Chandni Begum is Qurratulain Hyder’s last, most enigmatic and daring of her novels. It spans the period from the Partition to the time of the Mandir-Masjid dispute in Ayodhya in the early Nineties, consistently connecting the present to the past. Centred around two prominent Lucknow families, the narrative closes in on the lives and struggles of Qambar, a romantic revolutionary, and the three women drawn to him – Bela, the daughter of a
mirasi-bhand couple, desperate to break away from her tainted ‘legacy’; Safia, the poliostricken daughter of the Raja of Teen Katori, an independent ‘educationist’ dealing with the
crushing rejection of her childhood betrothed and the demons that haunt her in its wake; and the eponymous heroine, Chandni Begum, destitute survivor of a once powerful landed family, looking for a way to get by respectably.
Hyder returns to her favourite themes and spaces – Partition, women entertainers, popular mysticism, the illustrious homes of Lucknow, the chawls of Bombay – to tell a riveting tale, liberally sprinkled with entertaining characters and biting political and social comment.
Qurratulain Hyder Translated from the original Urdu by Saleem Kidwai