Rashid JahanThis title can indeed be given to one of the most prolific and creative of female Urdu writers of India, Rashid Jahan. She wrote short stores and plays and is credited with inaugurating a new era of Urdu literature written by women.

Here is a wonderful article published in The Caravan magazine on the lady, that also highlights the upcoming release of the first full-length study of Rashid Jahan’s life and work to appear in the English language – A Rebel and Her Cause: The Life and Work of Rashid Jahan by Rakhshanda Jalil, the well-known critic of Urdu literature who translated and edited the volume, presents eleven stories and two plays that is prefaced by a brief biography and a critical assessment.


Here are some excerpts from the article written by Aamer Hussein:
The daughter of Shaikh Abdullah and Wahid Jahan Begum, an illustrious couple of educationists in Aligarh, Rashid (Jahan) came from an enlightened family, and her decision to study medicine was perhaps not surprising. Her literary reputation rested on her contribution to Angaare, a pioneering anthology of short fiction published in 1932. This milestone of Urdu literature had introduced four young writers in their twenties, who in their fiction presented contemporary philosophical and psychological ideas, and also techniques absorbed from modern European writing. The most famous of the four was Ahmed Ali, who, though not prolific, would go on to become one of the most respected Anglophone litterateurs of the subcontinent. Ahmed Ali had introduced the young doctor to the other contributors. Aware of her literary predilections, one of them, Sajjad Zahir, is believed to have persuaded her to write two pieces for the book; another, Mahmud-uz-Zafar, would become her life’s companion.
The contributors, radical and ready to challenge as they might have been, were perhaps unaware of the shockwaves their discussions of sex and religion would send out into an audience that, though probably ripe for a new literary movement, was unprepared for the force of this onslaught on their sensibilities. Rashid was the only woman in the gang of four. Critics have noted that she was also the only one of them that didn’t differ significantly from her predecessors in her choice of milieu or material, but her unabashed vocabulary earned her the censure of readers across the Urdu-speaking regions. Ordinances were passed against her and the others. She was advised to travel with bodyguards but, as a practising doctor, she refused to take such precautions.

Another excerpt:
Rashid Jahan also considered Ismat Chughtai’s literary mentor and instrumental in freeing the tongues and the pens of several generations that followed her, would be surpassed only three decades later, by Fahmida Riaz and Kishwar Naheed, the feminist poets of the 1960s who replaced the forensic idiom of Rashid’s work with a lyrical celebration of women’s bodies. Ismat Chughtai said of her, “I stored up her work like pearls … the handsome heroes and pretty heroines of my stories, the candle-like fingers, the lime blossoms and crimson blossoms all vanished … the earthy Rashid Jahan shattered all my ivory idols to pieces … Life, stark and naked, stood before me.”