A Most Noble Life is the extraordinary story of Ashrafunnisa Begum, who was born in an obscure village in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, taught herself to read and write, in secret, against the wishes of her elders and prevailing norms, and went on to teach and inspire generations of young girls at the Victoria Girls’ School—the first school for girls in Lahore. Her unusual life was written about with great poignancy by Muhammadi Begum—the first woman to edit a journal in Urdu, and a prolific writer of fiction and poetry for adults and children, and instructional books for women during her brief life. She aptly titled the biography Hayat-e Ashraf: it echoes the name of her subject, but also means ‘the noblest life’.
The two women, who met by chance at a wedding, instantly developed a strong mutual affinity, which grew into a lifelong bond. In Ashrafunnisa Begum, Muhammadi Begum saw not only the mother she had lost as a child, but also an inspiring role model who had led a principled life of her own making, and shown amazing grace and strength against grave odds.
This is the first complete English translation of Hayat-e Ashraf (1904). The translator, a longtime scholar of Urdu literature and culture, also provides the first detailed study of the life and works of its author, Muhammadi Begum, and highlights in an ‘Afterword’ two key social issues of the time, women’s literacy and widow remarriage, which remain as relevant today.
An absorbing narrative, observant, witty and poignant, lovingly translated and annotated by C. M. Naim, it affords us precious and candid glimpses of ordinary Muslim women in the nineteenth century who, unknown to themselves, led less than ordinary lives.
Contents: List of Images
A Most Noble Life by Muhammadi Begum
Three Essays by Ashrafunnisa Begum
The Evils of Pampering
On Adopting a Child
Three Essays on Victoria Girls’ School, Lahore
Victoria Girls’ School, Lahore
A Visit to the Victoria Girls’ School
A Special Event at the Victoria Girls’ School