Dutiful Daughters (or not) and the Sins of the Fathers in Iqbalunnisa Hussain’s "Purdah and Polygamy"
From Introduction: ... Novels that frame India’s pre-independence period in terms of [a] narrow mainstream band are the ones that tend to get published and republished. Of the Indian fiction in English written prior to 1947, Raja Rao’s Kanthapura, and Mulk Raj Anand’s and R.K. Narayan’s early novels are typically the only literary works that are continuously in print and consequently are also consistently the subjects of literary analysis and interpretation. All three writers are male, middle-class, and high-caste Hindus as well as being, in the main, supportive of the sorts of ideologies and political priorities that Congress nationalism also advocated. The result of the incessant reiteration of this very specific and, it is important to remember, not universal viewpoint is that it is invariably done at the expense of other, equally significant literary emanations from late colonial India. ... In a 2006 essay in Economic and Political Weekly, [Eunice de Souza] describes the neglect of early writing by women as a “distortion” of “the history of Indian writing in English which is far more rich and varied than the accounts in these histories would suggest” ....
Iqbalunnisa Hussain’s 1944 novel Purdah and Polygamy: Life in an Indian Muslim Household, though clever in its irony, at times humorous and always brave in its depiction of injustice, is [a] piece of literature that has fallen away from history. Although the man who introduced it to the world, Ramalinga Reddy, believed that hardly a novel published in India had a “better claim to become famous than Mrs. Iqbalunnisa Hussain’s Purdah and Polygamy” (1) and literary scholar Jessica Berman has recently deemed it “one of the most striking narratives of its period” (216), it did not receive much attention when it first appeared and has yet to be reprinted. This novel was written at a time when middle-class Indian women’s demands for equality under the law and in the home were being presented in public more forcibly than ever before in the history of the nationalist movement.8 Hussain’s novel fits into this history beautifully, for it paints images of urban life in India from the perspectives of its women, and her portrait is not an admiring or even clearly a hopeful one. It is, instead, complex, difficult to pin down, because it is subtle in both its expression and its implications.