Hasan Shah

Hasan Shah was born in India around 1770, and though he worked as a clerk, or munshi, to an English officer, he was in no way aware of the European literary tradition, and probably did not even speak English. Nevertheless, writing in Persian at the age of twenty, exposed only to medieval romances and epics, Hasan Shah created the first modern Indian novel. According to Shah’s English translator, Qurratulain Hyder, The Dancing Girl is an homage to Shah’s late wife, and to traditional Persian ghazals, but in its sensibility, it is entirely modern.

The Dancing Girl

Written in 1790, Hasan Shah’s autobiographical romance, The Dancing Girl, is remarkable for both its lyrical prose and its fine recreation of a time, a place, and a culture––India in the 1780s, a tolerant, affable era before the full establishment of British colonial rule. The Dancing Girl tells of the doomed love of Hasan Shah (aide-de-camp to a British officer) and Khanum Jan (a courageous and gifted dancer of the courtesan caste) whose secret marriage could not prevent their separation.…
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