A writer who fights for writers

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Nazia Akhtar, Assistant Professor of Literature at International Institute of Information Technology, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, Telangana, studied English and Russian literature in her early days at university. After a few years, she focused on working on Indian literature, especially in the context of Hyderabad. She had spent a lot of time in Hyderabad as a child, but knew little about it. Out of curiosity, she started exploring the history and literature of Hyderabad and realized that there was a lot of interest and importance here for me.

Professor Nazia Akhtar has recently written a book titled “Bibi’s Room: Hyderabadi Women and Twentieth-Century Urdu Prose”.

The book studies the life and work of three female writers from Hyderabad who wrote in Urdu: Zeenath Sajida, Najma Nikhat and Jeelani Bano. It addresses the lack of scholarship on Hyderabadi women writers in three ways: representative translations; short and nuanced biographies; and critical analyzes of their works, all framed by 20th century Hyderabadi history, politics, culture and society.

Speaking about the idea for ‘Bibi’s Room’, Nazia says, “The idea for this book came to me many years ago, around 2015. I started working on it seriously when I received a scholarship from New India Foundation in 2017. The scholarship enabled me to devote my full time to this project.For three years, I learned Urdu on my own, did extensive research on life and the writings of Hyderabadi women writers of Urdu and I wrote about the three women writers you see featured in the book.

About the title, “Bibi’s Room: Hyderabadi Women and Twentieth-Century Urdu Prose,” she says, “Zeenath Sajida, who is one of the writers whose work I translated and commented on in this book, wrote a essay in which she emphasizes the importance of space and time for women to explore and realize their true potential. She writes that, first, patriarchy creates conditions in which girls and women cannot achieve as good as men or excel at whatever they choose to do. Then society laughs at them for it. They use the term “Bibi” – which is used to affectionately refer to young girls and even older women. elderly – and writes that Bibi’s bedroom is never hers for her to think, create or even rest in. The idea is that women don’t have the opportunities and conditions to succeed. Zeenath Sajida has probably derived this argument from Virginia’s essay Woolf “A Room of One’s Own”.

“By using ‘Bibi’s Room’ in the title of this book, I want to draw attention to the literal conditions and circumstances in which women live and write and the need to reframe our attitudes to success by keeping mind the realities of gendered lives and create more inclusive growing conditions for everyone, especially women. Watch what can come out of “Bibi’s Room” when Bibi is allowed to explore her full potential and when the environment in which women like her live and write is taken into account” She adds.

Regarding the three women writers discussed in this book, Zeenath Sajida, Najma Nikhat and Jeelani Bano, Nazia says: “Of these, Bano is the best known. She was awarded a Padmashri in 2001 for a long decades-long career, during which she has written two novels and several collections of short stories She writes on topics as varied as gender, class, communalism, history, etc. She has also written on loneliness women experiencing for the first time what it was like to live away from their large extended families in the cities with their husbands and children.”

“Zeenath Sajida has written short stories, but as an academic and writer of literary essays, she makes the most outstanding contribution to Urdu literature. Women’s writing in the non-fiction genres of humor and satire was totally neglected, but it flourished in Hyderabad.Zeenath Sajida’s essays, which range from gripping explorations of the genre to the everyday follies and frailties of middle-class people, are fine examples of the genre that must be read and known by more people. hilarious pen portraits of his literary friends that have become classics of Hyderabad humor writing.”

“I hope there will be many more books on women’s writings, especially Urdu writings from the Deccan and South India. a region we know little about but which also has the potential to change this that we know of other regions by looking at the same themes and issues from another angle. They also transform what we know of other aspects, such as the canon and historiography of Urdu literature and our assumptions about history women – especially Muslim women – in the subcontinent,” says Nazia.

“All the female Hyderabad writers I have read and worked on – including the three writers of this book – have emphasized what Hyderabadis proudly call their ‘Ganga-Jamni Tehzeeb’, a pluralistic and syncretic tradition centuries of coexistence between different Deccan communities. The authors of this book, especially Jeelani Bano, are concerned about what is happening to this common tradition and urge their readers to do something to protect and preserve it,” concludes -she.

What inspired the idea of ​​presenting the stories of women writers in Urdu?

Thanks to the excellent work of translators and scholars, the English-speaking public knows about the life and work of women writers who wrote in Urdu in other parts of the subcontinent, such as Ismat Chughtai, Rashid Jahan and Qurratulain Hyder. However, apart from Zakia Mashhadi’s excellent translations of Jeelani Bano’s work and Reema Abbasi’s recently published work on Wajida Tabassum, nothing is available in English regarding Hyderabadi female Urdu writers. Even in Urdu, there are only a few scholars – Nasiruddin Hashmi and Amena Tahseen in the lead – who have worked rigorously and consistently on the history and concerns of Deccan women writers. So there is a desperate need to write about these writers and translate their work.

What do you think is the reason for this neglect?

There is a triple marginalization at work. Hyderabadi women writers have been ignored for reasons of gender, region and politics. Women writers are generally overlooked in publishing and scholarship, both of which are male-centric. Second, Urdu is generally associated with northern India, which is ironic, given that it was in the Deccan that literature in that language first flourished in the form known today. under the name of Dakhni, years and years before Urdu became a prominent literary medium in the courts and northern cities. Thirdly, Hyderabad was a princely state, and it suited the British colonial power to give the impression that there was only British India, i.e. the areas under direct British control, where it there was a social progress and a cultural life properly speaking. Thus, the history and culture of the princely states remain neglected, and only recently has a change in this perception occurred.


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