Ismat Chughtai, Qurratulain Hyder and Amrita Pritam

 “Life is like a cake. It has layers (tiers) of memories. We keep the better ones on top.”

-Quratulaain Hyder

Three women novelist have left behind lot of literature on pre and post partition of India.

amrita pritam

Amrita Pritam born in 1919 was Punjabi. She wrote in Punjabi. Partition of India and subsequent communal riots had deep impact on her. She wrote sad poem on partition and fate of women during riots. Waris Shah was a Sufi Punjabi poet who wrote about a beautiful woman Heer and her futile attempt to marry her lover Ranjha.

Today, I call Waris Shah, “Speak from your grave,”

 And turn to the next page in your book of love,

 Once, a daughter of Punjab cried and you wrote an entire saga (i.e. Heer Ranjha),

 Today, a million daughters cry out to you, Waris Shah,

 Rise! O’ narrator of the grieving! Look at your Punjab,

 Today, fields are lined with corpses, and blood fills the Chenab.

-Amrita Pritam


She wrote novel on partition called Pinjar (Skeleton), it is about a Hindu girl called Puro, who is kidnapped (and later married) to Muslim called Rashid. It depicts helplessness of woman during partition. While Rashid helps her family to shift to India, she stays back in Pakistan and converts to Islam.

Amrita fell in love with Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi, but they never got married. She has written about her love for Sahir in her autobiography called Raseedi Ticket ( Revenue Stamp)

revenue stamp

“Posing for a picture of me at work, I was asked to sit and write on a paper with a pen in my hand. When I saw the paper later, I realised that absentmindedly I had written Sahir, Sahir, Sahir across the sheet”

-Amrita Pritam in her autobiography Raseedi Ticket

Ismat Chughtai (born in 1915) and Qurratulain Hyder ( born in 1927) were born in Uttar Pradesh and wrote in Urdu.


Ismat was feminist and a fearless writer. Her book “Lihaf” (Quilt) is about a lady Begam Jan and her husband Nawab, the story is told from perspective of nine years old girl who is niece of Begam Jan. The novel was banned because it dealt with subject of homosexuality and Ismat was asked to apologize. Ismat refused to apologize and won the case in Lahore court.

the quilt

“Women cook food Ismat. When you go to your in-laws what will you feed them?” he asked gently after the crisis was explained to him.

“If my husband is poor, then we will make khichdi and eat it and if he is rich, we will hire a cook,” I answered.

My father realised his daughter was a terror and that there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.”

 ― Ismat Chughtai

Ismat Chughtai wrote about partition in her book “Garam Hawa”, which is about Salim Mirza and his family, who decide to stay back in India instead of going to Pakistan.

gram hawa

Unlike Ismat Chughtai’s hero Salim Mirza, Qurratulain Hyder, also called Annie Appa by her friends, decided to shift to Pakistan after partition. But after spending some years in Pakistan, she decided to go back to India and took Indian citizenship.


During her stay in Pakistan she wrote novel called “Aag ka Darya” or River of Fire. Like “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez which deals with story of seven generations of the Buendía Family in the town of Macondo, Aag ka Darya covers period from Maurya to post partition of India. The novel has four characters, Gautam, Champa, Kamal and Cyril, who keep coming back in different historical periods in different avatars.

aag ka dariya

“It was the season of beerbahutis and rainclouds, some time in the 4th century B.C. In a cool grotto Gautam Nilamber, a final year student at the Forest University of Shravasti chances upon Hari Shankar, a princeling yearning to be a Buddhist monk. He falls in love with the beautiful, sharp-witted Champak.

And thus begins a magnificent tale that flows through Time, through Maghadhan Pataliputra, the Kingdom of Oudh, the British Raj, and into a Time of Independence. This fiery river of Time flows along the banks of their lives as they are reborn and recreated, weaving through twists and turns, the flows and eddies, keeping them together, keeping them apart.

-Publisher’s note on Quratulaain Hyder’s  Aag ka Dariya

Her work was criticised in Pakistan for showing Muslim as weak characters. Many Pakistani authors felt that while Quratulaain Hyder lived in Pakistan, her heart was always in India.

“I am unable to comprehend the decision to write Aag ka Darya while living in Pakistan. Right from the beginning to the end, the novel portrays Muslims as weak in their character and ideology. It is next to impossible to know what Qurratulain wants to say.

I believe although Kamaal migrates to Pakistan, he leaves his heart in India. Here he finds himself insecure. It is the Pakistan of 1957. Migrants do not feel themselves at home. They are living in this region but their minds go to their ancestral homes.

“Qurratulain Hyder excellently paints this spiritual vacuum. It appears that the same spiritual vacuum took her to India. Her [character] Kamaal Raza returns back after visiting India, but she was left there like her heroine Champa Ahmed.”

-Akhtar Zaman Khan in Chand Tabsiray


But main reason why Quratulaain Hyder left Pakistan was she did not like lack of freedom and censorship in Pakistan. She was not alone, other famous personalities like actress Begum Para, singer Bade Gulam Ali Khan and poet Sahir Ludhianvi (mentioned earlier as love interest of Amrita Pritam) too left Pakistan to take back their Indian citizenship.

  “‘So now one is not even allowed to bark.’ Annie was in pain.

“When I went on to explain the consequences of barking under the Martial Law Regulations, Annie’s eyes brimmed with tears. To hide the emotions, she put on a brave smile, sighed and pretended not to care, ‘Oh dear, who wants to bark every day; it is just a sense of being free to bark that matters.’

“I believe it was then and there that Qurratulain Hyder’s subconscious decided to quit Pakistan.”

– Qudrat ullah Shahab




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