Atiya Fyzee

عطیہ فیضی
Bombay, India

Atiya Fyzee (1877-1967) was an author, social reformer and patron of the arts in twentieth century India.  She hailed from Bombay where she belonged to the renowned Tyabji clan of Sulaimani Bohra Muslims.  The extended family followed the unusual practice of keeping notebooks in each of their houses, referred to as Akhbar ki Kitab, in which different members recorded major and more quotidian events, including social engagements, reformist meetings and sports tournaments.  As men and women often contributed on arrival or departure at a house, a number of these short entries had the quality of travel narratives.  Atiya herself was to gain her first taste of renown as a writer after contributing a travel diary in serialised form to the Urdu journal for women, Tehzib-e Niswan (Lahore), while studying at a teachers’ training college in London in 1906-7.  These entries were later compiled in a book entitled Zamana-i-Tahsil [A Time of Education, 1921].  The first extract reproduced here, however, seems to be Atiya’s first attempt to write about travel in her early 20s.  It describes a perilous sea journey from Murud, the capital of the coastal princely state of Janjira (also known as Jazira or Habshan), to Kihim, a beach resort south of Bombay, in 1898.  As intimated in the entry, Kihim was the location of the family’s holiday home, ‘Yali’, as well as those cottages adjacent, namely, ‘Dilkusha’ and ‘Cottage’, owned by their Tyabji relatives.  Along with the crew, Atiya was travelling with her two sisters, ‘Behen’ Zehra and Nazli, and the latter’s husband, the nawab of Janjira (‘His Highness’).  Composed in impeccable, if rather ornate English (preferred by Atiya, if not her ‘ma’), it reveals an imagination fuelled by Victorian romance novels, rather than the reformist or historical texts preferred by some of the Tyabji women.  The style is in sharp contrast to the often shorter entries in colloquial Urdu found in Atiya’s later Zamana-i-tahsil.  From the final paragraph, one gets a sense of the importance of the akhbar books to the Tyabji clan in that this one is anthropomorphised and bid ‘adieu’, as if a friend.

The second short travel piece reproduced here was published in the journal of the National Indian Association, The Indian Magazine and Review, in December 1906 just three months after Atiya’s arrival in London.  In her European travelogue, she refers to it as a ‘composition’ [mazmun], perhaps suggesting that it had been presented, but not published previously.  Her claim in the first line that the described journey to Kashmir was especially appealing to the ‘Purdahnasheen’, or veiled woman, implies that the original audience was not former civil servants in India or Indian students in Britain – the main readership of the magazine – but secluded Muslim women, and thus may have been originally written in Urdu.  Though it is not clear when she made the journey, the article reveals many of the same interests and preoccupations as her later writings, including women’s dress, the natural environment, food and Mughal pleasure gardens.  It also uses poetry to dramatic effect – though, in this case, it is a few lines of English verse by a little known clergyman, C.R. (Clement Reginald) Tollemache (1835-95), rather than a sprinkling of Persian and Urdu couplets, as in Zamana-i-tahsil.  Curiously, the article was attributed to ‘A.H. Fyzee’, a form of Atiya’s name that did not recognise her sex, as would have been the norm in this journal and other literary periodicals in this period.

Biography by Siobhan Lambert-Hurley


Some Reminiscences of Kashmir

Atiya Fyzee
London, England

A journey from Bombay to Kashmir via Ahmadabad, Jaipur, Agra, Delhi, Amritsar, and Lahore affords, especially to a Purdahnasheen, all the new experiences that she may wish, and reveals many of India’s varied interests, ancient and modern. Among the latter, I may mention that a Jaipuri lady lavished upon me the utmost commiseration because she …


Atiya Fyzee
Janjira, India (Original Language: English)

EXTRACT FROM YALI AKHBAR (1898) 9th May [18]98 “Yali”   First of all I will beg the reader’s pardon, especially dear ma’s (as she prefers Urdu) for writing in English. I tried in Hindustani but the “kulum” proved a complete failure. I just want to give a brief account of our never-to-be forgotten voyage from …

Further Reading

Lambert-Hurley, Siobhan, ‘Fyzee, Atiya (1877-1967) with Fyzee, Zehra (1866-1940) and Fyzee, Nazli (1874-1968)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Lambert-Hurley, Siobhan and Sunil Sharma, Atiya’s Journeys: A Muslim Woman from Colonial Bombay to Edwardian Britain (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Sharma, Sunil, ‘Delight and Disgust: Gendered Encounters in the Travelogues of the Fyzee Sisters’ [need full reference]

Tyabji, Salima, ‘Creating an Identity: The Family Journals of Tyabji Bhoymeeah of Bombay, 1877-1944’, unpublished manuscript.

Wright, Theodore P., ‘Muslim Kinship and Modernization: The Tyabji Clan of Bombay’, in Imtiaz Ahmad (ed.), Family, Kinship and Marriage among Muslims in India (Delhi: Manohar, 1976), pp. 217-38.