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Ismat Chughtai (August 1915 – 24 October 1991), considered the grand dame of Urdu fiction and known for her indomitable spirit and a fierce feminist ideology, was a contemporary and friend of Saadat Hasan Manto (May 11, 1912 – January 18, 1955). They both shared a deep respect for each others’ works and shared the experience of obscenity charges being levied against them for their respective works. Manto was tried for obscenity half-a-dozen times, thrice before 1947 and thrice after 1947 in Pakistan, but never convicted. And Chughtai’s most celebrated short story, Lihaaf (The Quilt) published in 1942 in the Urdu literary journal Adab-i-Latif, was leveled with charges of obscenity and she was summoned by the Lahore court.

Below is a piece written by Ismat on Manto, that showcases the relationship between the two –

Adelphi chamber ki seerhiyon par charhte huwe mujhe kuchh ghabraahat si ho rahi thi. Jaise kabhi imtehaan ke hall mein daakhil hone se pehle huwa karti thi. Mujhe waise hi naye aadmiyon se milte ghabraahat huwa karti thi. Leikn yahaan to vo ‘naya aadmi’ Manto, tha. Jis se main pehli baar milne ja rahi thi. Meri ghabraahat vehshat ki hadon ko chhoone lagi. Maine Shahid, se kaha ‘chalo waapas chalen, shaayed Manto, ghar par na ho.’ Magar Shahid, ne meri ummeedon par paani pher diya, ‘Vo shaam ko ghar par hi rehta hai. kyun ki vo roz shaam ko peeta hai.’
Ye lijiye, maray pe sau durray, ek to Manto, aur vo bhi peeta huwa Manto. Magar maine ji kada kar liya. Aisa bhi kya, mujhe kha to nahin jaayega, hone do jo uski zabaan ki nok par dank hai. main bulbula to hoon nahin jo phoonk maari to baith jaaungi. Charcharaati, gard-aalooda seedhiyaan tai kar ke hum donon doosri manzil par ponhche, flate ka darwaaza neem-va tha, drawing room-numa kamre mein ek koone mein sofa-set para tha. Doosri taraf ek bada sa safed aur saaf palang pada tha. Khirki se mili huwi ek ladi-phandi badi si mez ke saamne ek badi si kursi mein ek baareek makoray ki shakl ka insaan ukdoon baitha huwa tha.
‘Aaye, aaye.’ Badi khanda-peshaani se Manto khada ho gaya. Manto hamesha kursi par ukdoon baitha karta tha aur bahot mukhtasar nazar aata tha. Lekin jab khada hota tha to khinch kar uska qad khaasa nikal aata tha. Aur baaz waqt jab Manto yun reng kar khada hota tha to bada zehreela maaloom hota tha. Uske jism par khaddar ka kurta paajaama aur jawaahar cut sadri thi. ‘arey, main samajhta tha ki aap nihaayat kaali-dubli, sookhi-maryal si hoongi.’ Usne daant nikaal kar hanste huwe kaha.
Aur main samajhti thi aap nihaayat dabang qism ke, galhair, chinghaarte huwe Punjabi hoonge.’ Maine socha raseed dete chalo, kahin ye ek dam na haapte par le le.
Aur doosre lamhe hum donon poori tun-dehi se jut kar bahes karne lagay ki jaise itne arsay ek doosre se na-waaqif reh kar hum ne bada ghaata uthaaya ho aur usay poora karna ho. Do teen baar baat ulajh gayi leikn zara sa takalluf baaqi tha lehaaza, doosri mulaaqaat ke liy utha rakkhi, kayi ghante hamaare jabday masheenon ki tarah mukhtalif mauzu’aat par jumle katarte rahe. Aur hum ne jaldi maaloom kiya ki meri tarah Manto bhi baat kaatne ka aadi hai. poori baat sunne se pehle vo bol uth’ta hai. aur jo raha-saha takalluf tha vo bhi ghaayeb ho gaya. Baaton ne bahes aur bahes ne ba-qaayeda nok-jhonk ki soorat ikhtiyaar kar li aur sirf chand ghanton ki jaan-pehchaan ke bal-bootay par hum ne ek doosre ko nihaayat adbi qism ke lafzon mein ahmaq, jhakki aur kaj-bahes keh daala.
Ghamasaan ke beech main eek baar kinaare ho kar , ghaur se dekha, motay-motay chashme ke peechhe lapakti huwi badi-badi siyaah putliyon waali aankhen jinhen dekh kar mujhe be-saakhta mor ke par yaad aa gaye. mor ke par aur aankhon ka kya jod? Ye mujhe kabhi na maaloom ho saka magar jab bhi maine unn aankhon ko dekha mujhe mor ke par yaad aa gaye. shaayed raoonat aur gustaakhi ke saath-saath unn mein be-saakhta ghaguftagi mujhe mor ke paron ki yaad dilaati thi. Unn aankhon ko dekh kar mera dil dhak se reh gaya. Inhen to maine kahin dekha hai, bahot qareeb se dekha hai. qehqaha lagaate, sanjeedgi se muskuraate, tanz ke nashtar barsaate aur phir naz’a ke aalam mein pathraate! Wahi naazuk-naazuk haath pair, sar par tokra-bhar baal, pichke zard-zard gaal aur kuchh be-tukay se daant. Peete-peete achaanak Manto ko ichhu laga aur vo khaansne laga, aur mera maatha thanka. Ye khaansi to jaani-pehchaani sit hi. Isay to maine bachpan se suna tha. Mujhe koft hone lagi. Na jaane kis baat par maine kaha,
‘ye bilkul ghalat.’ Aur hum ba-qaayeda lad paday.
‘aap ki bakhshish kar rahi hoon.’
‘himaaqat hai ye.’
‘dhaandli hai. Ismat bahen.’
‘aap mujhe bahen keh rahe hain.’ Maine chirh kar kaha.
‘bas yun hi, umooman main aurton ko bahen bahot kam kehta hoon. Main apni bahen ko bhi bahen nahin kehta.’
‘to phir mujhe chidhaane ko keh rahe ho.’
‘nahin to, vo kaise jaana aap ne.’
‘is liye ki mere bhai hamesha jalaate-chidhaate aur maarte-peet’te rahe. Ya pakad ke pitwaate rahe.’Manto zor se hansa.
‘to itna yaad rakhiye ki mere baare mein mere bhaiyon ke khayaalaat bhi kuchh khush-gawaar nahin hain. Ye aap ko khaansi hai, iska ilaaj aap kyun nahin karte?’
Ilaaj? Doctor gadhay hain. Teen saal huwe daaktaron ne kaha tha ki saal-bhar mein mar jaaoge, tumhen TB. Hai. saaf zaahir hai ki maine mar kar unki peshen-goyi ko sachcha saabit na hone diya. Aur ab to bas main daaktaron ko ahmaq samajhta hoon. In se to mesmerism aur jaadu karne waale ziyaada aql-mand hote hain.’
‘yahi aap se pehle ek buzurg farmaaya karte thay.’
‘kaun buzurg?’
‘mere bhai Azeem Baig, nau man mitti ky neeche aaraam farma rahe hain.’

Ismat Chughtai

And here is an essay written by Manto on Ismat, in English (translated by M. Asaduddin). An excerpt is below.

About one and a half years ago when I was in Bombay I received a postcard from a gentleman in Hyderabad. The content of the message ran somewhat like this: “How is it that Ismat Chughtai and you didn’t marry? It would have been wonderful if the two personalities—Manto and Ismat—had come together. What a shame! Ismat married Shahid Latif and Manto …”

It was about this time that a conference of Progressive writers was held in Hyderabad. Though I did not attend the conference I read the accounts of its proceedings in a journal published from Hyderabad. It mentioned that many girls had approached Ismat Chughtai there and asked her why she did not marry Manto.

I do not know whether the report was true or false. But when Ismat returned to Bombay she told my wife that when a lady in Hyderabad had asked her whether Manto was a bachelor she had replied sharply, “Indeed, no.” Hearing this the lady was sorely disappointed and became quiet. Whatever the truth, it is curious that in all of India only the men and women of Hyderabad have been so concerned about Ismat’s marriage and mine.

I did not reflect on it at the time, but now I wonder. If Ismat and I had really become man and wife, then …?

Click here for the entire essay: Manto on Ismat

In the Preface of Chotein, Krishan Chander writes: Ismat and Manto could not be more similar in their fictional art. Few Urdu writers can match them in their ability to leave a reader entirely clueless, to arouse his wonderment and suspense and then, in the end, suddenly change this wonderment and suspense into joy.

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