In Focus

This ‘traditional’ daadi is as ‘modern’ as can be

The Draft Colaba, in continuance of the International Women's Day celebrations held on 8 March 2021, profiles superwomen of sorts, from all walks of life, for a full week on till 15 March 2021
(Read all the Women's Week stories here)

By Manu Shrivastava

This septuagenarian has been the family matriarch and rightly so. The 74-year-old daadi has successfully raised three generations of the family, of women to be more specific; and, is showing no signs of slowing down. Like her son Abdul Hamid says, with distinct pride in his voice, getting up from his chair to offer it to her adding, “She is the boss!”
FAMILY MATRIARCH: Athar and Sadaf (back); Rehana, Khairunnisa and Mumtaz (middle); Asma and Urusa Khan (front)

A native of Mhow aka Dr Ambedkar Nagar, a cantonment in the Indore district in Madhya Pradesh, she was born as Khairunnisa Shaikh to a tailor father and homemaker mother in 1947. “My father used to make military uniforms,” she recalls with pride. 

Educated till the eight standard, she was 15 when she got married to Abdul Rafiq Khan, whose family owned 11 chakkis. “At the time, we stayed in Mhow only while my father-in-law and mother-in-law had moved to Mumbai where they ran a shop in Colaba.” 

When her father-in-law died, about eleven years after marriage, she moved to Mumbai with her husband Abdul Rafiq and three children.

“Sadly, the domestic help who would run the shop in our absence had destroyed everything even landed us in debt. It was after we were served a notice and a neighbour informed us via telegram that we rushed to Mumbai to salvage whatever was left of the business,” says Khairunnisa Khan.

ROLE MODEL: Khairunnisa Khan with grandson
Abdul Aziz (third generation)

It wasn’t easy for her then as she'd “live in one part of the shop only, separated through a partition. We bought a room after 15 years of coming to Mumbai. I was always hopeful that things would change for the better.” And, they did, in time.

In Mumbai, in time, Khairunnisa gave birth to four more children. And, on Mumbai she recalls, “When I first came to this city, I didn’t like the place as I was new, didn’t know anyone else, it was very difficult to manage things in the beginning.”

Khairunissa, now mother to six daughters and one son, has always shunned the oft-held traditional view that a girl child is not welcome. “We were happy at the birth of each girl. My husband would be ecstatic and distribute sweets in the neighbourhood. He loved the girls. I had no reason to complain…ever.”

Khairunnisa not only raised all the children, got them married, she also helped raise her grandchildren and now looks after her great-grandchildren too.

At a time when women would not step out on their own, let alone Muslim women, Khairunnisa was a trailblazer in her own right. “I’d travel by myself to mulk (native place) with my seven children…I was never scared at all,” she says. 

With husband Abdul Rafiq busy with the shop, the task of travelling outdoors even taking the children to public places rested entirely on Khairunissa who did it with panache that’s considered rare for a traditional Muslim woman.

Daughter-in-law Rehana Khan adds, “She was completely independent. Not only would she travel from Mumbai to Mhow alone with young children, even in Mumbai, she’d take them along with the neighbours’ children for outings.”

TWO PIOUS: Khairunnisa and husband Abdul Rafiq garlanded by family members just before proceeding on her first Haj 
Khairunissa recalls, “I’d use the public bus service and take the children to Hanging Garden, Chowpatty and often to Gateway of India. My husband besides being busy with work wasn’t quite an outdoor person. But, I really enjoyed it.”

And, she has travelled far and beyond too. Till as far as Haj which she has embarked upon twice, “the first time in 1987 and later in 1990.” Thirty years later, Khairunissa remembers with fondness the celebrations that would happen each time someone would embark on Haj. “The neighbours, relatives would gather, garland the traveller … it was a big occasion.” 

Today, she spends most of her time helping in household work. “I also do sewing and embroidery that I taught to all my daughters as well.”

Throughout life, Khairunnisa has been respectful of the familial and religious traditions but steers clear of social prejudice and bias. “I have always supported my daughter-in-law and granddaughter-in-law, even if it comes at the cost of reprimanding my son or grandson.”

STILL THE BOSS: Khairunnisa Khan with great-granddaughter
Asma (fourth generation) at the family shop

Today, the favourite daadi lives with her daughter Mumtaz, son Abdul Hamid, wife Rehana, granddaughters Sadaf and Urusa, grandson Abdul Aziz, wife Athar, great-granddaughter Asma and an infant great-grandson Umar Farukh who's very fond of his par daadi

Granddaughter Sadaf says, "We all look up to her and she's always there guiding us at every step of the way. Her life experiences help us make well-informed decisions."

The quintessential granny, the family matriarch, has just one wish that “remains” to be fulfilled. “I want to see both my granddaughters get married,” she says. And that too will happen. In good time!