By: RAUF PAREKH
WOMEN’S role in Urdu literature and journalism of the 18th and 19th centuries has largely remained unsung.
The tazkiras — or the biographical and critical accounts of Urdu poets and their poetry, which were written in 18th and 19th centuries — generally did not make any mention of women poets. Some tazkiras have mentioned women poets just as a passing reference, if at all, though women had been composing poetry in Urdu for ages.
Hakeem Faseehuddin Ranj Meruthi (1836-1885), a disciple of Ghalib, created history when he published in 1864 Baharistan-i-naz, the first ever tazkira of subcontinent’s women poets of Urdu. It introduced 70 women poets and gave samples of their poetry.
Baharistan-i-naz’s second edition, published in 1869, gave no additional information. However, the third one, appearing in 1882, listed 174 women poets. But the number of women poets composing poetry in that era must have been much higher since women writers in those days did not like to make their writings public and a large number of them must have preferred to remain unknown. Even the women writers of 20th century had to conceal their identity since it was generally not deemed fit for them to write something.
Zahida Khatoon Shervaniya (1894-1922), for instance, a very talented poet who died quite young, would publish her poetry by her initials Ze Khe Sheen (Z.K.S), instead of her full name.
Baharistan-i-naz prompted others to research the poetic talent of the women of the subcontinent and more such books were written. More notable among them is Durga Prashad Nadir Sarhandi Dehlvi’s Gulshan-i-naz, a brief tazkira of women poets of Persian, published in 1876. He published in 1878 another tazkira introducing more women poets of Urdu and Persian and named it Chaman andaz. Nadir published Tazkiratun-nisa-i-Nadri in 1884, a combined edition of his three such works. Khalil-ur-Rahman Dawoodi edited Baharistan-i-naz and Majlis-i-Tarqqi-e-Adab, Lahore, published this edited version with a detailed intro in 1965. Fortunately, it is still available from Majlis. Unfortunately, it is a succinct comment on the reading habits of our society too as out of 2,100 copies of a book published 50 years ago a few are still available!
Aside from poetry and prose, women have been editing Urdu magazines and periodicals for over a century now. Similarly, periodicals specially published for women have a history of their own. But little has been written on the subject. Now Dr Jameel Akhter, a scholar from India, has published a history of women’s Urdu periodicals. Titled Urdu mein jaraaed-i-niswaan kee taareekh and published in 2016 in two volumes by Delhi’s Kitabi Dunya, it gives rare and historical information on 250 periodicals launched in Urdu specially for women. The first volume describes the history from beginning to 1947 and the other volume covers the period from 1947 onwards.
According to Dr Akhter, Rafeeq-i-niswaan, an Urdu and Hindi fortnightly launched from Lucknow by a Christian Missionary on March 5, 1884, was the first magazine exclusively published for women in the subcontinent. Syed Ahmed Dehlvi launched Urdu fortnightly Akhbarun-nisa from Delhi on Aug 1, 1884. Mu’allim-i-niswaan (Hyderabad Deccan, 1894), was in fact launched in 1881 and was titled Mu’allim. It was not a women’s magazine, but later on it changed the nomenclature and devoted much of its efforts towards the betterment of women folks of the subcontinent.
Though the initial response was not encouraging and the early women’s magazines had to cease publication soon, it did not deter the other entrants and Shareef bibiyaan (Lahore, 1893), Tehzeeb-i-niswaan (Lahore, 1898), Parda-i-ismat (Lucknow, 1900), Safeer-i-qaiser (Meruth, 1900), Jalbaab-i-naamoos (Lucknow, 1901), Shamsun nahaar (Delhi, 1902) and Khatoon (Aligarh, 1904) were launched.
Muhammadi Begum has the distinction of being the first woman editor of any Urdu magazine for women. She edited Tehzeeb-i-niswaan. Begum Mumtaz Ali was the editor of Musheer-i-maadar, a women’s magazine launched from Lahore in 1905. Parda nasheen, another magazine for women, launched from Agra in 1905, was edited by Mrs Khamosh (apparently a pseudonym). These magazines and journals played all important role in creating awareness among women and educating them.
The first volume of the book under review describes the beginning and early stages of print journalism in the subcontinent with a special reference to Urdu newspapers. It discusses in detail over 100 Urdu magazines for women published in the 19th and 20th centuries. The second volume enlists and analyses over100 such magazine launched in Pakistan after 1947.
Interestingly, the women’s Urdu magazines launched in India after 1947 do not exceed 40 in number. Many pieces of information given in the book are quite important and for Pakistani readers and scholars it is quite rare since Indian publications are not easily available here. A few women’s Urdu magazines being published abroad too have been introduced in the book.
With scanned images of titles pages of many rare magazines included in the book and some rare information given, it is a must-read for the students and scholars of mass communication and Urdu literature as it can serve as a reference work.