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Title: Guldaan – گُل دان
Author: Ismat Chughtai, ed. by Jameel Akhtar
Year of Publication: 2017
Format: ebook, Hardcover
Number of Pages: 256
Ismat Chughtai, Jameel Akhtar
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Nayab Malik (verified owner) – January 30, 2019
Before “Guldaan,” I had only read one of Ismat Chughtai’s works: “The Quilt” and that too in English. Despite the fact that translated works can never do justice to the original, I was drawn in by two things: one, the fact that Chughtai blatantly flouted social conceptions/ideals and two, she ripped off a whole layer of shine off of a rotten core, which is to say she exposed what people really do and how they act. These, I found, were fundamentals of Chughtai’s works in almost all of the short stories in “Guldaan.”
Chughtai was the original rebel, the girl who would not and could not conform. And this is evident in her work: take ‘Zeher Ka Pyala’ for example. She pulls no punches and adds no gloss to her language in describing the anna’s son’s ordeal: he is shown to be scuttling around, almost like an animal, in his own filth until he sleeps and just never wakes up. This imagery, her talent, drew me in even more to ‘Guldaan,’ the story that ensured I didn’t get to sleep for two nights after. Chughtai didn’t explore this theme of magical realism in many of her other works but she could have wreaked havoc on the literary world if she had. In ‘Guldaan’ she relates the story of a woman who might or might not be mentally ill. She sees things that might or might not be real; in any case, the visions are explicitly real to her. A vase with stagnant water seems to act as an artificial womb and the protagonist sees a child emerge from the vase; I got goosebumps when the child is described crawling towards her with blue shivering lips and quivering limbs. The narrator also espouses on how many other children must have been born in the drains and would have had to live without a mother to love them.
‘Guldaan’ reminded me of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ in which a woman who is deemed to be mad eventually does lose her mind because she is trapped at the mercy of external forces. There can be no other comparison because in my opinion, Chughtai’s vivid, often repulsive imagery is superior and cannot be matched. Reading her work was like watching a human tragedy unfold; it’s incredibly realistic, repugnant and yet fascinating. She also uses Urdu just as she likes: I had trouble navigating through some words/ideas but at the end, I felt I’d earned the story. Chughtai made me work for it and I kept coming back for more.
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Momina Hafeez (verified owner) – April 14, 2019
Thank you Parhai Likhai for sending me this beautiful book! I’m having a great reading and couldn’t more thankful to you for it. Without further ado, here’s my review of the stories I’ve read so far from the collection:
Sometimes you pick up a book and the material it has to offer you makes you realise that you were totally meant to read this book at this time and that at no other time would it have made more sense. This is what happened to me when I started reading this book, Guldaan by Ismat Chugtai. I was already reading A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf and Sexual Politics by Kate Millet, both of which are highly renowned authors in the feminist tradition, when I decided to dig into this one. And precisely because I was reading just the very best kind of feminist literature that ever was produced in the history of mankind (and that of womankind of course!), I was in a better position to gauge the worth, so to speak, of this well-celebrated feminist writer of the Subcontinent. And trust me when I say that that she isn’t called one of the best Urdu writers, feminist and otherwise, for no reason. I’ll shed some light on that in the following paragraphs.
Guldaan is a collection of short stories and essays by the author. And as I read one story after another in the collection, I could myself being immersed in the awe of what I was reading. Story after story made me realise that Chugtai talks about things in her fiction that Woolf and Millet have penned down in the form of literary theory. And I’m not saying that she has just blindly copied whatever Western feminists have already. On the contrary, her work seems so original because it is highly rooted in geographical and historical context that it emerges from. It’s just that genius has a way of being similar no matter where it is spotted, and that is what I mean when I say that these three women writers’ works have something strikingly common among them. .. .. The first story that I read from the book was “Zehar Ka Piyala”. It is about a young mother who belongs to a very poor social class and has to work as a little girl’s nurse at a rich house in order to make ends meet. The tragedy here is that because she spends all her time nursing and taking care of the little rich girl, she has no milk or time left to give her own son who’s also only a toddler. As the time passes the rich girl grows fatter and fatter on the love and nutrition given to her by the poor maid, while her son grows weak and ill due to malnutrition. Things keep on going this way until the child dies of sickness. The “pilyala” or a kind of cup mentioned in the title is significant here as it is the only source of consolation that exists there for the poor little poor, the only thing that he can bite onto while he is being gradually starved to death. This tale broke my heart so badly and I felt so sorry for the countless such little boys and girls who suffer this fate because their mothers are whisked away from them or are other unable to feed properly because of poverty. It is a powerful tale, one which will stay with me for a long time. .. .. “Nwala” or “Morsel” is a story about a middle-aged lady health health worker who is still unmarried and therefore thought of as a burden on the face of the earth. This woman has many admires but has never considered anyone seriously enough to think about actually getting married. She earns her own money, lives independently and is very popular within her community, yet she is still thought of as incomplete. This story is a comment on the convoluted ideas of our society when it comes to designating women their worth. Chugtai uses the metaphor of the “morsel” for women because she believes that that is the only status reserved for women in our society. They are looked at as commodities to be consumed by the men and nothing else. And in order to make it look more appealing, so many different chutnies and pickles of make up and jewellery are added to the plain morsel as if the morsel itself has no worth. .. .. “Cheeni ki Gurya”: This one is actually an essay and it discusses how it is important for actresses to work on their acting skills instead of relying on their beauty and looks. This one and also “Devta” made me realise how involved Chugtai was with the film industry and knew the absolute nitty-gritty of it. I haven’t read her biography yet but I’m pretty sure she had deep relations with the industry in Bombay. Anyway, this essay discusses how the status of the female actor has gradually diminished in the films from being the very focus of attention to the mere margins. She contributes this dilemma to actresses paying too much attention their external beauty than trying to improve their craft. She believes that the actresses of the time are too busy copying each others’ hairstyles and make-up techniques that they have demoted themselves to the status of mere objects. She thinks it the women in the industry themselves who are responsible for this sort of trend, and it is something that needs to be amended by them in order to actually regain their previous, much grander roles in the films. .. .. “Dhoksla” is a short story comments on the worsening state of educational affairs in the country. Chugtai notes how it is the degrees that are important for the rich students that frequent these big colleges in India, and that how these students are very much aware of the security of their social status. This sense of security leads them to treat these educational institutions as degree-making machines and the teachers there as mere observers and sometimes even collaborators in the process of achieving these degrees in all the wrong ways. She comments on how cheating during examination is rampant, and if a teacher is so stupid as to object to it, they are instantly threatened and removed from the teachinh position for being a hurdle in the paths of these privileged students. Mostly, she believes, these teachers are complicit in making sure that this whole cheating enterprise runs smoothly and are indefinitely rewarded by the parents of the rich kids as well. Reading this essay made me realise how corruption has seeped into every single institution of our society and that is probably responsible for where we stand as a society today.
Stay tuned for the next parts of the review as well!
Momina Hafeez (verified owner) – July 22, 2019
In this second part of this book’s review, I have chosen to comment on those stories by Ismat Chugtai that have left a lasting impression on my mind, and those were quite a few to be honest.
The first one that I would like to comment on is “Bichu Boti” because of how amazing I think it is. This short story presents a case study in the poisonous characteristics of human nature and how some individuals can break those around them down by just being their lethal selves. It shows how people use other people to gain whatever social and financial benefits that they desire. But it also sheds light on how those predators may yet become victims of the same kind of vile, predatory ambitions of others.
The story “Pathar Ka Dil” is about a young girl, belonging to a small town, who comes to a big city in India to stay with her aunt who seems to have dubious sources of income. The girl is awestruck by the glam and glitter of her aunt’s life but soon realizes that all this luxury comes at a price of selling one’s body and honour. At the end of the story she also comes face to face with the harsh realization that she too has to sell herself if she wishes to have a comfortable lifestyle. Chugtai’s style is very simple in this story yet it has the ability to convey all the bitter disillusionment that the young girl has to suffer from.
“Tera Hath” is an interesting commentary on the social divisions and subdivisions we have in our society. The protagonist of this story tries to resist the rigid stratification of society by falling in love with a man who is not only a social pariah, but also a mental one. It is one of the most intriguing tales that I came across while reading this book.
“Penny” is the best story out of all the stories that this collection has in my opinion. It is very direct in its dealing with the hypocrisy that we attach with honour and the female body. I’m amazed at how Chugtai able to write so brazenly about a topic that is controversial in our society even today. It just goes to show that some writers are way ahead of their times and manage to depart their wisdom in their works for generations to take advantage of.
The last story is called “Akhri Kahani” and it is said to be an unfinished manuscript. However, I believe that it still manages to convey the meaning that Chugtai would have wanted her readers to understand from it. It shed light on the transience of human relationships and how they have this flexibility to adjust to different situations. It’s a story about a man and wife who have a very unstable marriage, but at the same time manage to stick with each other no matter how much they apparently loathe to do so.
I am so thankful to Parhai Likhai for sending me this book and giving me an opportunity to read Ismat Chugtai because it had been my dream for such a long time.
Iqra Abbas (verified owner) – May 16, 2019
I get this book from @parhlikh and their services are extremely good. There is one question in everyone’s mind that why #parhlikh , there are many other bookstores , The only reason is that , they are not only selling books but Actually they promote our culture, specially urdu literature, they Reborn the love of books. They have both English and urdu literature with very low prices
Now come to the book “Guldan written by Ismat Chughtai ”
To be a female, Muslim Indian writer is to be burdened by a triptych of prejudices; colonialism, patriarchy and zealotry. Yet, rather than be weighed down by this load, Chughtai’s prose soars majestically above the cultural cliches and convolutions.
In “Guldan” her story “Zahir ka Piyala” is best one from all stories. I can’t sleep properly after reading that . In story , a poor women works in rich family to fulfil needs. She has to nursing , take care of little girl , while lactation to little girl , She has no milk for her own son . As time passes litte Girl become Healthier and her own son become too weak due to insufficient milk syndrome , which causes His death . This story placed you in shocked position, Writer do her best to describing even little details.
There are many other interesting stories in “Guldan” If you wana read realistic stuff , you must have “Guldan” in your hands and Trust me you never get disappointed.
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