Reviewing ‘Obsession and Wild Pigeon’ by Ismat Chughtai

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My interest in Ismat Chughtai developed when I first read her ‘Lihaaf’ (The Quilt), which was banned in 1942 for its erotic and lesbian undertones. She was also called ‘Lady Changez Khan’. In this bold narrative, she takes readers, sweep on her tune. Ismat Chughtai (1915-1991) was born in Badayun and is counted among the earliest and foremost women Urdu writers. She focused on women’s issues with a directness and intensity unparalleled in Indian literature among writers of her generation. She is the author of several collections of short stories, novellas, a novel, some collection of reminiscences and essays. Through her writing, she brought forth the sexual and domestic problems of women and dealt in a way that it has a stamp of autobiography on it. The struggle and oppression of middle-class women are underscored in her stories. Her style is an amalgamation of story and novel.

With her bold narrative to dig deep in the lives, the uncharted roads to travel, Ismat Chughtai, unveils the mask worn by many in our society. The collection encompasses two novellas, one entitled Obsession and another Wild Pigeon. Her first novella entitled Obsession encapsulates the story of Chandani and the love triangle. The theme of the novel is the master-servant romance in this novella, two brothers, sons of a feudal household, in love with the same orphan girl. It was due to the impervious and impulsive nature of Chandan (her childhood love) that Chandani, an orphan, got shelter in the house. Basking in the love and cosy ambience of the home and love of Pimo, Chandani grew out to be a beautiful and candid girl. Masi Ji had her own plans to engage her daughter, Usha to Suraj, the master of the house. But fate has some other things in its store. Suraj started liking Chandani, which was nightmarish. She ran from him like a deer from the claws of the hunter. Suraj was worried that his magnified and glorified image would be tarnished if his desires came to the surface. Tussling between his desire and deeds like Mr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he lost the peace of his mind. Usha’s dreams were shattered when she came to know about the truth. Chughtai kept us hooked through her brilliant narrative and witty dialogue. The ending was remarkable, it seems we are reading, Agatha Christie. Chandan and Chandani happily reconciled and Suraj’s last solace to have Chandani in his arms is dramatic and intriguing. Chandani is a bold, fastidious and powerful girl.
The second novella in the collection by Ismat Chughtai, entitled Wild Pigeons, is a tragic one. It starts with the flashback of Abida. It gives a glimpse of her character and her husband, Majid. Majid was a flirt, that had its repercussions on his marriage. The story unfolds the trial, trauma, tribulation of the married life of the couple. They both love each other, but a period of separation has created rift and fissure in their relationship. The absence of a child in their house made Abida flee from home. In the absence of Abida, Majid falls prey to the lust and has a relationship with Mona, a prostitute. This accidental relationship results in the impregnation of Mona. Abida tries to atone for the sin of her husband by becoming a sacrificial goat. Her obstinacy to get separated from Majid by getting a divorce has a debilitating effect on his health. In the end, Majid dies, Mona gets married, and Abida takes care of Mona’s daughter. Obsession of anything to an extreme has a debilitating effect. The story is a beautiful narration of tragic incidents of married couple life. The language of the novellas is simple and lucid. In her remarkable way, Chughtai reveals the predicament of human life.

Pulkita Anand is a student of literature. She often reads fiction as it helps her to understand human condition. She is interested in reading varied genres, from spiritual to scientific, to enrich her limited understanding of the things around her.

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