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ANIS KIDWAI (1906–1982)

Begum Anis Kidwai was born in 1906 in Bara Banki and spent her early life there. Her father, Sheikh Wilait Ali, was a prominent lawyer, and he also wrote for the humour columns of Maulana Mohammed Ali’s Comrade and Raja Ghulam Hussain’s New Era; his writing was appreciated for its biting wit and style. The family was patriotic yet orthodox, and Anis’s father was a strict disciplinarian. Anis, confined at home, was a self-taught student. She satisfied her inborn taste for literature by listening to the tutors engaged to teach her brothers, and thus became well versed in Urdu and English.

Anis married her cousin Shafi Ahmed Kidwai in 1920 and lived with him first in Allahabad and then in other cities, wherever her husband’s job took them. Shafi, the brother of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, was a freedom fighter and a close friend of the Nehru family. Rafi Ahmed was imprisoned regularly for his activism and his family, including Anis and Shafi, faced regular political persecution. From 1921 to 1923 she served as a secretary of the Women’s Congress Committee.

In 1947 Shafi was killed in Dehra Dun fighting a brutal communal attack. Realising that her personal tragedy was part of a wider disaster befalling the women of the subcontinent, Anis left the security of her home, gave up the burqah and went to Delhi where she worked tirelessly together with Subhadra Joshi and Mridula Sarabhai to help the victims of the communal bloodbath that followed Independence. She helped to rehabilitate thousands of refugees who had fled from Pakistan to Delhi, and established in Lucknow a home for lost and kidnapped women and children, both Hindu and Muslim. From 1956 to 1968 she was a member of the Rajya Sabha and also a member of the court of Jamia Millia Islamia University at New Delhi, as well as presiding over numerous welfare and educational institutions and associations.

Though self-taught, Anis had an amazing command over Urdu and wrote in lucid and chaste prose. Her book Azadi Ki Chhaon Mein, published in 1974, gives a description of her own experiences with refugees, with communal brutality, the corruption and venality of administrative officers and the efforts of Gandhiji to combat them. The book won her an award from the Urdu Academy of Uttar Pradesh. Another book, Ab Jinke Dekhne Ko, published in 1980, received an award and was based on her acquaintance with freedom fighters. Nazre Kush Guzre is a collection of her essays, where she tackles serious problems of life in her own style. The Sahitya Kala Parishad honoured Anis for her contribution to literature. She also authored Char Rukh, a book on the lives and work of writers and poets. She passed away in 1982, on an auspicious Friday in the Ramzan month, leaving behind a son and two daughters.
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