ASSIGNMENT 1: Lihaf’ by Ismat Chughtai

“After marrying Begum Jan and installing her in the house along with the furniture, the Nawab Sahib totally forgot her presence, leaving the frail young Begum to pine in loneliness.”           Discuss ‘Lihaf’ in the light of this statement.

In the light of the above statement, Ismat Chughtai’s celebrated masterpiece “Lihaf” needs to be analysed under the interwoven themes of marriage, subjugation of women and the oppression and neglect of female sexuality and desire. Here, in a style typical of her, Chughtai raises important questions on marriage as an economic and social enterprise, the socially constructed sub-ordinate role of women in marriage, her sexual fantasies and frustrations and her subsequent sense of loneliness.

The Nawab “installing her (Begum Jan) in the house along with furniture” highlights how the institution of marriage commodified women and reduced her to the object of a mere business transaction. Chughtai critiques the mercenary aspect of marriage that dehumanizes women to fulfil societal obligations and dreams of upward mobility. Begum Jan was married off to the Nawab by her family, in spite of their age difference, so as to rid themselves of the financial burden and social taboo of having an unmarried woman in the house. Moreover, since Begum Jan’s family was not well-off, they saw in her marriage to the rich and influential Nawab a favourable economic option. The status accorded to marriage as an unbreakable social norm, an unquestionable obligation is also dealt with. It was and even today is to a large extent one of the most important and absolutely essential tenets of society. Even the Nawab, irrespective of his immense power and formidable position, had to marry, although the opposite sex held no appeal for him owing to his “mysterious hobby”. In the process, he imprisoned the poor Begum to the repressive customs that marriage and society forced a woman to comply with. However, while the Nawab continued his homosexual exploits, the Begum was condemned to a life of confinement and subjugation. The Nawab had no “time to spare from the boys to look at her” and he would not let her “go visit other people” He never displayed any interest in his wife’s life, her wishes, desires and problems and in fact, completely neglected and dismissed her presence in his life. Begum Jan was just his social stamp of approval, a heterosexual cover to escape ridicule and suspicion of society for his inborn homosexual orientation. Beyond that, the Nawab “totally forgot her presence”

Such an inequality in marriage was symbolic of the subjugation and oppression of women. Begum Jan’s self critical contemplation whether biological birth itself was the root cause of all her pain and sufferings in life, is indeed a profound comment by Chughtai on the terrible plight of women under patriarchy. It is a scathing attack on the patriarchal society that subjects the female race to discrimination and oppression, accords them a lower status and provides lesser opportunities and almost no choices to them in comparison to their male counterparts from their very inception into this world; it is a cursed life from the very beginning.

The given statement also brings out how female sexuality is never paid heed, her needs and desires are not acknowledged even in marriage. Women are conditioned against expression of their sexuality. The Nawab was totally oblivious of or rather chose to ignore the existing sexuality of his new bride. He fails to realise that she had entered this marriage with certain hopes and desires, which included sexual fantasies. As he romanced his young boys “in translucent kurtas” and “fitting churidars”, he never bothered to acknowledge the sexual expectations of his own wife, who lay confined and neglected. Agreed Nawab’s homosexual tendencies prevented any sexual interest on his part for his wife, but even a concern for her starved sexual life was completely missing. The very fact that he wilfully imprisoned a young girl to meet the societal obligation of marriage, never bothering about how he would never be able to fulfil her sexual needs speaks in length about the repression and lack of agency given to female sexuality.

How such inequality and oppression can lead a woman into a sense of complete loneliness, detachment and depression is another important aspect that the quoted line throws light on. While the Nawab fulfilled his homosexual desires, Begum Jan, peeping from the chinks in the drawing room, “felt she was rolling on a bed of live coals”. Such was her pain and desperation at the Nawab’s complete oblivion to her presence. As all her prayers and vows to the Almighty, and her efforts to charm the Nawab proved completely fruitless, she was heartbroken and her self-esteem was destroyed. She stopped dressing up or deriving joy from any royal privileges. “What’s the use of applying leeches to a stone?” she would ask herself. She turned to literature for solace, but even this proved to be in vain. Romantic novels and sentimental poetry made her all the more aware of her own starved desires and fantasies and left her feeling even more lonely, neglected and dejected. Gripped by a sense of failure and disillusion at failing to attract the Nawab, Begum Jan sinks to a pitiable condition, losing sleep and peace of mind; and becoming “a bundle of regret and despondence.”

In conclusion, it can be said that the redeeming feature of this story, however, lies in the fact that Chughtai does not leave Begum Jan in this state of complete desolation and immense depression, but allows her the agency to make a bold ‘choice’ of homosexuality in indulging with the maidservant Rabbu “who pulled her back from the brink”. Irrespective of whether the story in the end, endorses homosexual behaviour or not, the very fact that Begum Jha is allowed some sort of sexual autonomy in the midst of a scenario of confinement, subjugation, repression and social ridicule leaves behind an emphatic message.

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8 Responses to “Lihaf by Chughtai”

  1. Aayushi Jain Says:

    it z nyc………………but can i get more assignment’s answers over here related 2 dis text?

  2. nishant bana Says:

    Excellently Written ! Loved That It Was Just Not The Summary Which Most Of The Students Write But It Was Critically View And Definitely Define The Social Status of Women In Indian Society !

    Ps: 4/5

  3. surbhi wadhwa Says:

    vry nicely criticised..quotes r alotted appropriately…A properly xplaned answr
    ..!!

  4. RAHUL Says:

    MIND U THAT’S NOT “BEGUM JHA” towards the end of the analysis
    it’s begum jan

  5. farrukh Says:

    nice analysis. can u please give me the year when lahaaf was written originally

  6. farrukh Says:

    can some one please give me the year lahaaf was originally wrote. i want to analysis it withe time period.

  7. muhammad naeem Says:

    its good anaiysis of the story

  8. Hepzibah Says:

    A good analysis of the above quoted statement. This article was very helpful. Thank you.

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