- Harshita Grover
Ismat Chughtai was one of the most eminent women writers. Her writings scoop out courage, bold, expressive side of female sexuality which serves as a paradoxical imagery to the submissive, repressed and meek sexuality that patriarchy presses upon women.
Lihaf – a story not about a quilt but it is about the sexual activities that undertake beneath the lihaf. Lihaf is a story about a young Muslim lady (Begum Jaan) married to a rich Nawab who was a bit advanced in age, otherwise a very pious man who had gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca and had helped many other Muslims to undertake the pilgrimage to the holy shrine. The story is being narrated by a tiny girl of nine years who had a habit to frequently pick a quarrel with the girls and boys of her peer group and was send off by her mother to stay with Begum Jaan. The narrator found no other child of her age to play with and her stay with Begum appeared more like a punishment. The Nawab Sahib had a mysterious habit to invite young, fair-faced boys with slim waists and liked to spend the entire day chatting and playing with them.
However, it is so sad to know that after Begum and Nawab got tied themselves in a conjugal arrangement. Nawab used to hardly spend time with her. She was transported in the Nawab’s house as a trophy achieved by a patriarchal male to keep up the patriarchal order. Given that after marriage it is the women who leave her parents house and gets deported to her husband’s place. Begum Jaan’s position was being objectified; she felt like furniture, totally forgot her presence. She felt dejected and it appeared like she is rolling on a bed of coals as she watched Nawab spending the whole day with those young boys. Leaving her to feel unimportant, dejected and rejected. From the behavior of Nawab, it could also be assumed that he was homosexual in nature but due to the patriarchy; he dreaded to carry out his sexuality in its complete sense so as to keep up his blind and distorted image of a patriarchal male pursuing his dominance and chauvinism in a heterosexual marriage. Begum Jaan was confined in the four walls of the house. She felt restricted as she was unable to be her own self after marriage. She was undergoing heavy existential and identity crises. She was unable to define who she is, what roles she has to play in her life and felt that her sense of self is pushed to lead a life like that of a stone. It was Rabbu who brought Begum Jaan back to life. Rabbu used to rub her back all day and within a couple of days Begum Jaan’s body began to feel full, her cheeks started glowing. The narrator observed how rabbu’s hands moved up and down Begum Jaan’s body. Both of them used to spend huge long hours inside the bathroom.
The narrator’s cot was placed next to Begum Jaan’s bed. However, sometimes narrator woke up, feeling a strange kind of dread. Begum Jaan’s lihaf was rocking as though an elephant was caught in it. The lihaf rocking like that of an elephant reveals the sexual relationship of Begum and Rabbu and also suggests the fulfilment of Begum’s sexual desire as Nawab failed to prove as a companion.
The story tries to mock the hypocrisy of Indian society in which it gives freedom to men to do whatever they wish to do. The story not only presents a liberal manner to explore your sexuality but it also asserts that women alone are sufficient to satisfy themselves emotionally and sexually.