A Story of Days Gone By. An autobiography of Princess Shahr Bano Begam of Pataudi


Tahera Aftab

This is one of the earliest autobiographies in Urdu literature. The author, Princess Shahr Bano Begam of Pataudi, wrote Bītī Kahānī in 1885 and two years later, in 1887, added a short introduction. It is not just a personal narrative but a comprehensive documentation of the lives of Indian women during and after the tumultuous events of 1857, making it a unique contribution to 'Mutiny' historiography.
Shahr Bano's book deepens our understanding of many diverse facets of history that usually remain obscure in works by male historians. Nineteenth-century South Asian scholarship produced commendable works providing significant insight on matters connected with the ultimate loss of political autonomy. The majority of these works, however, portray an incomplete image of society as they remain limited to the 'public space'. Shahr Bano, despite being a pardah-observing woman, bridges the 'public' and the 'private' spheres and thus presents a document of immense historical significance. What is more surprising than her simple, lucid style of story-telling is that Shahr Bano, a novice in the art of writing, handles her pen with superb dexterity and displays the craft of a historian with precision and objectivity.