Qurratulain Hyder (1927-2007): Literature Does Not Die

Posted on August 21, 2007
Filed Under >Raza Rumi, People, Urdu
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by Raza Rumi

I have been upset the entire day. Perhaps it does not matter in the larger scheme of things. But this is a sad, sad day. Qurratulain Hyder, the literary giant of our times is no more. At a personal level it is not just the death of another literary figure but it is far greater and deeper than that. Ainee inspired generations of Urdu readers and there is not a single Urdu writer of post-independence era who has not been influenced by her.

Ainee had a civilizational consciousness that took us beyond the nation-state identities that we are so familiar with in our everyday lives. And, of course there was romance – the notion of eastern and Indic romance – that touched our lives. As I wrote earlier, that the way I have understood the world and perhaps parts of myself were deeply influenced by Ainee.

And now her death is a blow that this source of inspiration is not there anymore; as it is we are living in barren times where literature is about marketing and packaging and catering to consumers.

Ainee primarily wrote for herself but reached out and made her mark – and in the process she connected with millions of readers. And I am just one of them. My friends and I have talked today and we recounted how she shaped our inner lives.

I have at least avoided a regret – I met her after years of longing. Met her twice at her house in her frail state and enjoyed the hours. The impressions were indelible. Of course, the ambitious self had planned a meeting later this year.

But there will be nobody in that Noida house. That little temple opposite her house will remain and the sound of Azaan from a neighbouring mosque will also heard. But the hearty laughter, quick witted lines and inimitable writings will not be there.

However, as a friend said – writers die, their stories don’t -makes me a little content.

Farewell, Ainee Apa. May God keep you happy wherever you are…

Photo Credits: The black-and-White photo in this post is courtesy of Prashant Panjiar

40 Comments on “Qurratulain Hyder (1927-2007): Literature Does Not Die”

  1. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    August 21st, 2007 2:37 pm

    Yes Raza this is indeed a sad day for Urdu and Urdu lovers. I read the news at BBC this morning. I am afraid that with the demise of people like Qurrat-ul-Ain Haider and others, Urdu language in India will die with them and it will be left up to Pakistanis to keep this beautiful language alive. Unfortunately in Pakistan too Urdu has taken a political color whereas it should not have. Urdu is our heritage and defines us who we are. She even though lived in India and did not subscribe to Pakistan was nevertheless one of us. May God almighty bless her soul.

  2. Daktar says:
    August 21st, 2007 2:51 pm

    I sincerely hope this discussion will not turn into being about where she lived. Let us remember her for her contributions to Urdu literature to keep the craft of the kahani not just alive but thriving. Let us please respect her memory in her death. She was clearly an inspiration to Urdu writers and readers and it is befitting that we remember her with dignity. Maybe the best tribute for a writer is to pick up something by them and read it. Whether you have ever read smething by her or not, I am convinced if you do today you will be moved.

  3. sidhas says:
    August 21st, 2007 2:57 pm

    May her soul rest in peace. May Allah showers blessing on her. I read her novel and only thing I remember now is that I enjoyed and found myself immersed into the characters. It was a pure delight.

  4. Aisha says:
    August 21st, 2007 3:01 pm

    what a loss. My own interest in urdu literature took root after reading Aag ka Darya. As if Qurut-ul- ain Haider personally came to me through her book and woke me from a deep slumber to the wonders of Urdu.In every sense of the word I became alive then and remained a devotee of her writings ever since. It feels like I have lost a dear friend. May she rest in eternal peace.

  5. Indscribe says:
    August 21st, 2007 3:18 pm

    Pervaiz Bhai, no Urdu will not die in India. The worst phase is over. jitna Urdu ki tabaahi honii thii voh to ho chuki hindustan meN, ab isse zyaada kyaa hogi.

    She didn’t subscribe to Pakistan! I don’t think so. Of course, in civilisational sense she considered the whole area as one geographical unit, the sub-continent or barr-e-sagheer.

    Some big novels have been written in recent years in India. Syed Mohamamd Ashraf, Shamoil Ahmad, Ghazanfar, Shaukat Hayat, Musharraf Alam Zauqi and numerous others are writing. Nambardal ka Neela, was a major novel by Ashraf.

    No doubt this is not the age when great literature is written. This is the feeling world over. Readers are less in Urdu in India, it is true. But certain regions have potential. In Maharashtra, Bihar, Urdu is doing well.

    Prose writing in India is slightly better than in Pakistan though in poetry Pakistani Urdu poetry is far ahead of contemporary Urdu shaaeri in India.

    Even in pre-independent era when Urdu was lingua franca, the lack of purchasing power of Urdu masses had forced Prem Chand to switch to Hindi because the circulation of Hindi books was less but patronage by Seths of aggressive Hindi revivalists ensured that writers in Hindi got good money. Urdu masses rarely bought books and one book bought was read by numerous families.

    It continued until the Nikhat publication from Allahabad arrived on the scene and Ibn-e-Safi craze swept the country. Now the purchasing power of Muslims in India has improved.

    For the first time in history, an Urdu newspaper (Roznama Sahara) in India has gone well past the figure of 1 lakh circulation and is published from not just Delhi, Lucknow and Patna but also Gorakhpur, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore amongst others.

    One lakh is not a big figure for Pakistan. But considering that in India, Urdu-speakers are a minority in many states, 10-12% and even amongst them not all literate, and have poor network of distributors and agents.

  6. Raza Rumi says:
    August 21st, 2007 3:19 pm

    Dear friends, thanks for the comments.

    Ainee’s stature is based on her powerful writing and the innovations she introduced in her style of writing novels. The Times Literary Supplement once commented that she can be counted alongside her contemporaries Milan Kundera and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as one of the world

  7. Qadoos says:
    August 21st, 2007 3:42 pm

    Mujhe Bitiya Na Kigeeyo Aglay Ganam
    A tribute to Muslim Feminist of millenium

  8. August 21st, 2007 6:18 pm

    was she pakistani citizen, i donot think so, she gave up the idea of PAKISTANIAT and went back to settle in india, is pakistaniat.com exclusive to pakistani features only please explain

  9. Adnan Ahmad says:
    August 21st, 2007 10:54 pm

    Raza, I don’t have words to describe my sorrow. You are lucky to have met her. I will live with the desire to meet this woman of remarkable stature. Dr. Salam, no less, once said that her novel “aag kaa duryaa: river of fire” is a new turn in the history of urdu literature. Perhaps a post about her works may be even more appropriate here. I first started reading aag ka durya in 8th grade, read about 200 pages and then my head spun and gave up. But characters of Gotum Neelambar, Hury shankar, Kamal and Champak stayed with me for an other decade until I read the novel again. As someone once aptly said she was the poetess of the history. Her short stories were master pieces in themselves. I can think of “aglay janam mohay bityya na kee’jo,”ye ghazi ye teray purasrar bunday” and so many more. She also did many translations of great russian novels of the 19th century. Pakistan did not treat her right and she went back to India with a dejected heart in 1958. But it must be noted that the greatest novel of urdu literature, aag ka duriya, was written in Maripur, Karachi by Quratul-Ain at age 32. Many agree that the novel was/is like an elephant’s foot that covered everything that had been written in urdu nasar up until that point. In fact one can even see clear shades of it in Abdullah Hussein’s best work “udaas naslain; weary generations.”

    I end my comment on this verse for her:

    undder bhi zamee’n ke roshni ho
    mutti mein diya rukh diya he

  10. YLH says:
    August 22nd, 2007 12:16 am

    It must be remembered that she migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and worked for the information ministry.

    Her disillusionment with Pakistan came with Ayub Khan’s curbs on press and intellectual freedom.

    Pakistan is an unlucky country… some leave it, most are pushed away.

  11. August 22nd, 2007 2:49 am

    The greatest of them all has left us for good.

  12. Raza Rumi says:
    August 22nd, 2007 4:10 am

    Adnan Mian – thanks for adding to this discussion. Yes her greatest work was written in Pakistan. She left everything in India and migrated to Pakistan. As our wise friend YLH said that her departure from Pakistan was due to the censorship under Ayub rule and witch hunting that started after the publication of Urdu language’s best novel.
    She was disgruntled and heart-broken not to mention feared insecurity. She was no political activist who would have made capitalout of such persecution.
    so she moved to India. Like Champa, her legendary character who also moves to her small town -
    Yes this was Pakistan’s loss.
    During our last conversation, I asked her that how she coped with this dilemma – that her readership was in Pakistan and she lived in India (where Urdu is let’s face it a minority language). She was quite stoic about it and said that India was a complex and multi-lingual country and she had accepted this fact when she moved back. And, that she had no pretentsions or ambitions of being a ‘popular’ writer.
    I suspect that there was an underlying sense of history in her nonchalance – great writing finds recognition across borders, cultures and langauges..
    This is why I like the title that Owais has invented for this post – great literature indeed never dies.

  13. Adonis says:
    August 22nd, 2007 4:59 am

    ‘Aag ka darya’ was one of the most fascinating books I’ve read. Even she could not write anything like that afterwards.

    I rate her as the best female urdu writer after Bano Qudsia. Her death is a great loss for Urdu. May she rest in peace. Amen.

  14. Isalma says:
    August 22nd, 2007 6:49 am

    There are two kind of people, one who have read Ainee Apa and inspired the others who have not read her..

    I am proud to belong to the first group .

  15. Isalma says:
    August 22nd, 2007 6:56 am

    There are two kind of people, one who have read Ainee Apa and got inspired ,the other who have not read her.

    Bus itna samajhney walon key liye kfi hey.

  16. Samina Taslim says:
    August 22nd, 2007 9:12 am

    I am one of the readers who has cherished Qurrat ul Ain Hyder’s writings for years. I felt sad on her demise as if someone close to me had passed away.

    My favourite novel is Aakhire Shab ke Ham Safar as its themes, mood and characters left a deep impression on me. In particular, the romance of Bengal and idealism of its characters has inspired me for years.

    I spent my evening looking at her books and reading bits of them..this was my way of consoling myself..

    May she rest in peace !

  17. August 22nd, 2007 12:59 pm

    It is diffucult to gauge the loss by someone who has not been into Urdu literature (I am very ashamed to say that, but I am trying to get over this shortcoming).

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raaji

  18. Fawad says:
    August 22nd, 2007 2:45 pm

    Raza, I am glad you wrote this piece on the sad occasion of Qurratulain Hyder’s passing away. She is indeed one of the greatest Urdu prose writers in history.

    My father, whom you know, is visiting me here in the US these days and told me something amusing that later in her life Quarratulain Hyder would become somewhat irritated when people only praised Aag ka Darya as she wanted people to move beyond that great work and assess her later writings as well. My own favorite work is Aakhir-e-Shab ke Humsafar and having an attachment to well written family histories I have always thoroughly enjoyed Kaar-e-Jahaan Daraz Hai (which is described by her as “Ek Sawanihi Novel”)

    Literary rankings are really just a fun parlor game and very personal but I believe that in Urdu prose she is the very best amongst the novelists, Manto the best short story writer and Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi the finest humorist. Their canvasses are large and no single country, language or culture circumscribes their work. Their writing despite being deeply rooted in India and Pakistan is universal, non-ideological and deeply humanistic. These are the characteristics of truly great literary works all over the world.

  19. August 22nd, 2007 10:09 pm

    Ms. Hyder, the great writer, was quite old and living alone. She had written her best novels. I guess by now she must have lived a full life. And though she is gone,her stories will remain with us till we die. So Reza, cheer up.

    But I do regret that she spent the last years of her life in NOIDA. NOIDA is a Delhi suburb. I live quite close to it.

    It is a kind of pretentious place with lots of glitzy malls and upcoming apartments and fancy mansions and snooty golf courses. It lacks the charm and elegance of old world Delhi. It is difficult to relate Ms. Hyder’s persona with NOIDA. She should have been living in Nizamuddin East or in a Mukherjee Nagar mansion or even in some decrepit three-room house in Daryaganj or Chandni Chowk.
    I’m sorry the great Urdu author had to live in that ugly place

  20. GSR says:
    August 23rd, 2007 7:53 am

    It indeed is a great loss to the wold of literature. RR you re one of the few lucky ones to have met her in person. Now you inspire all of us who have not yet emabrked on the journey to read Ag Ka dariya-
    Its sad how Pakistani establishment has alwys turned away intellect from the country-resulting in chaos that is Pakistan today.

  21. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    August 23rd, 2007 9:41 am

    Qurrat-ul-Ain Haider was a great Urdu writer. Her stature as such was established half a century ago. Reading comments here it is also obvious that she was a popular writer as well. Even though all news sites have covered her passing away, we are thankful to Raza Rumi for posting his tributes to a women he has affectionately referred as ‘Aini Appa’. She definitely has a face of a loving ‘Khala Jan’. However I can not help noticing in some of the comments here that she was not treated well or she was less welcomed by the Government of Pakistan. We know she, most likely with her family, migrated to Pakistan in 1947 as a young woman. We also learn that in 1958 she moved back to her native India. Would Raza Rumi, or Yasar Latif Hamadani or other learned folks here throw some light on her life and work within that time period. Was she really unhappy in Pakistan or with Pakistan and was left with no choice but to move back to India. Did she do so all alone or along with her husband and children. I hope folks here do not get upset with my line of questioning. I raise these questions with utmost respect to the writer and her followers and only in the interest of truth. Before we start blaming Pakistan for the personal decisions of individuals let us separate fiction from the facts. After all there are millions who were born in India and found happiness in Pakistan. Some even rose to the level of Presidents and Prime Ministers. Thank you all.

  22. Raza Rumi says:
    August 23rd, 2007 1:25 pm

    Pervaiz Bhai:

    Thanks for your comments and the questions.
    Ainee Apa never married. She migrated to India in 1967. I had tried to address these issues in my earlier comment:

    “She left everything in India and migrated to Pakistan in 1947 with her family. As our wise friend YLH said that her departure from Pakistan was due to the censorship under Ayub rule and witch hunting that started after the publication of Urdu language

  23. Shahran Asim says:
    August 23rd, 2007 5:31 pm

    Well the irony is none of the mainstream pakistani channels did a special segment on this great writer.
    They can do that for TV Film and. Stage actors why can’t they do it on these famous writers and poets.


  24. Raza Rumi says:
    August 24th, 2007 1:50 am

    Slight mistake in my comment above: Ainee migrated to India in 1961 not 1967 as was inadvertently stated above.

  25. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    August 24th, 2007 8:10 am

    Thanks Raza for the additional information. It will be great if you or some one else would write a comprehensive and unbiased essay about her work and life in Pakistan between years 1947 and 1961. Also thanks for the link to ‘The Annual of Urdu Studies’. For few years I myself had subscribed to this journal coming out of Center For South Asia, University of Wisconsin, Madison, editor, Muhammad Umar Memon. It is a good source of reference in English about Urdu Literature.

  26. Raza Rumi says:
    August 24th, 2007 1:02 pm

    Alvi Saheb:
    I hope someone attempts that – if not I will obey your command:)

    This particular period is also important as it was ironically a major era in terms of the evolution of Urdu literature. Ainee’s life in Pakistan was most colourful. She worked for the Information department – in fact contributed to several documentaries especially in the then Eastern wing (now Bangladesh). It is during this period that she also fell in love with the beauty of Bengal and its rivers, its magic and poetry.Within years, these impressions emerged in the form of Aakhire Shab ke Hamsafar that dealt with pre-Independence Bengal province and characters who then evolve and ultimately are victims of time – and the story becomes a major time travel of human spirit.

    This was also the time when she was published in all Pakistani literary journals and also completed Aag Ka Darya in a most casual manner. Imagine producing a novel covering 4th century BC to 1950s at the age 32! It is a pity that not many -globally – know about this work.

    This is also the time when she was being approached by admirers who included Javaid Iqbal, Shahab and Ijaz Batalvi etc. However, like her characters, she remained lonely and aloof from all these men despite the fact that she was a beautiful woman. Some of these pictures are in her autobiogrpahical novel referred in my earlier comment.

    So she took off for a job with BBC London in 1961 – rather disgruntled and disappointed with a society that was not willing to accept her individuality and freedom to have a larger than life vision of her history and civilization. Right wing Urdu papers wrote against her and the Left chided her for not being a comrade and creating literature dictated by ideology. She wrote from a historical perspective and refused to adhere to ‘theoretical’ ideologies.

    And after 1961, she did not return. It is said that Nehru persuaded her to return to India. Nehru also persuaded Ustad Barre Ghulam Ali Khan to return to India – and he did – as he appreciated the stature of these legends and wanted them to be part of India.

    More later, when I write the piece – or do I need to now??

  27. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    August 24th, 2007 2:21 pm

    Raza: Thanks for whetting the appetite. We know you will be back with more nuggets. May be one day we will have moral courage to name an institute or a chair after her. After all Pakistan owns Qurrat-ul-Ain Hyder as much as others do.

  28. Adnan Ahmad says:
    August 24th, 2007 2:27 pm

    kahee’n to beher-e-khuda aaj zikr-e-yaar chale

    Raza, By all means write that piece. I have known most of what you wrote but it’s a pleasure to read these details. By the way from our collection I remember old booklets of her translations.. “alps key geet..” etc. with her picture in the back of the book. She was a beautiful woman.

    Pervaiz Sahib, As you very well remember, Javed Iqbal wrote almost a page on Ms. Haider in his brutally honest autobiography even though he skipped the pursuing part. On that same page he also called it unfortunate to have joined the parade blasting the novel. They became friends again much later in life.

    To quote shakil adilzada, “one can say Quratulain was born much ahead of her.. and one can also wish she was born even before. “

  29. Raza Rumi says:
    August 25th, 2007 5:23 am

    thanks Alvi Saheb :)

    Adnan Mian: thanks for the comment and the reference to the Javiad Iqbal’s autobiography. There is so much that can be said about this – as part of our national traits – but I would not like to digress.

    Luckily, I have found a translation of Aag Ka Darya’s foreword and it is on my website

  30. August 27th, 2007 12:13 pm


    Renowned Poet, Jamiluddin Aali provided another view of the personal reasons for her moving to India. This is really interesting since most of the time I heard that she moved due to Martial Law. According to this that is not the case.


  31. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    August 27th, 2007 2:54 pm

    Shahran Asim: Thanks for providing the link. If this account of Jamil-ud-Din Aali is correct then Ms. Haider left for India because of her personal and not for some political reasons as stated here by few. It is a pity that she had to move back to India to claim her fathers insurance money and that too if she once again became Indian citizen.

  32. MQ says:
    August 27th, 2007 9:51 pm

    Here is another take by a senior civil servant and a contemporary of QAHaider on why she left Pakistan:

  33. Raza Rumi says:
    August 28th, 2007 7:37 am

    MQ: thanks – since the civil servant was an all powerful member of Pak establishment for years, his view reflects the bias clearly. However, the letter was badly edited :(

    Shahran: thanks for the link. I have read this and Mr Aly’s conclusion is pretty tentative as he says himself at the end of the article. Mr Aly and many others of his ilk were a little startled by Ainee’s decision to move back.

    It was not the martial law but the intellectual climate of Pakistan where you had to be in sync with the official history or else you would be an outcast.
    Here is what Q Hyder said in her 1988 foreword to Aag Ka Darya:

    “There is such a well-established chain of rumors and fictional spin stories about this novel that any refutation of them is simply beyond me. Recently, Qudrat-ullah-Shahab

  34. Raza Rumi says:
    August 28th, 2007 7:45 am

    Please also see this article in the Jang by Masood As’ar where he talks of the environment created for her and also brings out Ainee’s eccentricities:


  35. Adnan Ahmad says:
    August 28th, 2007 10:01 am

    I can’t help but remember a line from the translation of the part of t. s. eliot poem printed right in the beginning of the novel (I am sure it was from Four Quartets).

    Time the destroyer is time the preserver

    waqt jo tabahkun he–qaaim bhi rakhta he

    In a different context, we are seeing all these unheard of names in this discussion who played the role of a villain but what happened to them in the end. Time brought even them under the elephant’s foot I talked about earlier and crushed them. In this day and age it is almost as if someone trashed Mir’s or Ghalib’s poetry and reflected on his own calibre.

    On a much lighter note, I also remember the scene from Mel Brooke’s movie ‘history of teh world’ where he introduces the critic after the first human art work is created.

  36. Sophia Ali says:
    November 12th, 2007 2:08 am

    Dear Raza and other friends,
    I can shed some light on why Ainee left. Going to Lucknow University before Partition my father was close personal friends with her.Many years after his death I spent the day with her in 1998 at her house in Noida and asked her exactly why she chose to leave Pakistan. She told me that at the time she was making a documentary on some rural folk dancing in what was then East Pakistan.The only problem was that the women were dancing around the figure of Krishna. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting told her that they could release the documentary but the footage of Krishna had to be cut. It was at this point she told me she was utterly disgusted at this senseless censorship and decided to return to India.


  37. January 18th, 2008 11:14 am

    qurratulain ki maut…ek ahad ke khatme se tabeer ki ja sakti hai.lekin sach yeh hai-ki achha likhne walon ki aaj bhi koi kami nahi–waheed ahmed ka novel..zeenu, ashraf shaad ke 3 novel..wazeer azam, bewatan, sadre aala, asim butt ka daira, achhe novel hain..aur bade bhi—guftugu ka darwaza is liye nahi khul raha hai..ki ..ab mna naqqaad hain…na wo padhne waale–pakistan ke adeeb zyadater pak ke adeebon ko jaante aur unhi per likhte hain.hind ke adeeb hind ke logon ko–pak aur hind ke alawa bhi..urdu ki ek aalmi basti hai-khud mere novel BAYAN ke baare mein mashoor naqqad..DR.MD .HASSAN ne likha ki azaadi ke baad urdu mein aisa novel nahi likha gaya..pokemon ki dunia, aur..prof s. ki ajeeb daastaan via tsunami..mere naye novel hain—lekin kitne logon ki nazar se yeh kitab guzri hai–farooqi apni bekaar kitaab…novel ko apne chand chaapluson ke zariye..main stream mein le aate hain.lekin kitne adeeb self projection ka hunar jaante hain—is liye..qurratulain ke baad bhi..bahut achha adab likha ja raha hai—shayed un se behter adab..kam log hain is ka ehsaas hai..lekin adab zinda hai

  38. Naveed Abbas says:
    October 29th, 2009 1:58 am

    Dear Raza, Aaniee appa was a great writer and much more than that. “Aag Ka Dariya” amazing thought… Reminding, “Khak mein kya sorrtein hoon gee keh pinha ho gae”. Thanks for the excellent post.

  39. Irshad Hameed says:
    December 24th, 2009 2:37 pm

    While Aini was great on depicting the perspective of Indian civilization, and she was not only greatly moved by partition but also confused about it as she left India, went to Pakistan, and again came back, there was something lacking in her which made her to do it. She did not have the deep and clinching perception of new India that is visible in the trend setting novel MAKAAN of Paigham Afaqui or Divya Vani of Ghazanfer.Her novels Gardishe Range Chaman or Chandni Begum which appeared in the end of 20th century has absolutely no evidence of her wareness about the time in which she lived. She lived on the periphery of Indian life and cultural realms that she lived in and depicted was escapist venture. It gives nothing about mainstream Indian life. Not all writers are influenced by her like there seems to be no influence of the flowery and decorative language of Qurtul Ain or her traditional diction or imported technique of stream of consciousness on the most original Urdu novelist Paigham Afaqui whose novel Makaan not only revived the genre in Urdu but unchained the style of which Ain etc were prisoners.

  40. François Joutet says:
    April 13th, 2010 1:26 pm

    I would like to get in touch with Samina Taslim, who commented on August 22nd, 2007 9:12 am. Please communicate my e-mail address to her asking her to get back to me.

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