Obituary: Attia Hosain

Attia Hosain, writer: born Lucknow, India 20 October 1913; married Ali Bahadur Habibullah (one son, one daughter); died London 23 January 1998.

The people who came to see Attia Hosain honoured at a book launch a few weeks ago could have been forgiven for expecting a subdued and fragile old lady. After all, Hosain was 84, had had a long and turbulent life and for years had been in poor health. The launch demanded nothing of her but that she sit on stage as a sort of icon and accept the homage of her admirers, while her daughter - the film producer Shama Habibullah - read from one of her mother's early World Service pieces.

But Hosain was not one to sit back passively letting encomiums wash over her. Despite her physical difficulties, she immediately engaged with her audience, vividly sharing her emotions and memories. Her indomitability and eloquence swept problems aside, with a degree of hauteur and a magnificent sense of style.

Those qualities must have stood her in good stead. She was born in 1913 into an aristocratic family in Lucknow - a city that is a byword for Muslim scholarship and culture. From her father she inherited a keen interest in politics and nationalism. From her mother's family of poets and scholars she drew a rich knowledge of Urdu, Persian and Arabic. Her knowledge of English came from an English governess, and subsequently as one of the few Indian girls at an English medium school. She was the first woman from her background to take a degree at Lucknow University.

From early on she was a communicator, first through feature articles for Indian papers, the Pioneer and the Statesman, and membership of the radical Progressive Writers' Movement. The fiction came later, as a result - she recently speculated - of politics and dislocation.

In 1947, when India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, Hosain was in London with her husband, who had been posted the year before to the High Commission. The division of the two countries and the separation of two religious communities caused her great pain. Immensely proud of her heritage as both a Muslim and an Indian, she chose to remain in England and bring up her daughter and son - now the film director Waris Hussein - on her own. The change brought her a career as a regular broadcaster with her own women's programme on the BBC World Service and a new perspective.

But the sense of damaged cultural roots never fully died away. "Here I am, I have chosen to live in this country which has given me so much; but I cannot get out of my blood the fact that I had the blood of my ancestors for 800 years in another country." It was that, she said in her last piece - to be published in an anthology later this year - that drove her to write.

In 1953, Chatto and Windus brought out her book of short stories Phoenix Fled. Eight years later came Sunlight on a Broken Column, an evocative and carefully detailed novel which traces, via the story of young Laila, a society in transition. It was over 20 years, however, before the book was widely recognised. Brought out of oblivion by Virago in their splendid Modern Classics in 1988, it re-established Attia Hosain in the public eye and gave her a platform which she embraced with zest.

- Naseem Khan

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy