Lihaf

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“After marrying Begum Jan and installing her in the house along with the furniture, the Nawab Sahib totally forgot her presence, leaving the frail young Begum to pine in loneliness.” Discuss ‘Lihaf’ in the light of this statement.

In the light of the above statement, Ismat Chughtai’s celebrated masterpiece “Lihaf” needs to be analysed under the interwoven themes of marriage, subjugation of women and the oppression and neglect of female sexuality and desire. Here, in a style typical of her, Chughtai raises important questions on marriage as an economic and social enterprise, the socially constructed sub-ordinate role of women in marriage, her sexual fantasies and frustrations and her subsequent sense of loneliness.

The Nawab “installing her (Begum Jan) in the house along with furniture” highlights how the institution of marriage commodified women and reduced her to the object of a mere business transaction. Chughtai critiques the mercenary aspect of marriage that dehumanizes women to fulfil societal obligations and dreams of upward mobility. Begum Jan was married off to the Nawab by her family, in spite of their age difference, so as to rid themselves of the financial burden and social taboo of having an unmarried woman in the house. Moreover, since Begum Jan’s family was not well-off, they saw in her marriage to the rich and influential Nawab a favourable economic option. The status accorded to marriage as an unbreakable social norm, an unquestionable obligation is also dealt with. It was and even today is to a large extent one of the most important and absolutely essential tenets of society. Even the Nawab, irrespective of his immense power and formidable position, had to marry, although the opposite sex held no appeal for him owing to his “mysterious hobby”. In the process, he imprisoned the poor Begum to the repressive customs that marriage and society forced a woman to comply with. However, while the Nawab continued his homosexual exploits,...
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