Namrata reviews One Drop of Blood by Ismat Chugtai based on the battle of Karbala.
Published by Women Unlimited (An Associate of Kali for Women), 2020
Featured in Hindustan Times as one of the interesting books early this year, One Drop of Blood by Ismat Chugtai is a unique book in many ways. Firstly, it is the last work of Ismat Chugtai and secondly, it so different from her usual line of work.
One drop of Blood is based on the battle of Karbala fought in 680 A.D. in present-day Iraq between Yazid, the reigning Caliph and his mighty soldiers and Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad with his small army. According to the Islamic calendar Muharram is the first month of the year and the second holiest month, after the month of Ramzan. Muharram is also a period of mourning the martyrdom of Imam Husain and his family (including his infant grandchild) in the battle of Karbala.
Ismat Chughtai is considered one of the four pillars of modern Urdu fiction, the other three being Sa’adat Hasan Manto, Krishan Chander, and Rajinder Singh Bedi.
Title: Vintage Chughtai: A Selection of her Best Stories
Author: Ismat Chughtai
Translator: Tahira Naqvi
Publisher: Women Unlimited
Year of Publication: First published in 2013; reprinted in 2020
Links: Women Unlimited
Seated on a divan covered with a white sheet, her hair whiter than the wings of a heron, grandma looked like an awkward mass of marble; it seemed as though there was not a single drop of blood in her body. White had crept up to the edges of her grey eyes which, lusterless, reminded one of casements that were barred, of windows hiding fearfully behind thick curtains. Her presence, shrouded in what could be likened to a stationery cloud of finely-ground silver, was dazzling, and a snowy-white, blinding radiance seemed to emanate from her person. Her face shone with the glow of purity and chastity. This eighty year-old virgin had never known the touch of a man’s hand.
She was like a bouquet of flowers at thirteen with hair that fell below her waist and a complexion that shimmered with youthful silkiness and translucence. But her youth had been ravaged by time; only the softness now remained. Her beauty was of such renown in those days that her parents, afraid she might be whisked away by jinns, couldn’t sleep at night. Indeed, she didn’t appear to be of this world.
At fourteen she became engaged to my mother’s uncle. He was as dark as she was fair, although otherwise he was exceedingly well-proportioned and manly in appearance: what a sharply delineated nose he had, just like the blade of a sword, hooded eyes that were ever watchful, his teeth a string of pearls. But he was unusually sensitive about his inky complexion.
During the engagement celebrations everyone began teasing him.
Book Review by Namrata
Title: The Crooked Line
Author: Ismat Chugtai (Translated from Urdu by Tahira Naqvi)
Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2019
Narrating the tale of a lonely child called Shaman, the novel, The Crooked Line, by Ismat Chugtai is considered to be one of her finest works. Written is an extremely poignant and evocative manner, Shaman’s story takes us through her experiences of growing up as a woman in a conservative Muslim family.
Ismat Chugtai is regarded as one of the most rebellious and provocative women writers in Urdu and continues to be a luminary till date. The Crooked Line was originally published in 1945 and was translated into English fifty years later, after it was compared to The Second Sex (1949) by de Beauvoir for its strong portrayal of gender and politics. However, the two books are starkly different in their approach with The Crooked Line being a novel while The Second Sex is a treatise; though it has always been argued that the former could be semi-autobiographical.
“To begin with, her birth was ill-timed.”
These powerful lines announce the arrival of Shaman, the youngest child in a large and affluent family. In a way, they also set the tone for what is yet to arrive in the novel. Everything about Shaman is encapsulated in these lines — ill-timed, ill-mannered and ill-fated. Tracing her journey from her childhood to her old age, this story is beautifully layered with deepest desires, darkest secrets and emotions interwoven with the fragility of human relationships.