In addition to the general neglect of women writers, Urdu literary historiography in both English and Urdu has historically privileged north Indian and Pakistani writers while overlooking the many Urdus south of Bombay and Bhopal. Next to no work exists in English on the Urdu writers of Hyderabad, and only a handful of texts have been translated into English—an astonishing neglect, considering their contribution to the study of gender, political cultures, and regional histories.
Bibi’s Room studies the lives and work of three women writers from Hyderabad who wrote in Urdu: Zeenath Sajida, Najma Nikhat, and Jeelani Bano. It addresses the absence of scholarship on Hyderabadi women writers in three ways: representative translations; short, nuanced biographies; and critical analyses of their oeuvres—all framed against twentieth-century Hyderabadi history, politics, culture, and society.
The three writers showcased here offer rich portrayals of Hyderabadi urban culture as well as critiques of gender and patriarchy. Zeenath Sajida’s insights into Islam dramatically alter what we know of Muslim women’s engagements with fundamental theological questions. Sajida is also a skilled proponent of Urdu humour and satire, a genre notorious for its exclusion of women writers. Jeelani Bano’s oeuvre, spanning three schools of Urdu literature, makes vital contributions to our understanding of gender, class, communalism, and national identity. Najma Nikhat’s deodi stories powerfully narrate women’s lives across class in feudal aristocratic homes, and their participation in revolutionary struggles like the Telangana movement.
The picture of Hyderabadi women’s lives that emerges generates new knowledge about the conditions in which women live, write, and resist, and expands our understanding of their public participation in South Asia. Bibi’s Room is also a welcome and valuable addition to studies of Urdu literature, South Asian feminism, translation, and the history and culture of Hyderabad.
Nazia Akhtar is Assistant Professor of Literature at the International Institute of Information Technology, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, Telangana.
List of Photographs
List of Abbreviations
II Penning Politics, Shaping Selves
Hyderabad and Hyderabadi Women in the Twentieth Century
III IF ALLAH MIYAN WERE A WOMAN by Zeenath Sajida
‘The Vital Force Comes from Me and Me Alone’: Love, Belonging, Beauty, and Discontent in Zeenath Sajida’s Writings
IV THE LAST HAVELI by Najma Nikhat
The Scattered Paandaan: Women, Politics, Society, and Memory in Najma Nikhat’s Work
V GOD AND I by Jeelani Bano
‘Write, so that Words Shine Forth / Speak, so there is Light’: History, Self, Gender, and Power in Jeelani Bano’s Oeuvre