Here is an interesting take on Dedh Ishqiya, the movie currently playing in theatres, that was posted on the blog F.I.G.H.T C.L.U.B. Do read the entire post here:
The above link also includes an English translation of Lihaaf, for your reading.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, this is a spoiler alert:
In the scene where both Naseer and Arshad’s hands are tied and they are watching Madhuri and Huma having fun, getting physical. Naseer looks at Arshad and says, Lihaaf maang le. Arshad looks up and smiles. And then we see just a big shadow on the wall which suggests physical intimacy between Madhuri and Huma’s characters. That’s the homage to Ismat Chughtai’s Lihaaf. The setting, Begum, homo-eroticism, huge shadow play – the elements and the incident is the same as in Lihaaf.
That’s not all, the entire back story of Madhuri’s husband is also from the same story. And the spoiler – their relationship and her back story is the core idea of the film. Rest of it has been just built up to cover this plot. So it can be called a really smart adaptation of the short story. Much respect for the writers of the film – Darab Farooqui, Abhishek Chaubey and Vishal Bhardwaj.
Lihaaf (The Quilt), is the much talked about short story by the prolific Urdu writer, Ismat Chughtai, published in 1942. The story is based on the theme of homosexuality. It is written from the point of view of a small girl who is the niece of the protagonist, Begum Jaan. Begum Jaan has had a very depressing life after marriage. Her husband, the Nawab, was much older than her and was thought to be extremely respectable for never having had any encounters with prostitutes. But it is soon revealed that it is because his interests lie in the other gender. The lonely Begum starts to wither but is saved by Rabbu, her masseuse. Rabbu is a servant girl who is not so pretty but very deft with her hands. When the narrator is left at Begum Jaan’s place by her mother, she realises that despite her past admiration of and love for Begum Jaan, there lie many secrets with her. At night, the great shadows formed by the quilt of Begum Jaan and her odd behavior in the absence of Rabbu bring to light their hidden relationship, shocking the narrator.
Ismat Chughtai was tried in court for the ‘obscene’ content of this story, and eventually won the case. This is what ensued in court:
Chughtai has written about the Lihaaf trial, a case that crumbled because the judge could not spot one obscene word in her story. She writes, “The proceedings had lost some of their verve, the witnesses who were called in to prove that Lihaaf was obscene were beginning to lose their nerve in the face of our lawyer’s cross-examination. No word capable of inviting condemnation could be found. After a great deal of searching, a gentleman said, “The sentence ‘she was collecting aashiqs (lovers)’ is obscene.”
“Which word is obscene,” the lawyer asked. “‘Collecting’ or ‘ aashiqs’?”
“The word ‘ aashiqs’,” the witness replied, somewhat hesitantly.
“My Lord, the word ‘ aashiqs’ is used by the greatest poets… It’s been given a sacred place by the devout.”
“But it is…improper for girls to collect aashiqs,” the witness proclaimed.
“Because… because… this is improper for respectable girls.”
“But not improper for girls who are not respectable?”
“Uh… uh… no.”
“My client has mentioned girls who are perhaps not respectable. And as you say, sir, non-respectable girls may collect aashiqs.”
“Yes. It’s not obscene to mention them, but for an educated woman from a respectable family to write about these girls merits condemnation!” The witness thundered.
“So go right ahead and condemn as much as you like, but does it merit legal action?”
The case crumbled.”