Dust of the Caravan is a selection of writings by Anis Kidwai sketching the personal and political journey of a Muslim woman through the first eight decades of the 20th century. In Kidwai’s often humorous and always incisive and compassionate telling of the travels that took her from a birth and upbringing in rural Awadh into the maelstrom of Partition and its aftermath, lies a rich tapestry of tales.
Simultaneously a social history of life in rural Awadh in the early 20th century and the birth of the national movement in the region as well as an account of the traditions of mutual respect and understanding between different faiths in a shared culture and the rupture of those very traditions during Partition, this book is also the story of a woman’s journey from the home into the world and from ‘family values’ towards autonomous beliefs, friendships, and activism. In addition to its value as a literary work, Dust of the Caravan is an important resource in the fields of history, sociology, and gender studies.
“An archivist’s delight, an emotional roller coaster, a challenge to settled opinions, a must read for everyone with a conscience who is thinking about the soul of India.“
— Uma Chakravarti, Historian
“Written in scintillating prose, rich in anecdotes, candid portraits, and everyday details, they open up for us the world at once intimate and expanding of the zenana..”
— Francesca Orsini, SOAS University of London
“Ayesha Kidwai’s sensitive translation of her grandmother’s writing captures its multiple registers and unique expression to reveal a woman’s voice at once poignant, funny, piercing and poetic.”
—Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, University of Sheffield
“Dust of the Caravan is a compelling story of knitting dreams of a just and equal India, a story of a struggle propelled only by hope, a story which, but for Ayesha Kidwai, would have remained inaccessible to a wider audience.”
— Saif Mahmood, Writer, Translator, Lawyer
Born in 1906 in Barabanki, ANIS KIDWAI was a member of the Rajya Sabha (1956-68) and a social activist, committed to secularism and the rights of minorities and women. Kidwai had a six-decade long literary career as an essayist, and is perhaps best known for her two collections of essays—Nazre Khush Guzre (1975) and Ab Jin ke Dekhne Ko (1978), as well as her sombre Urdu memoir of Delhi during Partition, Āzādi Ki Chhaon Mein. A prolific contributor to Urdu women’s journals and literary periodicals, Anis Kidwai perfected a highly individual style in which wit and sarcasm combined with perspicacious observation, literary allusion, and a progressive politics. In 1981, she was awarded the Sahitya Kala Parishad Award. She passed away on 16 July 1982.
AYESHA KIDWAI teaches linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University and is Anis Kidwai’s granddaughter. She is also the translator of Āzādi Ki Chhaon Mein, which appeared as In Freedom’s Shade in 2011.