THE death of Begum Zaibunnissa Hamidullah in Karachi on Sunday removes from amidst us a pioneer amongst the subcontinent's women journalists. A column writer for English newspapers, including Dawn, Zaibunnissa launched Pakistan's first woman's weekly in English. Even though a socialite magazine, Mirrorcould often cause ripples by its strong political editorials critical of the policies and actions of the rulers of the day in a language and style that at times earned her the wrath of the wielders of power. The power of her pen rattled Ayub Khan when she lashed out at him for elevating himself to the rank of Field Marshal, and in November, 1957, his predecessor, Iskander Mirza, shut the paper down for six months when Mirrorflayed him for dismissing the Suhrawardy ministry. The paper was read as much for its social content as for the biting sarcasm and wit that characterized the writings of its editor.
The daughter of S. Wajid Ali, a presidency magistrate in Calcutta holding the rank of a high court judge and himself a well-known writer in Bengali, Zaibunnissa first came into attention when one of her poems, written for Mirrorof London won a prize in a contest. That unleashed a talent for writing that saw her write columns for theStar of India, Calcutta, and the Morning Newsalso of Calcutta (later Dhaka). "Through a Woman's Eye," her column in Dawn , started in 1949 and ended after differences on policy. This led to the launching in 1951 of her own Mirror , South Asia's first glossy magazine. But the contents of this elitist social register often did not go well with the elite which never missed an opportunity to run it down.
For the paper she worked hard, doing everything herself - from editorial writing to picture editing to proof-reading. Liberal in outlook, she was also the first woman to speak at al-Azhar university. The paper closed down in 1972 after twenty-one years of struggle against authoritarian trends in our politics and bigotry and fanaticism in society, when her husband went on transfer to Ireland. Four years later he died, sapping all her strength. The closure of the paper was, thus, a big loss to Pakistani journalism. The sting in her writings earned her quite a few enemies, but even her detractors admired her for the courage of conviction and the strength of character she displayed throughout her professional and personal life.