Nurjahan Begum: Works and life

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Dhaka, May 23: Nurjahan Begum, the editor and publisher of weekly magazine “Begum”, was born on 4 June, 1925 and passed away on Monday (May 23, 2016), at the age of 91.

The nation lost a pioneer woman following the death of Nurjahan.

Meanwhile, the President, Prime Minister, Speaker, BNP chairperson and other noted politicians and cultural activists expressed their deep shock over the death of Begum Editor.

Nurjahan Begum began her career in the 1940s. Journalism, activism, social work — she has done it all, and in a time people would have trouble imagining women doing anything of the sort. That day, she continues to help women in towns and villages find a foothold in society through her efforts to provide them with knowledge, a sense of awareness and even identities as women writers.

Date of Birth

Nurjahan Begum was born on June 4, 1925 at Chalitatoli village under Chandpur district, Bangladesh. Her father renowned journalist and editor of the monthly paper “Shawgat”, Mohammad Nasiruddin and mother Fatema Begum.

Educational

Mohammad Nasiruddin was a progressive man and he wanted his daughter to be the same, easily fitting into Kolkata society and making something of herself with a good, well-rounded education. Little Nuri was taught nursery rhymes, poems and surahs by her mother, and the Bangla, Arabic and English alphabet by both her parents. Her father would bring home books and magazines for Nuri to go through and look at pictures. Slowly, she grew an interest in books. Even before she had learnt to read properly, Nuri began to file her father’s collection of local and foreign publications just by looking at the pictures. Delighted by her keen intelligence, Nuri’s grandmother, Nurjahan, decided to name her granddaughter after herself, and, from then on, she became Nurjahan Begum.Noorjahan begum,

Nurjahan Begum got admitted into Baby Class at Begum Rokeya’s Sakhawat Memorial School. She loved it there — the playing, drawing, arts and crafts. But when the workload got to be a little too much after Class 2, her father shifted her to a school near their home, Beltola Girl’s School. In Class 5, however, she went back to Sakhawat Memorial School from which she passed her Matriculation in 1942. Nurjahan Begum remembers the school fondly as the basis of her success later on in life. She had the opportunity to learn to do a bit of everything there, from singing, dancing and acting to cooking, sewing, drawing and sports. In 1944, she passed her Intermediate examinations in philosophy, history and geography, and, in 1946, her Bachelors in ethics, philosophy and history from Lady Brabourne College.

Married

In 1952, she married noted litterateur, Rokannujjaman Khan, fondly known as Dadabhai. Khan died in 1999.

Weekly magazine “Begum” and Nurjahan

Nurjahan Begum’s father, Mohammad Nasiruddin, had wanted to bring women into journalism. He therefore started an annual women’s issue of Shawgat in 1927. Every year, one issue of the monthly would be dedicated exclusively to women, with writings by women around the country that Mohammad Nasiruddin had to put in much effort to collect. In 1945, the last issue of Janana Mahal, came out. It seemed to Mohammad Nasiruddin that one women’s issue per year was not really doing much to improve the situation of women in journalism and, in turn, society. Thus, in 1947, a month before India’s Partition, weeklyBegum was first published in Kolkata. Its first editor was Begum Sufia Kamal, and acting editor, Nurjahan Begum, who had already been working for Shawgat, took over a few months later.

Begum magazine is currently a monthly costing Tk. 10 (as opposed to the 25 paisa it used to be sold at in the beginning), but its editor has hopes of bringing it out as a weekly again.

Despite the various problems she has faced over the years in bringing out the magazine, from communal riots to postage problems, Nurjahan Begum has not lost her zeal for her work or the profession as a whole. She does not sit around simply praising the women journalists today but rather worries about what still holds them back.

The response to Begum was enormous. Not only were women from across the country writing letters and giving feedback on the various writings published in the magazine, but many men, Nurjahan Begum also reminisces about her father and her husband, the two men who had the greatest influence on her life and her success in her career. Her father was the one to lead her down the path of journalism, though Nurjahan Begum believes that passion for journalism — or any profession for that matter — is inborn.

The goal of Begum as a publication and of Nurjahan Begum — an institution in herself — has always been to take women forward, by informing and involving them in the society they dwell in and contribute to.

Others social activities

Besides her journalistic career, Nurjahan Begum was also a dedicated social worker. From volunteering at refugee camps during the communal riots to working for the Muslim Orphanage and Women’s Home of which she was secretary, she became involved in social work soon after finishing college. Later, she became member and president of various women’s organisations, including the Wari Mohila Samity and the Narinda Mohila Samity. Through these, she worked for primary education and structural activities for children, first aid and adult education. She campaigned and raised funds to help victims of natural disasters.

Nurjahan Begum did many things at a time when it was much less easy than it is today, and what many women would not have the courage or determination to do even today. With the help of her father, she also established the Begum Club in 1954. Though now defunct, in its time, the Club was a thriving organization of women from home and abroad getting together to discuss literature and music, culture and society. Nurjahan Begum still has hopes of reviving the Club.

Nurjahan’ family

Nurjahan is the daughter of renowned journalist Mohammad Nasiruddin, more known as Sawgat Editor Nasiruddin, and wife of another famous journalist Rokonuzzaman Khan, who was the editor of the feature pages of the daily Ittefaq and founder of the “Kochi Kanchar Mela”. Nurjahan Begum has two daughters.Her eldest daughter, Flora Nasrin Khan Shakhi, did her Honours and Master’s in English Literature from Dhaka University. Her younger daughter, Rina Yasmin Miti did her Honours and Master’s in Sociology from the same institution. They are both married and work for Begum from time to time. Nurjahan Begum has five grandchildren.

Award

Nurjahan was awarded the Begum Rokeya Padak in 1997 for her contribution to women literacy and literature. Apart from that, she also received numerous awards and honours from various organizations.

Death

Nurjahan Begum passed away at Square Hospitals around 10:15am, on May 23, 2016. She was admitted to the hospital with respiratory problems on May 4.

–Written by Morium Khan (Florence)

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