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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 12, March 12, 2011

Remembering Zahida Zaidi

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Eminent scholars, colleagues, friends and relatives of Prof Zahida Zaidi gathered at the Arts Faculty of the Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh on March 1, 2011 to offer homage to Prof Zahida Zaidi, 82, the outstanding scholar, poet, dramatist, playwright and literary critic who breathed her last in Aligarh on January 11, 2011. The memorial meeting, held under the aegis of the Sabira Zaidi Memorial Trust, was presided over by Prof Irfan Habib, the renowned historian.

Born on January 4, 1929 and brought up in a family of eminent scholars (her great maternal grandfather was Khwaja Altaf Hussein Hali, the reputed Urdu poet known across the globe, while her paternal grandfather, K.G. Saqulain, was a noted social reformer and her father, S.M. Mustehsin Zaidi, a brilliant mathematician at the University of Cambridge besides being a prominent barrister in Meerut), she worked as a Lecturer in Lady Irwin College and Miranda House at the University of Delhi as also in Women’s College, AMU between 1952 and 1964. In 1964 she was appointed a Reader in the Department of English, AMU and went on teaching in that capacity till 1983 when she became a Professor of English at the AMU. She retired in 1988. Earlier she did her BA and MA in English from the AMU; after securing the Modified Overseas Merit Scholarship for studies abroad she did her BA Honours and MA in English from the University of Cambridge in 1962.

A well-known poet, Prof Zaidi authored more than 30 books in Urdu and English; she covered issues of social, psychological and philosophical significance in her literary works. She translated the creative writings of such celebrated literary figures as Chekhov, Pirandello, Beckett, Sartre, Ionesco. An accomplished dramatist herself, she staged, directed and produced plays of several Western and Indian dramatists both in English and Urdu.

A recipient of many prestigious awards for her contribution to Urdu literature (like the Hum Sab Ghalib Award for Urdu drama from the Ghalib Institute, Delhi and the Kul Hind Bahadur Shah Zafar Award), Prof Zaidi had been a member of the AMU Academic Council as well as a member of the AMU’s University Court, and was the Founder Secretary, Democratic Federation of Aligarh Women; Founder Secretary, Sabira Zaidi Memorial Trust; President, Progressive Writers’ Association, Aligarh Unit.

At the memorial meeting in Aligarh on March 1, rich tributes were paid to Prof Zaidi by noted Professor of Persian Prof Naheed Safavi, Prof Shakti Ahmed, Prof S.N. Zeba, Head of the English Department, AMU, Dr Asim Siddiqui from the same Department, and Shahida Basu, her younger sister and Joint Secretary of the Sabira Zaidi Memorial Trust; all of them recounted her humanist qualities.

In his concluding remarks, Prof Irfan Habib warmly spoke of Prof Zaidi’s commitment to the progressive movement and socialist values, a commitment she retained throughout her life from her early student days.

Several poems of Prof Zaidi were recited and some of her ghazals presented at the meeting by her friends and students.

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