The Momina Cheema, AM ’08 Memorial Graduate Travel and Research Fellowship at Harvard University


Muslim Woman as Intellectual: Ismat Chughtai on Social Justice

by Sadaf Jaffer

With the support of a Momina Cheema, AM ’08 Memorial Graduate Travel and Research
Fellowship I was able spend the summer in India conducting research on the life and work of
Ismat Chughtai (1911-1991), a prominent Urdu writer and Indian intellectual. My research
activities took me to Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi. The research consisted of conducting a
number of oral history interviews, digitizing important photographs and documents from private
collections as well as obtaining materials from various archives across the country.

Upon my arrival in Mumbai I commenced interviews with Ismat Chughtai’s grandson
Ashish Sawhney and her niece Salma Irani. I was also able to digitize a number of formerly
unknown photographs from the personal collection of Salma Irani. In addition to these
photographs which highlighted her relationships with luminaries in the literary and film worlds, I
found a national medal that was presented to her and had been given to Mrs. Irani’s family. Mrs.
Irani, in addition to being Ismat’s niece, had served as her assistant for many years and thus was
able to inform me not only about personal connections but also the professional world which
Ismat Chughtai inhabited.

Next I traveled to Pune to conduct research at the National Film Archives of India. I
established a working relationship with Aarti Karkhanis, Research Officer and Librarian at the
NFAI. During my time there, I was able to access and document rare images, scripts, songbooks
and posters from Chughtai’s work in film. I was also able to access their archive of film
periodicals like Screen and Filmfare. Delving into these resourced has helped me better
understand the contours of the world of Bombay cinema in the 1950s. Chughtai’s role as a writer
for films is particularly understudied, so this was quite an important development for my research. I’ve included an example below.


In New Delhi, I conducted research in the National Archives of India as well as oral history interviews with Ismat Chughtai’s niece Tahira Niazi. Mrs. Niazi had in her collection some books in Urdu that are unavailable in the United States and I was able to digitize these books as part of my research.

The materials I obtained this summer are invaluable to my research and have provided me with the sources necessary to complete my dissertation project. Each day in India, I remembered the support provided by the Momina Cheema Foundation, and how Momina Cheema herself inspires my work. I am forever indebted to the Momina Cheema and the Momina Cheema Fellowship. May she continue to inspire generations of scholars.


Love stories written by Sufis in North India during the 17th and 18th centuries

by Michal Hasson

Thanks to the generous support of the Momina Cheema Foundation I was able to travel to India this summer and collect materials for my dissertation project on love stories written by Sufis in North India between the 17th and 19th centuries. I was also able to consult scholars of South Asian literature from India and other countries and establish connections with several librarians, publishers and bookstores.

First, I visited the Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute (RORI) in Jodhpur, which houses a large collection of Sanskrit, Hindi and Rajasthani manuscripts. There I was able to consult and obtain digital copies of two manuscripts of the Laila Majnun love story, a story which is one of the most fascinating examples of the ubiquity and significance of love stories in South Asian culture in the early modern period. I was also able to purchase a printed version of the same story, published by RORI, which was written in Braj Bhasha by Jan Kavi, a Muslim poet who served as a Mughal official in the Shekhawati area of Rajasthan in the 17th century. The Rajasthani Granthagar bookstore and publication house in Jodhpur also proved to be a very helpful source for publications which are not readily available in the US.

Next I travelled to Hyderabad where I visited the Salar Jung museum and library. I worked at both the library manuscript and printed books sections, reading and scanning from their vast collection. Several beautifully illustrated manuscripts in the Salar Jung collection were especially interesting as they demonstrate the widely divergent traditions of visual representation of the lover in his search for the beloved in early modern narrative love poetry from North India, as well as continuities and connections between these different visual traditions. I was also fortunate to meet at the Salar Jung library Dr. Laura Yereksheva and Dr. Galiya Kambarekova from the Institute of Oriental Studies at Almaty, Kazakhstan, with whom I had fruitful discussions about Indo –Persian literary and visual traditions and their interactions with both Central Asian and Iranian traditions.

Also at Hyderabad I visited the Osmania University library, where the manuscripts’ librarian, Mr. Fazlullah Ahmed was very helpful in guiding me through their large collection. I also met there with Prof. Atiya Sultana, head of the Urdu department at Osmania University, who was generous with her time and ideas.

Another library I visited was the library of the Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (Hind) in Delhi where I was able to consult two versions of the Laila Majnun story which were previously unknown to me. The Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu book stores, both at their headquarters at Urdu Ghar, New Delhi, and the one adjacent to the Jama Masjid in old Delhi, proved to be a very good source for purchasing academic as well as popular works on Urdu literature which I was not able to find otherwise.

Finally, I travelled to Rampur, where I visited the Rampur Raza Library. The library director, Prof. Azizuddin Husain and the rest of the staff were very welcoming and assisted me in locating and consulting several manuscripts and printed works of love stories from 18th and 19th century North India. In addition, as the Rampur Raza Library also has a publishing house which publishes manuscripts from the library’s collection, I was able to purchase facsimile editions of several illustrated manuscripts such as Barah Masa Neeh by Maulvi Hifazullah Qadri and a unique edition of the Avadhi love story, Madhumalati by Malik Majhan.

The work I had done in India this summer will contribute greatly to my dissertation. I now have many more available sources for my research as well as contacts with librarians and scholars in India which will surely be helpful in the future. In addition, I now have a much better understanding of the scope and state of the relevant primary sources.