The Begum’ is a well-researched portrayal of an intrepid and passionate woman, it presents her personal narrative and political convictions, and mirrors the history of the subcontinent, in a timeline truncated by the uncompromising contours of the Radcliffe Line.

For the uninitiated, Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan was the pioneering First Lady of Pakistan. Her husband Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan was the first prime minister of Pakistan. This collaborative account, co-authored by Deepa Agarwal and Tahmina Aziz Ayub, mirrors the fissures and fault lines that divided Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan’s life into two astonishingly symmetrical halves.

Read below for a sneak peek into the Begum’s life:

  • Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, born Irene Ruth Margaret Pant on 13 February 1905, to an apostate Brahmin lineage, was a practising Christian until 1933. After her marriage, she converted to Islam and was renamed Gul-i-Ra’ana.
  • She was an intimate witness to history—the two nations, the bifurcation of East and West Pakistan, the creation of Bangladesh, the course of the Cold War, the rise of Gorbachev, and the increasingly unequivocal hold of the army in Pakistan. From Jinnah, through Zulfikar Bhutto and to General Zia-ul-Haq, she spoke her mind and held her own.

Before her marriage, she was a professor of economics in Delhi’s prestigious Indraprastha College. Her doctoral thesis had been on women in agriculture in rural Uttar Pradesh.

  • She was not only a young first lady of Pakistan, but was the visionary founder of the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA), the diplomat, stateswoman and Madar-e-Pakistan (Mother of Pakistan) who left the stamp of her unique personality on all that she did.
  • She can be described as a little woman no more than five feet in height, yet tall and feisty in her thoughts. She has left behind a legacy of idealism and formidable commitment towards women’s issues and development.

A trained social worker who founded the All Pakistan Women’s Association and various other institutions and organizations, and an active long-serving member of the ILO committee of experts, she turned a deaf ear to the muttering and continued with her welfare schemes for the women and children of Pakistan till her last breathe. She had seen much, done much, achieved much. Not for nothing is she called the ‘dynamo in silk’. She also paid a bitter price—the loss of a husband through an assassin’s bullet, a loss that the nation shared with her.

The Begum: A Portrait of Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Pioneering First Lady by Deepa Agarwal and Tahmina Aziz Ayub is published by Penguin books.

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