At a time and age when the word has recognised the need for books talking about women, every single book adds to the resource. Generations of girls have grown up with very few role models but that is changing now. Books are being written by women, about women and all of us, young and old are coming to know so much about real inspirational women from the past and the present.
While I was waiting for the book to arrive, I googled Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. A Christian girl whose family had converted from upper caste Hindus just two generations ago, became the second wife of a Muslim man and went to live in new found Pakistan leaving her own family behind. Just this had piqued my curiosity, and I wanted to know about her growing up and manoeuvring through life while playing such different roles. Added to this, I read she pioneered many positive changes in Pakistan, and was quite a feminist steadily working towards empowering the women of Pakistan.
When the book arrived and I started reading, I was partly disappointed. This wasn’t just Ra’ana’s story. It talks a lot about the men in her life, beginning from her grandfather who had decided to convert to Christianity, to her father, siblings, husband, sons, nephews and other men. While I understand the need of these men being in her story, the starry eyed young girl in me wanted to know more about Irene Ruth Margaret Pant, as she was born. I wanted to know small incidences from her growing up and not just her accomplishments. Irene, or Ra’ana as she was known for the most of her life.
Written by Deepa Agarwal and Tahnima Aziz Ayub, the book is divided into two sections, Ra’ana’s life in India and in Pakistan. Two things are constant in her life – that she was very kind, and that she was progressive. Before her marriage to Liaquat Ali Khan, she was moving ahead in life as a teacher and it was evident that she would have become a somebody even despite the marriage. However, with her husband by her side, she got exposure to a wider range of people to help and guide. As the first lady of Pakistan, she had ample duties and responsibilities, yet she was her individual personality. It was a pleasure to read about her instance on woman being their own individuals even the women in her own family back in India.
Liaquat Ali Khan was shot dead four years after they moved to the newfound Pakistan. He was still building the country and the couple was completely committed to the cause. Ra’ana didn’t lose sight of her vision after her husband’s death and went on to work on the causes she believed in. In 1961, she abolished unmitigated polygamy, made the consent of the present wife mandatory for a second marriage, stopped triple talaak’, etc.
It was interesting to read about Ra’ana’s life and her work particularly because I was completely unaware of her. I understand the need to mention instances etc revolving the men in women’s lives, specially from a few decades ago, but sitting in 2019, I wish more is spoken about their struggles and inspirations rather than unrelated trivia about men in their lives.
Cannot find fault with the style of writing even if I try to. If history interests you, or you love to read about women who have made their mark and literally slayed, Ra’ana’s life is an inspiration. It is marvellous to read how, growing at a time and age when women were leading submissive lives, she managed to be a notable figure and instrumental in the development of a new country.