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Lihaaf by Ismat Chughtai

An Urdu short story, ‘Lihaaf’ or 'The Quilt’ is petrifying retention of an unnamed narrator that occurred during her childhood. The masterwork published in 1942 ‘Lihaaf’ or 'The Quilt’, not only made Ismat Chughtai well-known not only with its controversies but was banned as well.

Dealing with the themes of homosexuality, sexual judgement and curbed female yearning this writing was published in Adab-i-Latif.The story 'Lihaaf' or 'The Quilt' bring out arrays of female sexuality and lesbianism, which was a leading-edge work of Ismat Chughtai.

Such writings had never been seen so amenably in Urdu literature, particularly by a female writer. In order to guard herself for this work, Chugtai even had present herself before the Lahore Court


The story brings into being when once the narrator’s mother went to Agra and she was left with Begum Jaan, the adopted sister of her mother. The girly meets never fascinated her. The other girls of the narrator’s age were involved in girly games, while she was tiring fighting with her brother and brothers friend.

The story deals with subjugation, marriage, mistreatment of female longing and sexuality. The character of Begum Jaan gives a major sight into these defects. Begum Jaan was married to a Nawab, years older to Begum Jaan.

Because of his upright nature, he never visited prostitutes. Not attracted in women, but in young men. She did try to draw his attention but the Nawab didn’t nudge an inch. With this, the absolute obligation in society to get married is emphasised by Chughtai.

Indeed this obligation made the Nawab marry Begum Jan despite his “strange hobby” to be engrossed with young boys “in translucent kurtas” and “fitting churidars”.

This made him entirely neglect and dismiss the existence of Begum Jaan in his life and she was not even permitted to go out. The life of the begum Jaan was brought into quarantine and suppression by the nawab.


Yearning for Love

The outlooks and desires of a newly-married girl were also deserted. The yearning for being loved was not pleased by her husband. The beauty of the begum stayed untouched. ‘Rabbu was one of the characters who came to liberate her from this yearning by her oil massage.

The lost radiance and charm were being recouped in the face of Begum Jaan. The oil message became ‘the basic necessities of life’. The sight of Rabbu massaging or rubbing at all hours was becoming intolerable for the narrator, also the other maids mumbled in displeasure. The little girl was made to sleep in another bed adjacent to Begum’s.

Sexual Relationship

The narrator was frightened at the vigorously shaking of the Begum’s quilt as though an ‘elephant’ was struggling inside. Also, the homosexual association is shown with the slurping sound of a cat licking a plate at night.

Once when Rabbu went to meet her son, she was substituted by the little girl who offered to rub her back as Begum Jaan rejected to eat and sleep.

The narrator tells how the love of the Begum was uttered with sensuous breaths allowing her to touch all the parts of her body. The little girl was made to sleep in the arms of Begum that night and made her nervous by rubbing the body of her’s too. She was being pressed like a clay doll and the girl wanted to scream. The little girl did not want to stay any longer.


The short story Lihaaf being narrated by a little girl and it is seen from her perspective. At last, the narrator chooses to untangle the mystery of the elephant inside the Lihaaf, next what she sees remains a mystery.

Thus the Lihaaf cloaks as well as provokes. The final statement of the little girl, “Good God! I gasped and plunged into my bed” when she sees something that she should not have seen. The homosexual relationship in Begum is being designated that she had developed as her husband did not gratify the sexual desires of hers.

This caused all the arguments in the story.


Ismat Chughtai was a freethinker, an educationist, and an image of women's empowerment. Above everything else, she was a woman who understood the complications of a woman's mind, their shyness, and also their furtive desires and all of her writings revealed these difficulties in lengths. She stayed as one of the most commanding voices in Urdu literature of the 20th century, the one who bravely talked by feminine sexuality through her influential writing.


A look at some of the famous books by Ismat Chughtai:

1.'My Friend, My Enemy': An important contribution to the social fabric of her life and times.

2.'A Life in Words': An intimate view of a writer's struggle to find her own voice in contemporary society.

3.'Lifting the Veil': Chughtai talked about female sexuality with complete frankness and examined the political and social mores of her time.

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