Attia Hossain

Writer and journalist Attia Hosain was born in Lucknow, India, in 1913 into a prominent feudal or taluqdari family of the Awadh province of Lucknow. Her father was educated at Christ College, Cambridge, and was a contemporary of well-known politicians of the time. Her mother’s family was fluent in the language traditions of classical Persian, Arabic and Urdu. As a result, Hosain spent her childhood in the company of the country’s leading political intelligentsia and she was taught Persian, Arabic and Urdu at an early age. She studied at the La Martinière School for Girls and later went on to the Isabella Thoburn College, a leading college for women, affiliated to the Lucknow University. In 1933 at the age of 20, she became the first woman in her family to graduate from the University of Lucknow.

She published two books throughout her lifetime that provide a unique insight into the courtly life of India’s Muslim aristocracy, and the divisions and changes which Partition brought about. Hosain began writing in a period which was mostly dominated by male writers and is known as one of the earliest female diaspora writers from the subcontinent. As Lakshmi Holmstrom points out in her essay ‘Attia Hosain: her life and work’, published on the ‘Indian Review of Books’ (Vol. 8 and 9,1991), Hosain was at least a decade older than other South Asian women writers, such as Kamala Markandaya, who also settled in the UK, and Nayantara Sahgal.

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