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A Life in Words… is a chapter from the book A Life in Words: Memoirs translated from Urdu by M Asaduddin. It elaborates on the pursuits and exploits of the great female Urdu story writer and our very favorite, Ismat Chughtai.

Here is an excerpt from the book which describes the situation when Ismat is handed summons for charges of obscenity for her story Lihaaf (The Shroud) and her love for Lahore:

‘What is the summons about?’
‘Read it out,’ said the police inspector dourly.
As I read the heading — Ismat Chughtai vs The Crown — I broke into laughter. ‘Good god, what complaint does the exalted king have against me that he has filed the suit?’
‘It’s no joke,’ the inspector said severely. ‘Read it first, and sign it.’ I read through the summons but could barely make out the sense. My story “Lihaaf” had been accused of obscenity. The government had brought a suit against me, and I had to appear before the Lahore High Court in January. Otherwise the government would penalise me severely.
‘Well, I won’t take the summons.’
‘You have to.’
‘Why?’ I began to argue, as usual.

‘If you don’t, you’ll be arrested,’ Mohsin growled.Ismat Chughtai
‘Let them arrest me. I won’t take the summons.’
‘You’ll be put in prison.’
‘In prison? Good. I’ve a great desire to see a prison house. I’ve urged Yusuf umpteen times to take me to a prison, but he just smiles. Inspector sahib, please take me to the jail. Have you brought handcuffs?’ I asked him endearingly.
The inspector was flustered. Barely restraining his anger he said, ‘Don’t joke. Just sign it.’

Manto phoned us to say that a suit had been filed against him, too. He had to appear in the same court on the same day. He and Safiya landed up at our place. Manto was looking very happy, as though he had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Though I put up a courageous front, I felt quite embarrassed…I was quite nervous, but Manto encouraged me so much that I forgot all my qualms.
‘Come on, it’s the only great story you’ve written. Shahid, be a man and come to Lahore with us… The winter in Lahore is very severe. Aha! Fried fish with whisky…fire Saadat_hasan_mantoin the fireplace like the burning flame in a lover’s heart…the blood-red maltas are like a lover’s kiss.’
‘Be quiet, Manto sahib,’ Safiya reprimanded him.
Then, filthy letters began to arrive. They were filled with such inventive and convoluted obscenities that had they been uttered before a corpse, it would have got up and run for cover. Not only me, but my whole family including Shahid and my two-month-old child were dragged in the muck…

I am scared of mud, muck and lizards. Many people pretend to be courageous, but they are scared of dead mice. I got scared of my mail as though the envelopes contained snakes, scorpions and dragons. I would read the first few words and then burn the letters. However, if they fell into Shahid’s hands, he would repeat his threat of divorce.

Besides these letters, there were articles published in newspapers and debates in literary and cultural gatherings. Only a hard-hearted person like me could put up with them. I never retaliated, nor did I refuse to admit my mistake. I was aware of my fault. Manto was the only person who would get furious at my cowardice. I was against my own self, and he supported me. None of my friends or Shahid’s friends attached much importance to it. I am quite sure, but probably Abbas got the English translation of “Lihaaf” published somewhere. The Progressives neither appreciated nor found fault with me. This suited me well.

We received the summons in December 1944 to appear before the court in January. Everyone said that we would just be fined, not imprisoned. So we were quite excited and began to get warm clothes stitched for our stay in Lahore.
And Lahore, decked like a newly wedded bride with apples and flowers, was transformed into the sandy graveyard in Jodhpur where my brother was sleeping in his grave under tons of earth. Thorny bushes were planted on his grave so that hyenas did not dig out the corpse. Those thorns began to stab me, and I left the fine pashmina shawl on the counter.
Lahore was beautiful, lush and lively. It greeted everyone with open arms. It was a city of people who were amiable and who loved life. It was the heart of Punjab.
We wandered about the streets of Lahore, our pockets stuffed with pistachios. We popped them into our mouths one after another as we walked along, deep in conversation. Standing in a lane we gorged on fried fish. My appetite was wonderful. In the salubrious climate of Lahore, whatever one ate was digested easily. We entered a hotel. My mouth began to water at the sight of hot dogs and hamburgers.

We made the rounds of Anarkali and Shalimar, and saw Noor Jahan’s mausoleum. Then followed endless rounds of invitations, mushairas and gossip.
And suddenly, my heart sent up a thanksgiving prayer to the Crown of England for providing us this unique opportunity of enjoying ourselves in Lahore. I began to look forward eagerly to the second hearing. I did not even care if the verdict was that I be hanged. If it occurred in Lahore, I would certainly achieve the status of a martyr. The people of Lahore would give me a befitting funeral.

(This excerpt has been taken from the link below, published with permission from Aleph Book Company.)

Link to the entire article and excerpt: