Zaitoon Bano was given Fakhr-i-Peshawar award recently launched by the Peshawar city district government in recognition of her outstanding contribution in the field of literature.

She was one among 31 personalities, who received Fakhr-i- Peshawar awards in 17 categories.

“Unfortunately I could not show up for receiving the award in person due to my fractured leg a month ago but I am grateful to the city district government for remembering me. I am busy writing these days ghazals to fill the gaps in my life,” she said.

In a chat with this scribe, the senior writer shared her views and contribution spread over four decades. She said that Pakhtun women enjoyed greater freedom of expression presently than ever before but they still required family support to display their talent.

Ms Bano spoke on a number of issues including her literary career and the impact of her efforts on the current generation of Pakhtun women still struggling with ‘social taboos and stereotypes’.

Born on June 18, 1938 in Speena Wrhai, a village in Peshawar, Zaitoon Bano did her masters privately in Pashto and Urdu, and later served as senior producer at Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and taught at various educational institutions. She married Taj Saeed, a noted Urdu and Hindko writer.

“Today Pakhtun women have more space than the past because several literary and cultural bodies are being run by women and female rights activities. They even enjoy the privilege of members of parliament but still have long way to resolve their issues regarding their right of inheritance, right to education, healthcare and end to honour killing and other forms of domestic violence,” said the senior writer.

She has authored more than 24 Pashto and Urdu books from 1958 and 2008. Her popular Pashto fiction books include Hindara, Maat Bangree, Juandi Ghamoona, Khobuna, Kachkol, Zama Dairy, Naizurray while her Urdu publications include Sheesham Ka Pata, Berge Arzoo, Bargad Ka Saiya and Waqt Ki Dehleez Par.

Ms Bano has contributed numerous feature plays to state-run TV and radio on a variety of social issues. She is recipient of at least 15 national literary awards including the coveted President’s Pride of Performance in recognition of her immense contributions to Pashto and Urdu fiction.

Born to a Bukhari Sadaat family, she had to scale up many difficult walls. Fortunately, her father Pir Syed Sultan Mahmood Shah and grandfather Pir Syed Abdul Qudus Tundar both were poets, who played a significant role in her upbringing.

“I was put in a city school at a time when even receiving education for boys in a typical Pakhtun society was an uphill task. I managed to pass matriculation from the school and then did my masters in Pashto and Urdu as a private student. I was in the 9th grade when I wrote my maiden Pashto short story under a pseudonym,” she recalled.

Despite resistance from close relatives, Ms Bano disclosed her identity as a fiction writer. After a long and thorny journey, she proudly asked her father one day to collect Rs250 royalty from a local publisher in Peshawar for her first book of short stories titled Hindara (Mirror). This earned her the title of ‘first lady of Pashto fiction’, which she held very dear to her heart.


Originally published in Dawn, May 11th, 2019

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