Lady Changez Khan

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The 4th Karachi Literature Festival was met with immense enthusiasm and excitement again this year on Friday, the 15th of February. It’s a great experience for not just the writers, but also an amazing platform for the emerging writers and book lovers alike. The literature lovers and fans welcomed the speakers and the talks with open arms.  From little kids to grandmas and grandpas, everybody was seen enjoying the festival with great passion and zeal.

The most interesting session, in my opinion, was the one where Zambeel did a dramatic reading of two of Urdu literature’s finest works called Nazara Darmiyaan Hai and Ghoongat by writers, Qurutulain Hyder and Ismat Chughtai respectively. The hall was packed from the front till the back. It seemed as if everybody had came to see the show. People stood at the back and sat on the floor, despite having no seats left. It was amazing to see that not only the adults were eager to see the show; many of the university and college-going students were quite eager in the session, too.

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The session started off with the introduction of the two best of the best writers of Urdu literature. The audience seemed gripped from the first word till the last. As many of you might know, Ismat Chughtai, who was bestowed the title ‘Lady Changez Khan,’ by Qurutulain Hyder in return gave her the nickname ‘Pom Pom Darling’. The audience loved the humor, judging by the constant applause and their genuine laughter. The traditional sound of the tabla and the sitar at the background literally brought back the feelings of being in the olden days. The atmosphere seemed serene and simple, yet very natural.

Both writers’ works seemed fascinating to me and I am sure that the audience shared the same sentiment. Many of you, like me, might have read Qurutulain Hyder’s Nazara Darmiyaan Hai as part of their O’Level Urdu syllabus. Listening to the story brought back old memories of the good ole’ school days, where Urdu was a mandatory course to take. However, this was the first time I heard about Ismat Chughtai’s Ghoonghat. Apart from the flourishing language and the humorous plot, what interested me was the way she had shown how our society objectifies the woman.

The short story is loosely set, in a period of 30 years, about the lives of Kalay Mian and Gori Bi, starting with their wedding day and their lives afterwards. Throughout the story, one cannot ignore the messages that come across. We are reminded of individual pride, attachment to false traditions and societal pressures that ultimately destroys the married couple’s lives. Ghoonghat, like other works by Chughtai, reveals the state of women in our society and the issues that they faced then and are still facing today.

Like mentioned in the short story through elderly characters, Chughtai reveals the establishment of a belief in our so backward society that a woman’s job is only to please her husband, obey his commands and fulfill his wishes no matter what happens. When Gori Bi disobeys her husband, Kalay Mian on their wedding night by not lifting her ghoonghat when asked to, she might as well have committed a crime. Kalay Mian was furious and he left his bride. When people told him to lift his bride’s ghoonghat himself, his ego became abnormally huge. And in retaliation he never consummated the marriage. And Gori Bi remained untouched, i.e. a virgin, after her wedding night and throughout.

The elder female characters in the short story repeat the duty of a woman to keep her husband fulfilled, satisfied and happy again and again as a mantra. It is something that even today, at this day and age, is thought of as true. Basically, Chughtai highlights the issue, that is, that our society has objectified the woman as being something that pleases her husband, is inferior to his dominant self, and ultimately becomes his puppet while he pulls the strings and rules their world.

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