BWW Review: JASHAN-E-QALAM : CHHUMUI - A TALE BY ISMAT CHUGTAI at Digital - Live Play: Performed By Shashwita Sharma

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In this time of Lock down we cannot take the pleasure of spending our evening or weekends watching plays and performances in the theatres. But technology has bought a whole new world of stories right into our living room. I spent last week watching Shashwita Sharma enact a short story written by Ismat Chughtai called - Chhumui ( The Sensitive One). If one can recall 'Chhumui' or the 'Touch Me Not' plant is famed for disallowing anyone to hold it, it immediately bundles itself. The writer Ismat Chughtai has envisioned women from her traditional family as the 'Chhumui'. She equates them to be untouched and subliminal to the evils of the society. Born in August 1915, Ismat came from a Muslim family in modern day Uttar Pradesh. She was ninth of the ten children born to Nusrat Khanam and Mirza Qaseem.

BWW Review: JASHAN-E-QALAM : CHHUMUI - A TALE BY ISMAT CHUGTAI  at Digital - Live Play: Performed By Shashwita Sharma

The birth of a new child is regarded as a blessing, but not in her family, if a woman is pregnant then a virgin, unmarried woman is not supposed to be present during the childbirth. This is viewed as a highly unlucky event in her community, it is said if an unmarried woman graces her presence during childbirth she will remain a spinster forever. In that case she must remain concealed and hidden till her marriage, but due to some misfortune Ismat witnesses the birth of a child during a train journey.

Her sister-in-law who has undergone multiple miscarriages is once again pregnant, this time she completes her full term and is due any moment. There was another dilemma in the family, since her sister-in-law couldn't get pregnant all this while, Ismat's brother had been cheating in on her. Ismat's sister-in-law had remained pained in her heart and she felt depressed most of the time thinking that her husband would ditch her for another woman. And when her sister-in-law conceived again then that time, not only did the family call an exorcist to pray for her, but even the doctors from Delhi came to take care of her. She was was kept under several examinations, no-body was even allowed to sneeze near the pregnant woman, this was to keep bad luck away.

BWW Review: JASHAN-E-QALAM : CHHUMUI - A TALE BY ISMAT CHUGTAI  at Digital - Live Play: Performed By Shashwita Sharma

Later the family decided to take her to Aligarh for delivery, Ismat's sister was not too keen for the train journey. A full compartment was booked in their name, Ismat, her sister-in-law and Bi-Muglai, Ismat's mother. As the train chugged it became painful for her sister-in-law who was near labour. Then suddenly when the train had reached a station, a beggar woman who was pregnant boarded the compartment in a hurry. While the ladies tried to shoo her away the train had already started again. The beggar lady gave birth right in front of the three staring woman, Ismat's mother was furious as the compartment had become dirty and plus young unmarried Ismat had witnessed the birth of a child. She threw a flurry of curses on the beggar for traumatizing them with birth scenes.

The beggar woman calmly wrapped her baby in ragged clothes and got down at the next station. Ismat's mother kept cursing her since she now believed that Ismat would remain an unmarried virgin for life, before she could scold Ismat over the issue, her daughter-in-law screamed. She had delived a premature baby right in the train compartment, due to stress of witnessing another mother give birth, her sister-in-law had suffered miscarriage once again.

Shashwita Sharma performed this short story with graceful detailing, the fear of Ismat's sister-in-law in her voice and the anger of Ismat's mother etched on her face. She meticulously created the scene in the train compartment, the beggar woman asking for a sharp piece to cut the umbilical cord. The bad mouthed curses of Ismat's mother and the sympathethic reaction of young Ismat towards the beggar. Shashwita potrayed through her performance Ismat Chugtai's circumstances of being a middle class Muslim women. Chui Mui, deals with how women are written off as merely heir producing entities in the patriarchal society of India.

Such bold feminism and reformist written pieces aimed at convalescing the lives of Muslim women. This play outlined the tale of a woman's sexuality and how marriage is seen as a necessity in her life. Ismat Chugtai bought to light the perils of a woman during seemingly more intolerant times. The lack of a veil is why her stories remain undying in their abiliy to hit arrows in the readers's hearts. Ismat Chugtai's rebel literature continues to be the beacon of loud feminist voice, well past her death in 1991. The tides of time cannot erase her words, after all.


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From This Author Mary Anthony