Book Talk – One Drop of Blood: The Story of Karbala

Recently Tahira Naqvi spoke about the book at the Global IMI Women’s Wing Literary Group’s event.

Ismat Chughtai’s eminent work “Eik Katra Khoon” (One Drop of Blood) has been recently translated into English for the very first time by Tahira Naqvi, who has also previously translated Chughtai’s other writings.

The translation “One Drop of Blood: The Story of Karbala” is an important because it offers access to this work for those who are unable to read or understand Urdu. Furthermore, this story allows the readers to connect to the narrative of Karbala to the contemporary times, to the universality of  story of Iman Hussain’s sacrifice at Karbala which speaks for the oppressed everywhere. While the story of Karbala has been cyclically repeated yet and again, the repetition of this narrative here perhaps offers a different perspective. In her own words, as Naqvi points out in the foreword “…there was a newness here despite familiarity, moments that were revelatory, a heightened sense of reality. Karbala became a place populated with not just these godly, sublime individuals, but a fearsome, cruel desert, a battle field where real men, women and children suffered in the most dreadful way at the hands of a savage, unrelenting army, led by men whose conscience had abandoned them.”

Among the noteworthy aspects of this work therefore is the way in which it humanizes the characters, especially the women and the children. Chughtai is a women’s writer and she engages very meaningfully with the women in this book, does a wonderful job of telling with the stories of women of Karbala, especially Sayeda Zaynab’s. In this sense, this work makes an important because it gives a voice to the narratives of the women of Karbala, a voice that is often ignored in the historical narratives. As I have argued elsewhere, women have largely been seen as passive victims of the Karbala tragedy, who are without much agency and consequently without a voice. This is so because ‘history’ has been written by men for men and has been noticeably impervious to the women’s narratives, and therefore such literary texts play a critical role in bringing these stories to life. (A detailed discussion on this can be accessed here at Columbia University’s Academic Commons).

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