At just 20 years of age, Attia was the first woman from her family to graduate from Lucknow University.
Recognizing the need of intellectual, social and religious growth, many Muslim reformers and intellectuals encouraged the spread of modern education among their community. Their progressive thoughts and ideas clashed with the ideologies of the conservatives, who termed western education as 'un-Islamic'. It was in the midst of such deep conflicts and fierce debates, Attia Hosain was born in 1913, belonging to the liberal Kidwai clan of Oudh.
Attia grew up on a healthy diet of political liberalism & poetic knowledge
The redefining moment for modern India is the country's independence and partition. The ideology that ultimately led to India's division originated from the uncertainty and apprehension experienced by a certain section of Indian Muslims, after the deposition of Bahadur Shah Zafar.
While the event instilled a deep sense of distress within Muslims, there was also a slow decline in their social and economic conditions after 1857. During a confrontation between the conservatives and liberals, many reformers came forward to propagate the need for female education.
Attia's father, Sheikh Shahid Husain Kidwai, was a progressive man who had studied at Christ College and Cambridge University. Consequently, she inherited a keen interest in politics and nationalism from him. Her mother, Nisar Fatima, was a poet and scholar of Urdu, Persian and Arabic and had established an institute for women's education and welfare in Lucknow, her hometown.
Hosain's phenomenal writing career
Attia was associated with the Progressive Writers' Association and met famous and nationalistic writers like Ahmad Ali, Sajjad Zaheer, Mulk Raj Anand, Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto, through it. Hosain also attended the 1936 Lucknow session of the association, chaired by Premchand.
Attia moreover wrote for famous newspapers like The Pioneer and The Statesman in Calcutta and many magazines published her short stories too. In 1953, Attia published her first collection of short stories titled 'Phoenix Fled'. She has also authored 'After the Storm' and 'The daughter-in-law', in consecutive years.
'Sunlight on a Broken Column' reflects on Attia's life experiences!
The writings of Hosain before the partition, portray the conditions of Muslim women vividly alongside depicting the customs and heritage of her fraternity, differently. One of her works even mentions the orthodox janana attitude and parda palan or the veil system of the community, back then. Further, another one of her noted pieces, 'The First Party', reflects on the struggle of a young bride who dealt with her husband's modernization.
Anita Desai, the writer of 'Introduction of Hosains: Sunlight on a Broken Column', also praises Attia's work for its deep and decorative writing about the partition of India. Additionally, in her essay about Attia Hosain, which was published in the Indian Review of Books, Lakshmi Holmston has also mentioned Hosain's extraordinary life and work.