Google on Tuesday celebrated the 107th birth anniversary of Ismat Chughtai with a colorful Doodle. The celebrated Urdu author was known for her literary works exploring free speech, social liberation, and gender equality. In a blog post, Google referred to her as the “grande dame of Urdu fiction.”
She began writing at an early age, inspired by her elder brother Mirza Azim Beg Chughtai, a novelist known for his playful humorous works. The author courted extreme controversy for her story, “Lihaaf” in particular, which touches upon the themes of homosexuality.
Narrated in the voice of a young girl, “Lihaf” was viewed as controversial given its portrayal of a relationship between an upper-class woman and her servant. “This was also the case for another of her famous stories, “Gainda” (Marigold), which told the tale of a domestic worker who falls in love outside the caste system.
Later, she was arrested on the charge of obscenity in 1942 and was appeared before the Lahore High Court in 1945 and was acquitted. Soon, “Lihaaf” acquired an iconic status and she was hailed as the first bold, feminist short story writer in Urdu.
Chughtai’s work faced criticism from conservatives and many of her writings were banned in South Asia because of their reformist and feminist content.
“Chughtai’s character violated the rules prohibiting different castes from associating with one another, as well as the social custom forbidding widows from pursuing a second love,” Google said in a blog post.
Through her work, she also talked about other sensitive topics such as middle-class gentility, partition, and class-conflict, among others. Her works included stories like “Kafir” (Infidel), “Mera Baccha” (My Child), “Jarein” (Roots), “Hindustan Chod Do” (Quit India), and “Kacche Dhaage” (Fragile Threads).
Widely translated into English and other languages, Chughtai also penned scripts for Bollywood movies and made her debut with the 1948 commercially successful drama film Ziddi. Later, she also tried her hand in direction and production with films such as “Faraib” and “Sone ki Chidiya”, respectively.
Chughtai was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri by the government of India in 1976.