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Fortnightly Favourites
Authors, Issues, Ideas

As our physical world continues to remain restricted, largely out of bounds, and we all look for different ways to stay connected to the people we love and the things we love to do, Women Unlimited brings your favourite authors and their writings a little closer to you, our dedicated community of readers. We present Fortnightly Favourites: Authors, Issues, Ideas, a focus on an author, an issue or an idea that we explore through our books.


Presenting The Collectors' Chughtai: her choicest stories a wonderful collection of stories from one of India's most loved and lauded Urdu storytellers—the incredible Ismat Chughtai!

Stories provide a way fun, engaging way to understand life; they sometimes offer simple solutions to the most complex problems and situations; at other times they are supremely therapeutic and, of course, highly entertaining! Chughtai's works give her readers a ringside view of her life and times; of the struggles and triumphs of women; of childhood, womanhood, loves, ideologies, and the triumphs of an insurmountable human spirit—in short, a power-packed canvas of delightful tales.


Born in 1915, Ismat Chughtai was educated at Aligarh Muslim University, and was briefly associated with the Progressive Writers' Movement, started by Premchand in Lucknow. She began writing at a time when the voices of women writers were still muffled, and any attempt on their part to write poetry or fiction was viewed as ‘intellectual vagrancy’. An intense individualist and iconoclast, long before it was fashionable to be so, Chughtai's life has been an inspiring struggle against conservatism. She writes about the lives of ordinary people with sensitivity and humour. Little cameos spring to life as she details fine nuances of conversation and delineates completely believable characters. Her central concern is to tell the truth as she sees it. The flavour of an entire culture can be savoured in her work, yet it remains universal.


The Collectors' Chughtai brings a selection of 29 of the choicest stories from one of Urdu's best and boldest feminist writers. We move through the chawls, havelis, mosques and villages of India, meeting characters from all classes of society. Here there is the want, resignation and ambition of the poor; the arrogance of the rich; the pain of women still tied to traditional notions of subservience to men; and the bankruptcy of a declining feudal world.

Chughtai brilliantly exposes the hypocrisies of a society with a progressive facade that is still caught in the binds of conservative opinion and traditional mores and values.Stories in this volume include, ‘Gainda’, one of her earliest published works; ‘A Pair of Hands’; ‘Alone Again’; ‘The Third Hand’; ‘Lingering Fragrance’, ‘The Quilt’, ‘Nanhi’s Naani, and many more.


Enjoy reading this excerpt from the story‘Nanhi’s Naani’.

God alone knows what the names of Nanhi's Naani's mother and father were. No one ever referred to her by her family name. When she was a little girl and roamed the streets with a runny nose, she was called “Bafatan's girl”. Later, for some time, she was “Basheera's wife”, after which she came to be known as “Bismillah's mother”. After Bismillah died in childbirth, leaving her daughter, Nanhi behind, she was known as “Nanhi's Naani” until her dying day.

There wasn't a profession in the world that Nanhi's Naani had not taken up. Ever since she was old enough to hold a bowl and a glass in her hand she had been performing household chores in our home in exchange for two meals a day and some old clothes. Only those who have been doing such jobs since childhood, when they should have been playing and having fun, know how unpleasant they really are. Included in this list were an assortment of duties, ranging from the tedious task of shaking the rattle in front of Nanhe Mian to massaging Bare Sarkar's head.

Finally, there was a break in life's hard slog and a few years were spent taking care of chores in the kitchen. But she was forced to retire when she sautéed a lizard in the lentils and started kneading flies into the rotis. After that Nanhi's Naani was good only for tittle-tattle and gossip.

The business of carrying tales and gossiping is generally quite profitable. It keeps things going in the neighbourhood. If you report information cleverly to one of the two opposing camps you are indulged and welcomed. But how long can such a profession last? Naani began to be known as a back-biting slanderer. Realising that she wasn't getting her due any more, she finally adopted the last and most useful of all professions: begging in a cultured, civilised manner. Around mealtime, Naani would flare her nostrils and sniff the air to find out what was cooking where. Trailing the whiffs of appetising aromas she would arrive at her destination and plonk herself down.

“Ai, Bibi, have you cooked arbi with the meat?” “No Bua, these days arbi takes forever to cook…I've added potatoes instead.”

“Ai, God be praised, what an aroma! God preserve her, Bismillah's father loved potatoes. Every day he'd say, Bismillah's mother, potatoes and meat that you can actually see… arre, did you forget to add coriander?” Suddenly, she would look very concerned.

“No, Bua, the cursed coriander was ruined because the water-carrier's dog rolled around in the bushes.”

“Hai, hai, the meat isn't going to have any flavour without coriander. There's a ton growing at Hakimji's house.”

“Ai, no, Naani, Hakimji's boy cut down Shabban Mian's kite yesterday, and I warned him not to step onto the balcony, so—” “Ai, I won't say you're the one asking for it.” Then, gathering her burqa about her, her slippers clattering, Naani would arrive at Hakimji's house. On the pretext of taking in some sun, she would drag herself close to the bushes. First, she would pull off a leaf and casually rub it between her fingers, pretending she was just inhaling the fragrance. Then, the minute Hakimji's daughter-in-law's back was turned Naani would attack the coriander. Naturally, having provided the coriander, she was entitled to two morsels of the cooked dish.


IsmatChughtai is considered one of the four pillars of modern Urdu fiction, the other three being Sa'adatHasanManto, KrishanChander, and Rajinder Singh Bedi.

The Book Review

‘This is an impressive collection... remarkable for the high calibre of its translation—elegant, unobtrusive, unslick, faithful and enjoyable.’

—Krishna Baldev Vaid, author and playwright

With the energy and dynamism of a pioneer, Ismat used her own lived experience, her own language and characters from her family to fearlessly reveal the world behind the veil, lying silent. This had remained almost absent in Urdu fiction till IsmatChughtai.

The Hindu

Witty, personal, descriptive, anecdotal and hectoring by turns, Chughtai's style has few equals in contemporary Indian writing.

India Today


Keen on reading more of Chughtai? Pick up a volume of four novellas or a collection of essays, reminiscences and portraits by the master writer.

* My Friend, My Enemy: Essays, Reminiscences, Portraits

This selection from Chughtai's prose writing, comprising essays, commentaries and pen-portraits of her contemporaries, gives the reader a good idea of the artistic, political and social mores of her times. It also serves as a background to her own work and furnishes insights into the art and lives of her contemporaries. Chughtai's involvement with the Progressive Writers' Association and her friendship with writers like Sa'adat Hasan Manto, Patras Bokhari, Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, and others have resulted in a treasure-trove of writing, marked by her characteristic irreverence and wit.

*A Chughtai Quartet: The Heart Breaks Free, The Wild One, Obsession, Wild Pigeons

The four novellas in this volume span the inimitable Chughtai's literary career, from 1939 to 1971. Each one develops the author's central preoccupation with the lives of women as they experience love, tragedy, societal prescriptions and proscriptions, in collision with their own rebellious spirit. A keen sense of their individual subversive potential and a willingness to take the consequences of obduracy in the face of overwhelming odds, ensures that they are neither hapless nor victims. Through them Chughtai delivers a scathing critique on the hypocrisy and cant of social mores, and the festering maladies that infect society.

Chughtai's characteristic mastery of form and technique, her vivid imagery and richness of language make for marvellous story-telling, and create some of the most memorable female protagonists in Indian literature.


* To order a copy of The Collectors' Chughtai: her choices stories, write to: womenunltd@gmail.com

For the other collections, log on to:

*My Friend, My Enemy: Essays, Reminiscences, Portraits

* A Chughtai Quartet

* The Heart Breaks Free & The Wild One

*Obsession & Wild Pigeons