Exploring the Controversial Story of Lihaaf


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The story “Lihaaf” by Ismat Chughtai is a provocative and controversial piece of literature that has sparked discussions and debates since its publication in 1942. The story, which revolves around themes of sexuality, power dynamics, and societal norms, challenges conventional notions of morality and explores the complexities of human relationships.


Ismat Chughtai was a prominent Urdu writer who defied societal norms through her bold and progressive writing. “Lihaaf,” also known as “The Quilt,” is one of her most famous works and has been both celebrated for its subversive themes and criticized for its explicit content.

The story is set in the early 20th century in a traditional Muslim household in British India. It follows the narrator, a young girl, as she observes the complex relationship between her aunt, Begum Jan, and her masseuse, Rabbu. The story unfolds as the narrator becomes increasingly aware of the intimate and possibly romantic nature of the relationship between the two women, which is symbolized by the heavy quilt that always covers them when they are together.


Sexuality and Repression: One of the central themes of “Lihaaf” is the exploration of repressed sexuality. The relationship between Begum Jan and Rabbu challenges the traditional norms of heterosexual relationships and highlights the often unspoken and taboo nature of non-normative sexualities.

Power and Vulnerability: The story also delves into power dynamics, particularly the ways in which individuals exert power over each other in relationships. Begum Jan, as a wealthy and influential woman, holds power over Rabbu, who is economically dependent on her. However, Rabbu also wields a different kind of power through her intimate relationship with Begum Jan.

Societal Norms and Hypocrisy: Through the characters and their interactions, Chughtai critiques the double standards and hypocrisy present in societal norms. The secrecy and discretion with which Begum Jan and Rabbu conduct their relationship highlight the Veil of respectability that hides the realities of human desires and relationships.


Chughtai’s exploration of these themes in “Lihaaf” was groundbreaking for its time and remains relevant today. The story challenges readers to question their own prejudices and preconceptions about gender, sexuality, and power dynamics. By depicting a relationship that defies traditional norms, Chughtai forces her audience to confront the complexities and nuances of human interactions.


“Lihaaf” faced significant backlash upon its publication, with many critics condemning its explicit content and challenging its moral implications. The story was even the subject of a famous obscenity trial in 1944, where Chughtai was charged with obscenity for her portrayal of same-sex relationships in the story. However, Chughtai defended her work as a reflection of reality and a critique of societal norms.


Despite the controversy surrounding it, “Lihaaf” has endured as a seminal work of Urdu literature. It has been praised for its boldness, its exploration of complex themes, and its groundbreaking depiction of same-sex relationships in South Asian literature. Chughtai’s unapologetic approach to storytelling has inspired generations of writers to push boundaries and challenge conventions in their work.


“Lihaaf” by Ismat Chughtai remains a powerful and thought-provoking piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today. Through its exploration of sexuality, power dynamics, and societal norms, the story challenges us to confront our own biases and preconceptions. By defying traditional norms and pushing boundaries, Chughtai has left a lasting impact on Urdu literature and paved the way for future generations of writers to explore themes of identity, desire, and agency in their work.


1. What is the significance of the quilt in “Lihaaf”?

The quilt in “Lihaaf” symbolizes the physical and emotional intimacy between Begum Jan and Rabbu. It serves as a metaphor for the closeness and secrecy of their relationship, as well as the barrier they create to shield themselves from the prying eyes of society.

2. Why was “Lihaaf” considered controversial?

“Lihaaf” was controversial for its explicit depiction of a same-sex relationship, which challenged societal norms and conservative values. The story’s exploration of repressed sexuality and power dynamics was provocative for its time and sparked debates about morality and obscenity.

3. How did Ismat Chughtai defend “Lihaaf” against charges of obscenity?

Ismat Chughtai defended “Lihaaf” as a reflection of reality and a critique of societal hypocrisy. She argued that the story was a work of art that aimed to challenge conventional norms and provoke thought, rather than simply titillate or offend.

4. What role does gender play in “Lihaaf”?

Gender is a central theme in “Lihaaf,” as the story explores the ways in which traditional gender roles and expectations can be confining and oppressive. The characters of Begum Jan and Rabbu challenge these norms through their unconventional relationship, highlighting the fluidity and complexity of gender identities.

5. How has “Lihaaf” influenced literature and society?

“Lihaaf” has had a lasting impact on literature by pushing boundaries and opening up conversations about sexuality, power, and societal norms. The story has inspired writers to explore taboo subjects and challenge conventional wisdom, leading to greater acceptance and understanding of diverse perspectives.

Diya Patel
Diya Patel
Diya Patеl is an еxpеriеncеd tеch writеr and AI еagеr to focus on natural languagе procеssing and machinе lеarning. With a background in computational linguistics and machinе lеarning algorithms, Diya has contributеd to growing NLP applications.

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