Qaisari Begum

قیصری بیگم
Hyderabad, India
1888-1976

Qaisari Begum (1888-1976) was born into a prominent political and literary family in Delhi; her grandfather, Deputy Nazir Ahmad (1831-1912), is regarded as the first Urdu-language novelist. Qaisari Begum grew up engaged in political and activist-oriented spheres, and was invested in community service, often focusing on issues of women’s education, throughout her life. As a young woman in 1928, she was chosen to attend the All India Women’s Conference in Delhi, as a delegate from Hyderabad. The historic conference addressed women’s rights, early marriage, and divorce among other pressing issues. Qaisari Begum also authored Kitab-i Zindagi (The Book of Life), an autobiography of her life’s work that is cherished and read by many today. The autobiography takes the reader through Qaisari Begum’s many travels between Delhi and Hyderabad and even Hajj, while still retaining a unique focus on the questions and concerns of domestic life. Her accounts were never written with the intention of publishing and widespread circulation: the intended audience was primarily her family members. The pieces, 260 in total, bound in seven separate notebooks, were kept by Qaisari Begum’s daughter Muhammadi Begum. Before Qaisari Begum’s passing, her brother’s grandson Shan-ul-Haq Haqqi (1917-2005) published her accounts in the literary journal, Urdunama, and the pieces were subsequently celebrated at large for not only their content, but also Qaisari Begum’s unique voice and writing style. Qaisari Begum was ecstatic upon hearing that her private writings had found such an extensive audience, although the series came to a sudden and saddening close when Urdunama shut down in 1976. Qaisari Begum passed away soon after, but her work was published as Kitab-i Zindagi (The Book of Life) in 2003, when her granddaughter Zehra Masroor Ahmad prepared a fully edited and published edition (republished 2018).

Biography by Sharmain Siddiqui

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The Book of Life

Qaisari Begum
1936
Medina (Original Language: Urdu)

In Medina Now it was time for us to travel to the holy city of Medina. My heart was bursting with happiness. When the dawn of that blessed day arrived, we went down the stairs of the chambers we were staying in and waited for the car to arrive. First, we went from Mecca Mu’azzama …