I have been reading Ismat Chughtai's works recently. Some of her work( Especially the story of Quilt, published in 1942-which is posted here) is startling, especially considering the fact that they were written in a pre-independence era. In parts she reminds me of Indian poetess Kamala Das, just a more firebrand image. The interesting part about her stories is that she rarely describes as much of characters or significant events, in great detail. It is the moment that she gives more prominence to, which helps bring out a story & its people. I do wish I could have read her in Urdu though, just like her contemporary Sadat Hasan Manto. Although comparisons are unnecessary and mostly trivial, to me Manto will always be more universal..something like a whiff stuck in one's senses forever..because they cross all borders and appeal to humanity more than a sex, religion or community. Manto writes-
"One lunatic got so involved in this India/Pakistan question that he became even crazier. One day he climbed a tree and sat on one of its branches for two hours, lecturing without pause on the complex issues of Partition. When the guards told him to come down, he climbed higher. When they tried to frighten him with threats, he replied: “I will live neither in India nor in Pakistan. I’ll live in this tree right here!” With much difficulty, they eventually coaxed him down. When he reached the ground he wept and embraced his Hindu and Sikh friends, distraught at the idea that they would leave him and go to India.." ( From Toba Tek Singh)
Interestingly, I find the same weird and mystic traces of universality in Agha Shahid Ali (Kashmiri-American poet)..to me he transcends all boundaries and remains only and only a poet, speaking for all humans irrespective of sex and creed and personal wars. He writes in the,
Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—
There is no sugar in the promised land.
Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love,
I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?
If home is found on both sides of the globe,
home is of course here—and always a missed land.
The hour’s come to redeem the pledge (not wholly?)
in Fate’s 'Long years ago we made a tryst' land.
Clearly, these men were here only to destroy,
a mosque now the dust of a prejudiced land.
Will the Doomsayers die, bitten with envy,
when springtime returns to our dismissed land?
The prisons fill with the cries of children.
Then how do you subsist, how do you persist, Land?
“Is my love nothing for I’ve borne no children?”
I’m with you, Sappho, in that anarchist land.
A hurricane is born when the wings flutter ...
Where will the butterfly, on my wrist, land?
You made me wait for one who wasn’t even there
though summer had finished in that tourist land.
Do the blind hold temples close to their eyes
when we steal their gods for our atheist land?
Abandoned bride, Night throws down her jewels
so Rome—on our descent—is an amethyst land.
At the moment the heart turns terrorist,
are Shahid’s arms broken, O Promised Land?
(Here is the link to a translation of Ismat Chughtai's story- 'The Quilt' )
( Image Courtesy Google Images)