Every Page a Majlis
Zahra Rizvi
ONE DROP OF BLOOD: THE STORY OF KARBALA by Ismat Chughtai. Translated from the original Urdu by Tahira Naqvi Women Unlimited, 2019, 410 pp., 390.00
October 2021, volume 45, No 10

The events of Karbala are part of a tradition that is well documented in the observation of Moharram all over the world. The story told has also been across generations making these events a cultural artefact to be remembered and shared, with every episode echoed in a majlis, marsiya, noha, and more. Ismat Chughtai’s Ek Qatra-e-Khoon is a recounting of these events presented in the form of a novel, and particularly unique if one considers it alongside her other works. This edition, with its brilliant translation and in-depth foreword by Tahira Naqvi, and a crucial introduction by Bilal Hashmi, not only makes it an essential reading for any scholar and enthusiast of Chughtai’s work but also any reader who may want to understand the story of Karbala in its most poignant moments.

One Drop of Blood: The Story of Karbala, translated from the original Urdu, is a retelling of the life of Imam Husain, the grandson of the Holy Prophet Mohammad, from the days of his infancy to his final moments fighting against injustice and fascism. It is clear from the early chapters that for Chughtai this was a grand project of epic proportions, and her style shifts significantly from her previous works. There is a tremendous amount of research that the author put into her final novel, and the dedication to Anis is just one of the many hints of such scholarship. Huge sections of the novel directly correspond to more than one marsiya of Anis. There are also references to other media, histories, maps and accounts. Naqvi’s foreword is highly commendable for its succinct account of Chughtai’s handling of the source texts. It also gives direction to the readers to look at well-placed allegories and contemporary connections that Chughtai would have wanted her ideal discerning reader to take note of. The latter is indeed one of her primary reasons for personalizing the story and events of Karbala, ‘This fourteen-hundred-year-old story is today’s story as well….’

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