Ismat Chugtai’s “Lihaaf”: A Non-Normative Love Affair Between Two Women


  • Debalina Konar PG Scholar, Department of English, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India


Homosexuality, marriage, oppressive domesticity, identity, lesbianism


Ismat Chughtai’s short story “Lihaaf” (The Quilt) created controversy as soon as it was published in 1942 in an Urdu journal “Adaab-E-Latif”. Although the story does not make any direct mention of same-sex relationships, it gained much notoriety for the depiction of the erotic relationship between Begum Jaan and her maid, Rabbu with sexual overtones. The hidden space of the zenana becomes the place on which homosexual relationship is practiced. The “lihaaf” or the quilt becomes a wrapping to hide the forbidden desires of the womenfolk. The story was considered obscene for writing about forbidden desire and narrated by a six-year-old girl who is an eye witness of the whole incident of lesbian desire, and the writer was summoned to the Lahore High court. Begum Jaan is married to a Nawab who is much older than her a no interest in her. She is uncared for and spends sleepless nights; she tries to attract the attention of her husband but in vain. It is hinted in the story that the Nawab is interested in slim and fair boys and it can be assumed that he is engaged in homosexual relationship with them. The story depicts the objectification of Begum Jaan in the domestic sphere and her desperate attempt to satisfy her sexual desire by engaging in a homoerotic desire with her masseur Rabbu. In this paper I will analyze the newly found lesbian identity of Begum and her sexual liberation as an attempt to defy the patriarchal norms and assertion of her self-identity.