Untangle the Feminist Appearance in the Works of Qurratulainn Haider

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Untangle the Feminist Appearance in the Works of Qurratulainn Haider

by – Dr Niharika Singh, published in March-April 2018 issue, Ashvamegh



Born in 1927 in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, Qurratulain Haider was an Indian writer, editor, scholar and translator who helped the novel become a serious genre of hitherto poetry-

oriented Urdu literature. She was a gifted writer, in all senses of the world. She has 12 novels and four collections of short stories to her credit. As a writer, she paved the path for future female writers. She wrote on the topics usually considered “bold” for women. The female characters in her novels were strong and able women who, if given equal opportunities as men, could do wonders. Through her writings, she aimed to change perceptions about women and the stereotypes attached to them. She inspired many to take up her and continue the work that she was doing.

Keywords: Lucknow, feminist, Urdu, helplessness


Qurratulain Haider was an influential Indian Urdu novelist and short story writer, an academician and a journalist. She was born in UP in 1927, Haider came from a family of intellectuals and was educated at Lucknow’s Isabella Thoburn University. Haider’s father SajjadHaiderYaldram was one of the founders of the modern Urdu short story and her mother NazarSajjadHaiderYaldram was an eminent popular novelist of her time. As her father was in a transferrable government job, after every three years he was bound to move from one place to another. When Haider was merely three years old her father was transferred from Aligarh to Port Blair and then moved to Uttar Pradesh’s western parts where Haider enjoyed a lot. She describes this experience

Till the age of ten-twelve, I witnessed,
Many cities, made a number of voyages
and also visited to foreign countries. (A’ineKhane Mein, 63)

As she advanced through her teens, she discovered contradiction and confusion prevailing everywhere in the society. Even today not only such elements are ardent in her work but sometimes they also reflect in her personality. As she says

Personally, my creativity is mostly based on the

search for the lost world. (Kare-e-JahanDarazHai, 37)

After 1950, when she came out of her prime of her life, dream and delusion, her attention focused on the human sufferings and social realities. And she also focused on the problems of women prevailing those days. The character in her fiction neither revolt against the oppression, nor mourn the tyrannical behavior.

As we know that Literature, like other fields, has been mostly male dominated. In India, the scenario is not much different. In the early 20th century, the genre of short stories was dominated by the male writers like Raja Rao, M.K.Anand and R.K.Laxman. During that period woman writing was rare and mostly unheard of. And then popularly known as AineeApa, Qurratulain Haider was one of the finest women writers who succeeded in breaking into this seemingly impermeable triumvirate.

The attempt to show the varied roles of women since the older times to the modern period in some of Haider’s novels is a basic ingredient for the feminist movement. Her female characters did not play second fiddle to their male counterparts. Instead, they were individuals who were capable of thinking for themselves and rooted in equal opportunities.

As a feminist author, AagKa Darya was Haider’s explosive contribution to Urdu Literature which was published in 1959. The novel revolved around characters that are reincarnated from four phases of history: fourth century BC, late 1400 to early 1500, end of the 1700s to the 1900s and the Post- Partition era. In these four phases, each character is reborn, their souls from the previous era now carrying the burden of the old and the new. In Pre- Islamic India, it is the story of Gautam Nilambar’s with Hari Shankar, Champak, Nirmala, Sujata and others. During the Islamic era Kamaluddin is the central character of the story, and Bano, a Muslim, and Champavati, a Hindu are the woman around him. During the Colonial period, the story revolves around Cyril Ashley who is connected to Sujata Devi, Champa Jan and Maria Teresa. Champak, in the first story, is deserted by the prince. Champavati, in the second story, is deserted by Syed Abdul Mansur kamaluddin, the travelling scholar who never returns. Champa Jan, in the third story, waits for the return of bhadroGautamNilambarDutt. It is only Champa Ahmed in the fourth story that is able to break out this pattern. Apart from the various avatars of Champak, the novel is full

of deserted women, like Ambika, RuqqaiyaBano Begum, Maria Teresa, Sangari in The Configural Mode: AagKa Darya remarks that

The plot of female renunciation and/ or
sublimation is broken only when women travel,
when they cease to wait for men (like Champa Ahmed),
and more strongly by the single
working women (like Talat)……..(The Configural Mode: AagKa Darya, 223)

The portrayal of women in AagKa Darya is also connected to the novel’s questioning of the received notion of history. Women in this novel, in addition to their committed support of the pursuit of their men and their endurance of pain, are significant in terms of the theme of the novel. Haider brings her female characters into the foreground of her narrative in such a way that their very presence enhances the meanings of the novel in a remarkable way.

Haider’s other novels also depict women’s helplessness, solitude, servitude to man- made rules and portray their perpetual suffering in a way poignant manner. In AakhirShabKeHamsafar, Deepali Sarkar strongly represents this image of being subdued by men. The story of the novel revolves around the male protagonist Raihanuddin Ahmed. In this novel, there is a portrayal of the comparative milieu of woman’s personalities.

Deepali Sarkar of AakhirShabKeHamsafar represents the woman who is the lesson of a scourge for the reconciliatory routings. She is also the symbol of struggle against the adverse forces till her last breath for her ideals and principles. If she disdains Raihanuddin for living a superficial luxurious life, YasmeenMajid prefers suicide to compromise with her principles.

Likewise, NasiraNajm-us-sehar is symbolized as a fresh revolt and ambitious expression of a revolution. Contrary to other novels of Haider, women’s characters of AakhirShabKeHamsafar are not only vibrant and dynamic but on account of their forward looking and positive approach, they also emerge as leading characters.

Another character of AakhirShabKeHamsafarJahanAra Begum gets annihilated by her internal anguish, but she overpowers the life and fate of Raihanuddin. When Deepali comes to know about the secrets of JahanAra and Raihan, she becomes infuriated. Furthermore, Raihan’s relationship with Uma Roy forces Deepali to maintain distance for him. This happens despite the fact that JahanAra is a simple and less- educated girl from a well- off family. So, the women in Haider’s universe have to face a lot of antagonism and hostility which makes them a symbol of protest.

The title of some stories of Haider reflects her attachment to the humanitarian issues. Notable among them are the title such as AgleJanamMoheBitya Na Kijo and Sita Haran. The first title shockingly betrays the stigma attached with being a woman. It indicates that for a woman, even the thought of becoming a woman in the next life invokes admonition. The second title dares to suggest that the sacredness attach to Sita becomes questionable. This title can also be seen in the perspective of emotional exile and solitude of Sita. But, in both of the solitude, the nature of that and emotional exile is very different. After becoming the victim of men’s exploitation, Amriti in AgleJanamMoheBitya Na Kijo virtually became Rashk-e-Qamar and from Rashk-e-Qamar to a poetess, a danseuse and a singer, she is enamoured by the love of different men at different times. Contrary to this story, Sita Mir Chandani in Sita Haran became helpless because of her own nature and extremely emotional attitude. She is not exploited by men who consider her a prostitute but she herself is responsible for her plight.

The following excerpt- the monologue of a female character from the short story, Yaad Ki Ek Dhanak Jale (Rainbow of Memories Lit)- sheds light on Qurratulain’s penchant for social realism. The excerpt raises many questions about the helplessness and exploitation of women: “It’s a woman who wails, weeps and prays in temples, places of pilgrimage, dargahs, mazaars, imambarahs and gurudwaras…….” Women are so demount and worshipping because they are weak and in need of help. Because in their brief life span they love a lot of people and they want some unknown power to intercede. Such images for Qurratulain’s writings are legion-living on in her novels, novellets and short-stories.

Thus, we see that there are two kinds of women characters in Haider’s fiction. First kind is the one that is imaginative and idealist, but fails in life due to some coincidences or hostility of men towards them or to their ideals. The second type of women in her fiction is rebellious and

revolutionary like Deepali and Uma Roy. But they act forcefully to achieve their personal or social objectives and lead a dangerous and mysterious life. So, the women in Haider’s universe have to face a lot of antagonism and hostility which makes them a symbol of protest. The misery of women portrayed in her works creates an environment of chaos and turmoil.


About the Author: 

Dr. Niharika Singh has completed Post Graduation in English Literature from RML Avadh University, Faizabad in 2009. In 2015 she was awarded Ph. D. on the poetry of Philip Larkin and Thom Gunn. She has presented a number of papers in National and International conferences. Presently she has been working as an Assistant Professor at Dr. R.M.L. Avadh University, Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh.


Works Cited

Qurratulain Haider. A’ineKhane Mein, Karachi.
Qurratulain Haider. Kar-e-JahanDarazHai, vol.1. Lahore: Maktaba Urdu Adab

Sangari Kumkum. The Cinfigural Mode: AagKa Darya. QurratulainHaider and the River of Fire. Rakshanda Jalil.2011.

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