Begum Roquia: the first Indian woman sci-fi writer

Sultana’s Dream a science-fiction was first published in 1905 making it probably the first Indian sci-fi work. It is a short story written by Roquia Sakhawat Hussain. Begum Roquia was born in 1880 at Rangpur which is now in Bangladesh.

Begum Rokeya
[photo from Wikipedia]

Sultana’s Dream was first published in The Indian Ladies’ Magazine. Fortunately, the text of the story has survived. It reads like a feminist vision of the future. But it is not just a feminist vision but also a wonderfully written sci-fi story. It is a vision where women rule the country and men are holed up in “zanana” which is now called “mardana.” Since women are ruling there is peace everywhere and through the use of science all work is done efficiently and smartly.

Some snippets from the story:

Why men should be locked-up:

And you do not think it wise to keep sane people inside an asylum and let loose the insane?’

‘Of course not!’ said I laughing lightly.

‘As a matter of fact, in your country this very thing is done! Men, who do or at least are capable of doing no end of mischief, are let loose and the innocent women, shut up in the zenana! How can you trust those untrained men out of doors?’

‘Since the “Mardana” system has been established, there has been no more crime or sin; therefore we do not require a policeman to find out a culprit, nor do we want a magistrate to try a criminal case.’

Harnessing solar power:

The kitchen was situated in a beautiful vegetable garden. Every creeper, every tomato plant was itself an ornament. I found no smoke, nor any chimney either in the kitchen — it was clean and bright; the windows were decorated with flower gardens. There was no sign of coal or fire.

‘How do you cook?’ I asked.

‘With solar heat,’ she said, at the same time showing me the pipe, through which passed the concentrated sunlight and heat. And she cooked something then and there to show me the process.

Vehicle of the future:

Then she screwed a couple of seats onto a square piece of plank. To this plank she attached two smooth and well-polished balls. When I asked her what the balls were for, she said they were hydrogen balls and they were used to overcome the force of gravity. The balls were of different capacities to be used according to the different weights desired to be overcome. She then fastened to the air-car two wing-like blades, which, she said, were worked by electricity. After we were comfortably seated she touched a knob and the blades began to whirl, moving faster and faster every moment. At first we were raised to the height of about six or seven feet and then off we flew. And before I could realize that we had commenced moving, we reached the garden of the Queen.

My friend lowered the air-car by reversing the action of the machine, and when the car touched the ground the machine was stopped and we got out.

Read the full story story here. I thank Nasiruddin Haider Khan for telling me about Begum Roqiya.

Whose Urdu is it anyway?

Urdu has an identity crisis in India -is it an Indian language or just a Muslim language? Liberals will claim that it is a secular language and list names of non-Muslim writers and poets who are still counted among the legends of Urdu. But if it is a secular language and belongs as much to non-Muslims as Muslims of India then “where are the non-Muslim writers, poets, and intellectuals who love Urdu language and literature and have made teaching Urdu a mission of their lives?” asks Arif Iqbal, editor of Urdu Book Review in the Apri-June 2011 issue of the magazine.

Urdu bazar sign

Urdu Bazar Road sign in Delhi, but where is Urdu? [Photo: TwoCircles.net]

But then is it right to say Urdu is a Muslim language? Iqbal asks how many Darul Ulooms have separate departments of Urdu established? and “what are their contributions in collecting and protecting Urdu’s knowledge capital?”

We have been busy discussing in futile debates like what should be Urdu’s script or whether this language should be linked to employment.

There haven been some sensible suggestions e.g. instead of asking for Urdu-medium schools rather ask Urdu to be made an elective subject in school, colleges, and universities. But then Arif Iqbal asks “who will start this struggle?”

Read more about Arif Iqbal and Urdu Book Review here.

To subscribe UBR:

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Phone: 91-9953630788

Wali Gujarati: Father of Urdu poetry

Wali Gujarati [1667-1707] is considered father of Urdu poetry. While we all know the respect Ghalib paid to Meer few of us know what Meer Taqi Meer said about Wali:

Khugar nahin kuch yun hi hum Rekhta-goi kay
Mashooq jo apna tha, bashinda-e-Dakhan tha
[It isn’t casually that I began dabbling in Urdu
I picked it from my lover, a native of the Deccan]

Sample some of his ashaar:

mujh par na karo zulm tum, aik laila-e-khoobaN
majnooN hooN, tere gham kooN biyabaaN se kahoonga

dil-e-ishaaq kyuN na huay raushan
jab khyaal-e-sanam chiragh hua

aik qibla-roo hamesha mehrab meiN bhawaaN ki
karti haiN teri palkaaN mil kar namaaz goya

asr-e-baaadah-e-jawani hai
kar gaya hooN sawal kuchh ka kuchh

ai wali uss be-wafa ki meharbani par na bhool
dil ka dushman hai, magar karta hai baateiN pyaar ki

Wali

Here is a documentary about Wali’s life:

Hamida Chopra talking about Wali:

and some ghazals of Wali:

jisse ishq ka teer kari lage by Iqbal Bano:

Tujh lab ki sifat by Abida Parveen:

Gulab aahista aahista by Mallika Pukhraj:

Wali’s dargah was destroyed during 2002 anti-Muslim violence of Gujarat and a road built over it overnight. There is a facebook page demanding rebuilding of the dargah.