QURRAT-UL-AIN HAIDER (1927-2007)
‘Qurrat-ul-Ain An iconoclast, Haider broke the through the poetry-dominated Urdu literary world to give Urdu prose its due recognition through her works that earned her accolades.’
She was a writer in Urdu of novels, articles and short stories. She was known for her perspective on women’s lives behind the purdah in traditional Urdu society. She was born in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh of literary parents. Her father was Sajjad Haidar Yilderim, a famous Urdu writer, and her mother Nazar Zahra wrote under the names Bint-i-Nazrul Baqar and Nazar Sajjad Hyder. Her parents named her after the Iranian poet Qurrat-ul-Ain Tahira, but she was affectionately known in later years as ‘Ainee Apa’. She began to write at the age of six, and was encouraged by her parents and her mother’s patron Muhammadi Begum. Qurrat-ul-Ain spent her early childhood in Port Blair, was educated at Lucknow’s Isabella Thoburn College, Her first short story, ‘Bi-Chuhiya’ (Little Miss Mouse), was published in the children’s magazine Phool She moved to Karachi in Pakistan in 1947 and published her first novel Mere Bhi Sanam Khane in 1949. She then wrote Safina e Gham e Dil (1952) and became a member of the Pakistan Writers’ Guild. She published Aag Ka Dariya in 1959 (translated by the author as River of Fire in 1998). This novel covered significant moments in South Asian history from Buddhist times to the present day. The book was acclaimed, but also raised a certain amount of controversy in Pakistan which was then under General Ayub Khan. Somewhat disconcerted by the reaction to her book, she left for London shortly afterwards.
In 1961 she left London for Bombay, encouraged by her friend, the film director Abbas Ahmed. In 1964 she became managing editor of the magazine Imprint, where she continued till 1968. She then became a member of the editorial staff of the Illustrated Weekly of India till 1975. Her other books are Patjhar ki Awaz (The Sound of Falling Leaves, 1965) the short novel Chae ke Bagh (Tea Garden, 1965), Raushni ki Raftar (The Speed of Light, 1982) and the family chronicle Kar e Jahan Daraz Hai (The Work of the World Goes On). Her later novels include Aakhir Shab ke Hamsafar, Gardish e Rang e Chaman and Chandani Begum. Her books have been translated into English and other languages. In all she has 12 novels and novellas and four collections of short stories. Her last work was a biography of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, written with Malti Gilani and published in 2004.
In addition to journalism, she had a career as an academic, serving as guest lecturer at the universities of California, Chicago, Wisconsin, and Arizona. She was visiting professor at the Urdu Department at Aligarh Muslim University, where her father had earlier been a registrar. She was Professor Emeritus, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan Chair, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. She never married.
She won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Patjhar ki Awaz in 1967, the Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1969, the Padma Shri in 1984 and the Ghalib award in 1985. She won the Jnanpith Award in 1989 for her novel Aakhir-e-Shab ke Hamsafar (Travellers Into the Night) and the Bahadur Shah Zafar Award in 2000 from the Urdu Academy. In 2005 she was awarded the Padma Bhushan. She died of complications from asthma and is buried in the Jamia Millia Islamia cemetery, New Delhi.