Attia Hosain


Attia Hosain was born into a wealthy landowning family in northern India. Her father was educated at Cambridge University, and her mother was the founder of an institute for women's education and welfare. Hosain attended the Isabella Thoburn College at the University of Lucknow, becoming the first woman from a landowning family to graduate in 1933. She also undertook private tuition in Urdu and Persian at home, where she was brought up according to the Muslim tradition. Influenced by the left-wing, nationalist politics of her Cambridge-educated brother and his friends, Hosain became involved with the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association, a group of socialist writers which included Ahmed Ali, Mulk Raj Anand and Sajjad Zaheer. Encouraged by the poet and political activist Sarojini Naidu, she attended the 1933 All-India Women’s Conference in Calcutta, reporting on it for Lucknow and Calcutta newspapers. In this period, she also began to write short stories.

In 1947, determined to avoid going to the newly created Pakistan, Hosain left India for Britain with her husband, Ali Bahadur Habibullah, who undertook war repatriation work. The couple had two children, and Hosain chose to remain in Britain. She continued to write and began work as a broadcaster, presenting a woman's programme for the Indian Section of the Eastern Service of the BBC from 1949. During her time at the BBC, she broadcast on a wide range of topics, from art to music to religion to cinema. As well as reading scripts, she participated in discussion programmes and acted as a roving reporter for the Weekend Review. In 1953 she published her first work of fiction, a collection of short stories titled Phoenix Fled. This was followed in 1961 by her only novel, Sunlight on a Broken Column.

Published works: 

'Of Meals and Memories', in Loaves and Wishes: Writers Writing on Food, ed. by Antonia Till (London: Virago, 1992), pp. 141-6

Phoenix Fled (London: Chatto & Windus, 1953)

Sunlight on a Broken Column (London: Chatto & Windus, 1961)

Date of birth: 
20 Oct 1913
Contributions to periodicals: 

The Pioneer (Calcutta)

The Statesman (Calcutta)


E. L. Sturch, Times Literary Supplement, 4 December 1953 (Phoenix Fled)

Secondary works: 

‘Attia Hosain’, SALIDAA: South Asia Diaspora Literature and Arts Archive [http://www.culture24.org.uk/am24149]

Bharucha, Nilufer E., ‘I am a Universalist-Humanist’, Biblio 3.7-8 (July - August 1998)

Bondi, Laura, ‘An Image of India by an Indian Woman: Attia Hosain’s Life and Fiction’, unpublished MA thesis (University Degli Studio Venezia, 1993)

Burton, Antoinette, Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home, and History in Late Colonial India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Desai, Anita, ‘Hosain, Attia Shahid’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/69/101069617]

Holmstrom, Lakshmi, ‘Attia Hosain: Her Life and Work’, Indian Review of Books 8-9 (1991)

Archive source: 

Six radio scripts broadcast by Hosain, BBC Written Archives Centre, Caversham Park, Reading

Involved in events: 

All-India Women’s Conference, Calcutta, 1933

Participant in the First All-India Progressive Writers’ Conference, Lucknow, 1936

Acted in Peter Mayne’s West End play The Bird of Time, London, 1961

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
23 Jan 1998
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1947
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1947 until death

National Indian Association


The National Indian Association (NIA) was founded in 1870 by Mary Carpenter in Bristol, with the assistance of Keshub Chunder Sen. The organization's full name was originally ‘National Indian Association in Aid of Social Progress in India’.

In 1871, Mrs Manning and her step-daughter Elizabeth Adelaide Manning started a London branch. Mary Carpenter died in 1877 and the London branch became the headquarters for the Association. The NIA also has branches in other cities in the UK and in India. After the death of Manning in 1905, E. J. Beck, sister of Theodore Beck, became honorary secretary until her retirement in 1932.

The initial aim of the association was to encourage female education in India. They also sought to educate and inform the British about Indian affairs. As the number of Indians in Britain grew, an increasingly important function was to facilitate social intercourse between Indian visitors and the British. The association held soirees, conversaziones, lectures and meetings and often organized guided tours of sights. The NIA produced a monthly journal from 1871, providing information about their activities. In 1880, a sub-committee, the Northbrook Indian Club, was formed, to look after a reading room for Indian students. This became a separate society in 1881, called the Northbrook Indian Society.

In 1910, the offices were moved to 21 Cromwell Road in South Kensington, to be housed alongside the Bureau of Education for Indian students. The Association began to decline after its jubilee year in 1920. Few of its original members remained alive and an increasing array of different organizations arose in London to cater for Indian interests. The Association stayed alive in a residual form after Indian independence, merged with the East India Association in 1949, and was incorporated into the Royal Society for India, Pakistan and Ceylon in 1966.

Published works: 

Journal of the National Indian Association, from 1871

Handbook of Information Relating to University and Professional Studies for Indian Students (London: Archibald Constable, 1893), reprinted in 1904.

Other names: 


Secondary works: 

Apart from works on Mary Carpenter, Keshub Chunder Sen and E. A. Manning (see their entries), other works that give insight into the NIA include

Khalidi, Omar (ed.), An Indian Passage to Europe: The Travels of Fath Nawaj Jang (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2006)

Robinson, Andrew , ‘Selected Letters of Sukumar Ray’, South Asia Research 7 (1987), pp. 169-236

Burton, Antoinette, At the Heart of the Empire: Indians and the Colonial Encounter in Late-Victorian Britain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998)

Lahiri, Shompa, Indians in Britain: Anglo-Indian Encounters, Race and Identity, 1880-1930 (London: Frank Cass, 2000)

Date began: 
01 Jan 1870
Precise date began unknown: 
Key Individuals' Details: 

Emma Josephine Beck (secretary), Mary Carpenter (founder), Lord Hobhouse (president), Lady Hobhouse, Elizabeth Adelaide Manning (secretary), Keshub Chunder Sen (founder)

Date ended: 
01 Jan 1948
Archive source: 

Mss Eur 147, minute books of National Indian Association, financial papers and other miscellaneous papers, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras.

Liverpool Mercury, 22 December 1874

Pall Mall Gazette, 6 February 1888

The Times, 17 March 1886, 19 November 1886, 30 April 1891, 2 April 1892, 4 May 1897, 18 July 1898, 26 March 1901, 30 May 1903, 19 June 1906, 24 May 1907, 1 September 1908.

Western Daily Press, 10 September 1870

Precise date ended unknown: 
Organization location: 
Varied. Member's houses. Imperial Institute. In 1910, their offices were housed in 21 Cromwell Road, London, along with the Northbrook Society and the Bureau for Information for Indian Students.


21 Cromwell Road
London, SW5 0SD
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

Murder of Sir Curzon Wyllie by Madan Lal Dhingra at an 'At Home' held at the Imperial Institute, 1 July 1909


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