She was a bit of a mystery wrapped in an enigma. With her flaming orange mop of hair and fire-engine red lips, she was reticent, almost monosyllabic in public, preferring her pen to speak volumes, while maintaining a prickly silence, broken by a few short but sharp utterances when called upon to speak. One of the finest prose stylists of modern times, the author of dozens of books, almost all runaway best-sellers, bilingual and cosmopolitan to an extent few writers in Urdu have been, she was also an interviewer’s nightmare. Giggly, girlish and gossipy one minute, taciturn and evasive the next, charming and insightful one minute, imperious and opaque the next; she could leave you with a sand-slipping-through-your-fingers feeling. This was Qurratulain Hyder, the Jnanpith-award winning writer and grande dame of Urdu literature, admired by many, including this reviewer, and feared in equal measure for her easily-frayed patience.
And so, the intrepid Jameel Akhtar is to be congratulated for gleaning a marathon interview out of her and for having a free-wheeling conversation spread over several sittings on a wide range of subjects: books, music, painting, journalism, literary critics...culture in the broadest sense. Ably translated from the Urdu by Durdana Soomro, this book is a valuable tool to understanding Hyder and her craft, especially now that she has entered the syllabi and is being taught not merely in departments of gender studies but as part of the curricula on modern Indian writings. Quite literally, this book goes where no man has gone before! It takes us deep into the heart and mind of a famously temperamental, one might even say idiosyncratic, writer; taken together, as the sum of its parts, A Singular Voice gives us many valuable INSights into her craft as a writer and provides much-needed biographical details to fill the gaps in our understanding of Hyder.