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Javed Siddiqui (Saab) commenced the mehfil with the introduction of short story writer Ismat Chughtai (Apa) in such an endearing fashion that it set the mood for the evening. Her repertoire is par excellence and one evening was not going to be enough to encompass her life and works. But it was just an amazing experience to get a peak into her life and oeuvre. What makes her stand out from the rest of the writers of her time is that she had a very sharp pen. She was not apologetic to any of her characters in her stories but she never enforced her opinion on the reader. Her ambiguity and providing the reader the tools to make their own conclusion is a very refined art, which has kept her work alive over the years.

Javed Saab mentioned an interesting anecdote – when Ismat Apa sat to write, she would lay on her bed with cubes of ice in a bowl by her side which she would eat while she wrote her story in one sitting. It is not an irony that a woman who wrote such potent and fiery stories would need to crunch ice to cool her down.

Apart from short stories she wrote the script for the film Garam Hawa and she also acted in a film called Junoon.

After Javed Saab spoke, two actors, Sargi and Om read one story titled “ Apna Khoon” which gave the audience a distinct flavor of Ismat Apa’s style of writing. There was a brief discussion on the story and then we played an audio clip, which was a radio interview of Ismat Apa. This managed to give the audience a taste of the woman behind these stories.

We ended the evening with another beautiful story titled “ Bhabi” read by actor Mona. This short story brought alive the amazing facets of life in the inner courtyards of homes in small Indian neighbourhoods. It made the audience laugh but with a slight guilt in their belly. It was the perfect expression for understating Ismat Apa’s story writing.

Ismat Chughtai is widely translated and we urge our readers to pick up her stories in English, Hindi, Urdu or any available language. Her stories create punctuations in our otherwise rushed life.

Given below are some recommendations:

  1. A life in Words- Ismat Chughtai translated by M. Asaduddin
  2. Lifting the Veil- selected short stories by Ismat Chughtai by M. Asaduddin
  3. Ismat Chughtai radio interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pSvo_ypoPQ