Umrao Jan Ada is perhaps one of the most enigmatic and forgotten female figures in Indian Literature. The question of her existence, her beauty, her scholarly abilities and her poetic gift remains a mystery even today. The book is an account of Umrao's life as a Lucknawi courtesan, a nautch-girl, delivered in the first person by Umrao herself and documented by a close friend.
First published more than 100 years ago, the novel recreates the gracious ambience of old Lucknow and takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the palaces of wealthy nawabs, the hideouts of colourful vagabonds and the luxurious abodes of the city's courtesans. But more than evoking the ambience of a culture and decadence that was not merely aristocratic but inimitable, it is the complex characterisation of Umrao, and the life she lived as a courtesan, which makes the book memorable and significant.