”. She “fell in love many times”, just “not with my husband”. She “sought refuge in film heaven” to make money. And she was sure that “those who are incapable of writing themselves, become critics”.

This carefully curated, no-holds-barred collection, includes letters written by Ismat to her family, separated by Partition; notes to her daughters and her “darling grandson”; correspondence with editors of Urdu journals in India and Pakistan; and even a never-posted reprimand to film actress, Saira Bano. At the same time, the eight in-person conversations are marked by sparkling spontaneity, revealing Chughtai’s personal, literary, and political preoccupations.

There is no relationship, no ideology—be it feminism, socialism or nationalism—that Ismat Chughtai didn’t embrace with her quintessential irreverence and wit. Here, in this one-of-its-kind volume, Chughtai is truly outspoken, unapologetic, telling it like it is, in her own words…


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