9._Short_Story___Lihaaf__The_Quilt_ - SHORT STORY In the...

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36 MANUSHI I n winter when I put a quilt over myself its shadows on the wall seem to sway like an elephant. That sets my mind racing into the labyrinth of times past. Memories come crowding in. Sorry. I’m not going to regale you with any romantic tale about my own quilt. It’s hardly a subject for romance. It seems to me that the blanket, though less comfortable, does not cast shadows as terrifying as the quilt, dancing on the wall. I was then a small girl and fought all day with my brothers and their friends. Often I wondered why the hell I was so aggressive. At my age my other sisters were busy drawing admirers while I fought with any boy or girl I ran into! This was why when my mother went to Agra she left me with an adopted sister of hers for about a week. She knew well that there was no one in that house, not even a mouse, with which I could get into a fight. It was severe punishment for me! So Amma left me with Begum Jaan, the same lady whose quilt is etched in my memory like the scar left by a blacksmith’s brand. Her poor parents agreed to marry her off to the Nawab who was of ‘ripe years’ because he was very virtuous. No one had ever seen a nautch girl or prostitute in his house. He had performed Haj and helped several others to do it. He, however, had a strange hobby. Some people are crazy enough to cultivate interests like breeding pigeons and watching cockfights. Nawab Saheb had contempt for such disgusting sports. He kept an open house for students—young, fair and slender-waisted boys whose expenses were borne by him. Having married Begum Jaan he tucked her away in the house with his other possessions and promptly forgot her. The frail, beautiful Begum wasted away in anguished loneliness. One did not know when Begum Jaan’s life began— whether it was when she committed the mistake of being born or when she came to the Nawab’s house as his bride, climbed the four-poster bed and started counting her days. Or was it when she watched through the drawing room door the increasing number of firm-calved, supple- waisted boys and delicacies begin to come for them from the kitchen! Begum Jaan would have glimpses of them in their perfumed, flimsy shirts and feel as though she was being raked over burning embers! Or did it start when she gave up on amulets, talismans, black magic and other ways of retaining the love of her straying husband? She arranged for night long reading of the scripture but in vain. One cannot draw blood from SHORT STORY In the last issue of MANUSHI , while reviewing Deepa Mehta’s Fire , we briefly described the controversy generated by Ismat Chugtai’s story Lihaaf written in 1941. In this issue we present an English translation of along with an extract from her autobiography (see p.29) which shows how Ismat Apa handled, in her own inimitable style, the heat generated by her story. Not given to playing martyr, she won the day by sheer guts and a charming sense of humour—all of which contributed as much as her bold writing to making her a famous and
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This note was uploaded on 12/25/2009 for the course ENGL 1105 taught by Professor Bailey during the Spring '08 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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9._Short_Story___Lihaaf__The_Quilt_ - SHORT STORY In the...

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