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Attia Hosain (1913–1998) was a writer and broadcaster who hailed from Undivided India and worked for many years in the UK. She wrote two acclaimed books, being the semi-autobiographical Sunlight on a broken column and a collection of short stories named Phoenix fled.
Background and education
Attia was born in 1913 in Lucknow into a rich, feudal land-owning Sunni Muslim family. Her father, Sheikh Shahid Husain Kidwai, was the taluqdar of Gadia, a large estate in Barabanki district. Her mother, Nisar Fatima, daughter of Syed Maqbool Hussain Alvi of Kakori, hailed from a family of educated professionals rather than land-owners. Attia was the third of five children. She had two elder sisters, Zakia and Razia, and two younger brothers, Reshad Husain and Fuad Hussain. Reshad, who remained a citizen of India, became a diplomat and served as India's High Commissioner to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 1960s. His wife, Asif Begum, was a daughter of Sir Fazl-i-Hussain, a prominent politician of undivided Punjab, belonging to the Unionist Party. Fuad (1928-68) emigrated to Pakistan at partition, became a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force, and witnessed active duty during the Indo-Pak war of 1965.
Attia's father died when she was less than eleven years old, and she was raised by her mother. She was schooled at La Martiniere Girls' College in Lucknow. At the same time, her mother arranged for her to be tutored at home by Muslim clergymmen in the Quran and other Islamic texts. After completing school at age 15, she attended Isabella Thoburn College and Lucknow University.
In 1933, aged 20, she was married to her first cousin, Ali Bahadur Habibullah, the second son of her mother's sister. Ali's father was the Taluqdar of Saidanpur, another large estate in Barabanki district. They were blessed with two children, a son Waris Ahmed Habibullah and a daughter, Shama Habibullah, both of whom are film-makers based in the UK.
Attia's husband and in-laws were active in politics as leading members and financiers of Jinnah's Muslim League, which championed the idea of creating a Muslim-majority country by partitioning India. The family were closely allied with the Raja of Mahmudabad (Attia's father-in-law had served as manager of that vast estate for twenty-six years, 1905-31) who was the chief financier of the Muslim League. Attia's mother-in-law, Begum Enam Habibullah, became in 1938 the founding president of the womens' wing of the Muslim League. The efforts of that couple bore deadly fruit in 1947, when India became independent and was partitioned at the same time, creating a new Muslim-majority country, Pakistan. Attia's in-laws, who had so actively promoted that cause, found themselves in something of a fix, because their ancestral lands and properties lay in UP), in the heart of Hindu-majority India, and they had little to do with the provinces that became Pakistan. With good foresight, Attia and her husband solved this dilemma by moving to Britain in 1947, immediately after partition. She moved to Britain in 1947 and became a broadcaster for the BBC, hosting a popular women's radio programme.
Attia's niece is the Pakistani author Muneeza Shamsie and her great-niece is author Kamila Shamsie. British television director Waris Hussein is her son and film producer Shama Habibullah is her daughter.
- Gold medal when she became the first women from a Taluqdar family to graduate from the University of Lucknow in 1933. (She married Ali Bahadur Haibullah in the same year on 27 February).
- The Attia Hosain Trust Fund at Newnham College, Cambridge was set up to fund public lectures on multiculturalism and is presently (2007) funding the fees of South Asian women students at the College.
List of works (incomplete)
- Phoenix Fled, Chatto & Windus, 1953
- Sunlight on a Broken Column, Chatto & Windus, 1961
- Cooking the Indian Way, 1967
- Windmills of my mind
- Windmills of my mind
- Interview with Attia Hosain 1991 at harappa.com accessed July 2007
- Attia Hosain in the Literary Encyclopedia by Muneeza Shamsie accessed July 2007
- Patrick Mulkern, Doctor Who director Waris Hussein on Burton and Taylor, racism and An Adventure in Space and Time, Radio Times, October 2013
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