25 Years

Love, Sex, and Transgression: The Feminist Writer and Issues of Representation

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 3:00pm
Event Location: 
Heller 537

Abstract:  My play ‘Ismat’s Love Stories’ (2017) originated from my fascination with Ismat Chughtai’s negotiations with her iconic story ‘Lihaf’ (The Quilt) (1941). Celebrated as one of the earliest stories about same sex relationship between two women in modern Indian literature and endlessly anthologised, it was the reason for Chughtai being dragged to court on a charge of obscenity along with her friend, Saadat Hasan Manto. Their fearless defence of creative purpose is legendary. However, much to Manto’s chagrin, Chughtai had in private conversation with him, in interviews and in print ‘disavowed’ ‘Lihaf’ by stating that she had no idea she was writing about lesbianism; she was sorry that she wrote it; and, also, that she had decided to never write in this way again. My play dramatises this ‘instinctive feminist’s’ [1]questioning of Manto’s idealisation of (what were considered at that time) transgressive sexual acts. She is uncomfortable not only by his valorisation of ‘Lihaf’ but also challenges his representations of the ‘prostitute’ figure.

I will present a clip from ‘Ismat’s Love Stories’ followed with instances from my work where I have grappled with transgressive love, extramarital longings, and sexual abuse. With reference to my earlier bilingual play, ‘Sarkari Feminism’ (Feminism as the State Ordains) (2010), novels Idol Love (1999) and Dirty Picture (2008), and novel-in-progress ‘My Family Drama in Too Many Acts’ I ask the question: How does a contemporary Indian writer, who identifies as feminist and activist, represent sex and transgression realistically and in a just manner? 

[1] Rakshanda Jalil’s appellation for the writer in An Uncivil Woman: Essays on Ismat Chughtai


Bio:  Anuradha Marwah is an author and academic. She teaches in Zakir Husain College, Delhi University. She was Fulbright Visiting Faculty at ICGC, UMN in Fall 2017.