In the winter of 1932, a raging storm broke in conservative circles in the United Provinces (present-day Uttar Pradesh), at the centre of which was a woman writer named Rashid Jahan. One of India’s earliest Muslim women doctors, Rashid Jahan is considered Urdu literature’s first ‘Angry Young Woman’, and would become ‘notorious’ for pushing the boundaries of how ‘shareef’ (respectable) women were supposed to behave. The roots of Rashid Jahan’s ‘notoriety’ lay in the controversy of 1932 that would forever give her the moniker ‘Angareywali Rashid Jahan’.
The trigger was the publication of an Urdu anthology of ten short stories and plays titled ‘Angarey’ (Embers) in December 1932. The stories and plays had been written by four young and idealistic authors – Sajjad Zahir, Ahmad Ali, Mahmuduzaffar and Rashid Jahan – who hoped the anthology would be “a declaration of war by the youth of the middle class against the prevailing social, political and religious institutions”.
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