A true begum

By G.N
Tue, 04, 19

Tahmina Aziz Ayub, lovingly called Poonam by family and friends, is a woman of substance.........

With the co-author Deepa Agarwal (right) and N (middle)

woman @ work

Tahmina Aziz Ayub, lovingly called Poonam by family and friends, is a woman of substance. She had her early education in Karachi and Rawalpindi and did her graduation from F.G college, Islamabad. When her family moved to Rome where her father joined the UN Headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), she opted to pursue her Masters in Islamabad instead of US or UK and returned to join the Quaid-e-Azam University. Once she completed her MSc in Anthropology, she was offered the opportunity for a post-graduate research degree in Women and Development, at the University of Sussex, UK.

After she returned from UK, she decided to put her degree to practical use and involved herself in the upliftment of women's welfare and health by joining the Family Planning Association of Pakistan and worked with them for several years.

However, some years later when her husband took over as Pakistan's envoy to Italy, she had to move with him. There she joined UN Family Planning Agency and worked as part time consultant to UN and some International NGOs while abroad.

Now, she is back to Pakistan. Tahmina has recently come up with her maiden book 'Begum' - a biography of Begum Raana Liqauat Ali Khan. In an exclusive interview with You! Tahmina talks about her life and what made her interested in writing this biography. Read on...

You! Why did you select the title 'Begum'?

Tahmina Aziz Ayub: This project had been undertaken with an Indian writer, Deepa Agarwal, who was to describe Begum Ra'ana Liaquat Ali's early years of school, college, up to the time of her marriage to Nawabzada Liaquat Ali and her subsequent move to Pakistan after 1947. Part Two of this work, authored by me, describes her role as a leading public figure of Pakistan and a pioneering proponent of women's rights.

With Begum Pasha Haroon, one of the
companions of Begum Ra’ana since 1947.

The title 'Begum' was selected in consultation with her as well as the main proponent of this book Namita Gokhale (co-founder of Jaipur Lit Festival).

Gokhale has contributed with an introduction to the biography of Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan -The Begum, a well-researched portrayal of an intrepid and passionate stateswoman and wife of Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan.

This biography was to be a personal tribute to Ra'ana Liaquat by Gokhale, who had long dreamt of this, as they shared a common heritage with the lands of Kumaon and their Pant Brahmin lineage. 'The Begum' which the title emphasises, and later from our narrative emerges a formidable person who managed to straddle many cultures and many religions but in the end remained steadfastly loyal to the ideology and development of her adopted country.

You! What was your main inspiration behind writing this biography?

TAA: The main inspiration for venturing into this project was the absence of a complete biography spanning the entire life of Begum Ra'ana.

You! How long did it take to finish your book?

TAA: The writing time spent on this book by both the co-writers was roughly about 10 months starting from October 2016. The publication was somewhat delayed by Penguin Random-House, Delhi and the book came out nearly 15 months later in Dec 2018. The Pakistan paperback edition has now been published by Oxford University Press in April 2019.

You! Have you written anything before?

TAA: This book is my first writing assignment and in the face of dearth of material on many personal aspects of her life was indeed a challenging one. The first few months were spent on research, by scanning libraries and in interviews of her friends, relatives and colleagues. Prior to this two small biographic profiles had come out in 1963 and 1983 respectively. There was a comprehensive APWA publication with compilation of her speeches and a list enumerating all the awards, medals and citations she had received over the course of her life.

With Yasmine Dastoor of Apwa since Begum Sahiba’s days.

You! Are you an avid reader?

TAA: Yes.

You! What are your five favourite books?

TAA: I cannot pinpoint 5 books that are my favourite as these go into scores of titles or authors, both English and Urdu and fiction or history and poetry too!

You! What did you like to read when you were a little girl?

TAA: Yes as a young girl I read all the Enid Blyton titles and a little later it was all the Agatha Christie murder mystery thrillers.

You! Do you think e-books will be taking over paperbacks in the next 20 years or so?

TAA: It seems that e-books will probably outweigh the books in print, as access to readers to internet technology gathers pace.

You! Have you thought of writing in Urdu?

TAA: Sadly, my knowledge and understanding of Urdu does not extend beyond the reading of literature and poetry but find myself unable to express myself in it effectively. This sadly I will ascribe to my early education years in convent schools where Urdu was not given its due importance as our national language.

You! When you're not working, what are some of your favourite ways to relax and have fun?

TAA: I read, I practice yoga, I listen to eastern classical and Sufi music and here I might add that I find myself passionate about cooking but find then also myself in the bind of domesticity.

You! What is the most important advice you can give to women?

TAA: For women the most important thing is to have respect both within the family and within society and that should be the main focus of her struggle to win herself a proper and befitting place, to be remembered by.

You! Your philosophy of life:

TAA: My philosophy of a life well lived for any woman including myself, is to gain an appropriate place in the social milieu through both one's actions and beliefs.

You! Are you considering writing any other novel or book?

TAA: Yes if I do, it will be yet another historical biography of a well-known personality.