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Books On A Shelf
Breanna Coon / Her Campus

Finding myself in the works of Ismat Chughtai

I have been researching Indian society through literature, specifically the work of Ismat Chugtai. Touched by her courage and the logic and beauty of her ideas, I created paintings of her words, putting my journey and hers onto the canvas. Chugtai’s vision has helped me understand myself, encouraging me to create a mosaic of my true self in each painting I create—together forming my inner world. And leading me to identity and belonging.

My explorations took me into deep reflection on the role of art as perception change, for not only the one who is reading, or viewing, but for the artist as well. Chugtai’s short stories on the oppression of women resonate profoundly with me, for they are still observed today; many women are relegated to narrow role definitions, sometimes seen only as decorations, Chugtai’s works have given voice to the voiceless. To not shrink ourselves and be our own breadwinner. To not be ashamed of our shade of skin color, the proportions of our body.

One of her short stories, “Gainda,” is a story based on the caste and class of society. A low caste girl who works in the household of a Muslim family befriends the daughter and shares their values—of how the fairness of one caste’s skin has caused stigma, self-hatred and abuse termed as the “untouchables.” This has given rise to practices of combining ingredients and spices to lighten our skin, which reminds me of the times I was complimented or praised for working inside and putting turmeric on my skin to remove the burns the sun has caused me. To the infinite “fair and lovely” creams only to be filled with toxic chemicals, it’s the toxic words and stigma that need to be erased from our perceptions.

Because of Chugtai’s writings, I have tried to remove these blemishes first on my body and then in my art, so that I can echo her beliefs on canvas.

Brown hair, brown eyes. Patches of beige, creams and tan form my skin. Like clay, it represents a hard outer shell, the mould that I need to break and show the world what I am capable of. The beauty in me spreads to my canvases and brushes and swims to my watercolors—the synchronous rhythm I have for three hours every day, immersed in this journey of self-reflection, painting other people with brown hair, brown eyes and their hues. In my journey of works, I have taken snapshots in my brain and transform them into my art, to deliver the same emotions I felt when looking at my surroundings. To the observational sketch of the young boy drinking water and multi-colored hands reaching towards the sky. To the crown. The artwork representing the intense greed and strive for perfection among students. 

I have understood myself through art. Each of my experiences that are created from different forms of expression.

This research has been a journey toward the integration of my creative inner life strengthened by Chugtai’s hope and inspiration so that I can see and express the beauty that is imbued in the world. To become my own experiment of how art can nourish our outer world and create a perception change that heals us within. 

Chugtai’s literature has helped me express my femininity and to paint my dreams into a reality, a true version of myself. A version where I can feel at peace. A version where the mirror can look up and tell me how proud she is. And I am grateful to Chugtai for all she has written and how she has touched my life and the lives of countless others, opening the eyes for the world to see issues that touch us all.

Deeva Thomas

New School '25

Hello! My name is Deeva and I am a freshman at The New School – Parsons School of Design and will be majoring in communication design. My hobbies include playing the ukulele, bullet journalling and singing! Thank you for stopping by :)
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