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Why your next gripping read is by female writer Ismat Chughtai

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Susan Devaney
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Yesterday Google Doodle celebrated the writer Ismat Chughtai’s 107th birthday; today people are adding her books to their reading list. 

As far as rebels go, Ismat Chughtai is up there with the likes of Rosa Parks, Carrie Fisher, Frida Kahlo and Emmeline Pankhurst. Not only was she the first Indian Muslim woman to gain both a bachelor of arts and a bachelor’s in education degree, but she tirelessly fought for women’s voices to be heard.

In 1942, after publishing Lihaaf (The Quilt), Chughtai had to face a public outcry. With a plot that revolves around a romantic relationship between a wealthy landlord’s wife and her female servant, people weren’t willing to accept the depiction of a same-sex relationship. The author soon found herself in court facing charges of obscenity but she refused to back down.

“I am still labelled as the writer of Lihaaf. The story brought me so much notoriety that I got sick of life,” she wrote in 2012. “It became the proverbial stick to beat me with and whatever I wrote afterwards got crushed under its weight.”

Now considered to be a classic, Chughtai was awarded the Padma Shree in India for her contributions to literature which is why people have been celebrating the late author’s body of work on Twitter. 

Chughtai has written 42 incredible books. Here are our top four to read on your commute. 

Lifting The Veil 

With an introduction written by Kamila Shamsie, this collection of writing explores the complexities of life and challenges societal norms. Not only is it funny, but it was ahead of its time in terms of exploring female sexuality. 

Viking, £6.19

The Heart Breaks Free & The Wild One

Two stories, two women and two very different approaches to being single. Chughtai challenges class division, while beautifully writing about the intoxication of young love. 

Kali for Women, £14.50

The Crooked Line

Following the life of Shamman, Chughtai challenges the traditional role set for women in India. Not only does she rebel against tradtional roles but also cultural expectations, too. 

Kali for Women, £18.80

A Life in Words

From her childhood years to her fight to be educated, Chughtai recalls the crucial moments in her life that helped her to find her voice as a writer. 

Penguin, £10.99

Images: Unsplash / Courtesy of publishers 

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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