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Zaib-un-Nissa Begum


The eldest child, Zaib-un-Nissa become a legend in her life-time because of her unceasing patronage of art and languages. As chaste as a dew drop, she spent the major part of her youth and middle age repairing discreetly the damage done to the study of fine arts by her father’s callous indifference to subjects other than religious. She learnt Urdu and Persian under the watchful eye of Hafiza Mariam, a tutor of wide learning and wider sympathies. At the age of seventeen she bloomed into a poetess of extreme sensitivity to beauty in its many forms. She would often compose her poems at midnight in the silence of the sleep time and keep them under her pillow for several days before sharing with her friends and tutors the thoughts that inspired them. Abstract beauty, like other mere abstractions, bore for her 'the cold look of an aged, loveless aunt'. Generosity in a woman was classed by Zaib-un-Nissa as 'one of the most beautiful creations of God', and she wrote many a heart-catching verse on 'the real beauty that makes women the glory of the state'. She wrote often under the pen-name Makhfi; her attempt always seemed to be to express her feelings freely without thoughts of Jannat or Dozakh or even without caring for the pattern of life in the present, and it was that trait of character which gave her works a dynamism that inspired and captivated. Some historians tend to believe that compositions in Diwan-i-Makhfi are not her creations but that of many sycophants and versifiers who sought her favour and patronage. One of them was said to be Aqilmand Khan, a handsome youth whose name was liked with hers in a romance that never got off the ground. These are conjectures which may or may not be true. The hardcore fact remains that she was endowed with qualities of the head and he heart that gave some colour to the prosaic tenor of life in the reign of Aurangzeb. Her popularity was undeniable and her influence at the court positive. She was imprisoned in 1681 at the fort of Gwalior for her alleged involvement with her brother Akbar's revolt.

Place of birth: Daultabad
Place of death: Delhi



1. M. Lal. Aurangzeb. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House PVT Ltd, 1923.

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