Delhi’s Able Daughter: Sadia Dehlvi

Sadia Dehlvi’s accomplishments negate the myths about the status of Muslims in India

Sadia Dehlvi Receiving the Best Journalist Award in 1989

As her name suggests, Sadia Dehlvi personifies Delhi in all its dimensions – the old, the contemporary, the changing and the permanent. As she remarks at her Nizamuddin house, “I am a true dilli-wali ; I live and breathe this city and relish every moment of it. I cannot imagine living anywhere else and I hope to die here.”

Sadia Dehlvi &  Zia Mohyuddin at Bazm-e-Urdu

Sadia shot to fame in the 1980s, a gorgeous young media person whose spitfire writings on women and minority issues won her the Best Journalist’s Award in 1989. At that time, few Muslim women were visible on the capital city’s scene and perhaps this novelty had something to do with her immense popularity. A long-time friend and disciple of Khushwant Singh, Dehlvi appears frequently in his writings. Singh’s book Not a Nice Man to Know (a compilation of some of the writer’s best works) carries the dedication: “To Sadia Dehlvi, who gave me more affection and notoriety than I deserve.” This media-celebrated

Sadia Dehlvi & Yasir Arafat

friendship turned Sadia into a household name and she later produced a show for Star TV in which Singh interviewed women from different walks of life. The two Pakistanis interviewed on the program were Tehmina Durrani and Asma Jehangir. Sadia also appears on the cover of Singh’s infamous Men and Women in my Life.

“I am the key figure in Khushwant’s imaginary harem,” she laughs. “On a serious note, I have learnt many things from him. He’s humble, lives simply and practices tolerance and coexistence.” I remind her of an article in which Singh declared that Sadia was his best friend and the only one who would mourn his death. “There are more people wanting to spend time with him than he has time for,”? she muses. “What a wonderful way to grow old and live such a full, creative life. He is truly a national treasure.”

Sadia describes the launch of his recent – that Singh calls his last – book, the Illustrated History of the Sikhs , where the prime minister of India was the chief guest and Singh commented that his words of praise should not go to the PM’s head – liberties that only Khushwant Singh could conceivably take. When Sadia married the dynamic, Karachi-based Reza Pervaiz, Khushwant Singh wrote a piece telling the millions that he performed the kanya daan (the ritual of giving away the bride) “with cake, champagne and tears.” Now, Singh proudly refers to Sadia’s son Arman as his grandson and insists that the lad call him “Nana”?

Sadia Dehlvi is a person of many talents and aspects. One of her well-known projects is Amma and Family , a comedy television show written and produced by her. The inspiration came from Anwar Maqsood’s Aangan Taira – Sadia’s literary favourites from Pakistan being Naseema Siraj (Allah Maaf Karay ), Allah Maaf Karay ), Mushtaq Yusufi and Ahmed Faraz. In Amma and Family , Dehlvi highlights Delhi’s unique dialect and demolishes television stereotypes of paan -chewing, gharara -clad, adaab -spouting Indian Muslims. Dehlvi and her brother’s wife Himani (artist Tayeb Mehta’s daughter) played themselves in this.

Mushtaq Yusufi and Ahmed Faraz. In Amma and Family , Dehlvi highlights Delhi’s unique dialect and demolishes television stereotypes of paan -chewing, gharara -clad, adaab -spouting Indian Muslims. Dehlvi and her brother’s wife Himani (artist Tayeb Mehta’s daughter) played themselves in this autobiographical series while show was directed by Sadia’s younger brother, filmmaker Vaseem Dehlvi. Veteran actor Zohra Sehgal, who played the lovable and wise penny-pincher Amma, is on record saying that she greatly enjoyed the role and the script.

autobiographical series while show was directed by Sadia’s younger brother, filmmaker Vaseem Dehlvi. Veteran actor Zohra Sehgal, who played the lovable and wise penny-pincher Amma, is on record saying that she greatly enjoyed the role and the script.

Sadia Dehlvi has enjoyed a long association with the world of letters. She belongs to the Dehalvi khandaan , the publishers of Shama , a literary and film Urdu monthly that achieved great popularity in both India and Pakistan. With her family having served the cause of Urdu for over fifty years, Sadia now keeps the flame alive with her organisation Bazm-e-Urdu which is devoted to the preservation of the language and its rich cultural legacy. In this context, Sadia believes that the price of Partition was paid by Indian Muslims and the decline of Urdu in India started once Pakistan had adopted it as its official language.

However Dehlvi’s enthusiasm, never far from the surface, is rekindled when talk turns to the qawwalis, poetry recitals and theatrical events promoted by Bazm-e-Urdu . At the moment, she is trying to get an established theatre group to produce, as a lavish production, Farhatullah Baig’s Dilli ki Aakhri Shama (The Last Candle of Delhi). Laughing, I suggest that perhaps she should just present herself on stage as a concise way of getting the message across!

Under the umbrella of Bazm-e-Urdu , Sadia Dehlvi is doing serious work. Foremost on the challenging agenda is the need to ensure the availability of teachers in schools where children wish to learn Urdu, stipends and merit-based scholarships for students of the language and awards for individual contributions to the language. Bazm-e-Urdu finds support in business tycoons and Urdu aficionados such as Kamal Morarka whose Morarka Foundation supports the conservation of Indian heritage.

Sadia Dehlvi & Dilip Kumar

The much-bemoaned state of the Urdu language in India is no secret. By all accounts, its status is becoming that of a classic, with the number of Urdu readers and speakers on the decline. For decades, Bollywood kept Urdu alive by employing lyricists and script-writers who shaped the mainstream Urdu-esque idiom for the cinema.

Dehlvi’s current efforts include a pictorial book, Delhi: The Threshold of Twenty-two Sufis : An accomplished photographer, Dehlvi spends Sundays shooting Delhi’s dargahs . As the commissioning editor for a prestigious publishing house, she talks of her involvement in coffee table travel series on Goa, Kashmir, Sikkim, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Kerala and other destinations. If all this were not enough, she is also working on another book, Female Voices from the Valley of Tears which tells the stories of women in Kashmir and the atrocities faced by them. “Women represent the basic essence of theSadia Dehlvi & Ismat Chugtai family structure and that is collapsing,” she informs me. “This will be my bit for Kashmir.”

As we stroll on the rooftop of her flat overlooking Hamayun’s majestic tomb, Sadia points out the various landmarks in this part of the city. We discuss the myriad facets of Delhi and I discover apparently endless depths in my companion. She is a devout Muslim who prays five times a day and devotes half an hour each morning to recitation from the Quran. This is followed by a yoga routine because, she explains, “I am then equipped emotionally and physically to battle the daily stress of city life.” She is also diwani of the 22 Khawajas who “protect and bless my city.” On Thursday evenings this celebrity – who appears regularly on Pg 3 of the city newspapers – is found lighting candles and listening to qawwalis at Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah while a hazree at the tombs of Qutub Sahab Bakhtiyar Kaki and Hazrat Shah Farhad is a weekend must. Dehlvi perceives no conflict in her eclectic lifestyle and is comfortable with what most people would perceive as a contradiction.

Sadia lived in Pakistan for a little over a year and recalls good times in Karachi with pleasure, telling me that she has a large number of friends there with whom she keeps in touch. “Karachi is full of independent women like me, who navigate their own lives and often end up threatening the men they encounter,” she comments. However, she considers that the best gift Pakistan gave her was her son Arman, born in 1992 at Karachi’s Lady Dufferin Hospital. Sadia believes that Arman was born as a result of a mannat at Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti’s dargah in Ajmer. His date of birth coincides with the great saint’s Urs, the 6th of Rajab, and Sadia is sure that Arman’s extraordinary musical talents are a gift from the Sufi who rules the subcontinent.

Arman’s talent is indeed formidable. Having received training since he was 3-years old, the boy is a gifted player of the tabla, harmonium and electric guitar. He has already been initiated into the Dilli Gharana style of classical singing and at the age of thirteen, Arman has three concerts to his credit. Like his mother, Arman is as comfortable singing verses from Khusrau and Ghalib as he is with heavy metal and rock songs. He is given Urdu and Quran lessons at home and has become a great favourite at Delhi’s milad mehfils for naatkhwani and qirat .

Later that evening, dinner is comprised of delicacies from the Al-Kausar restaurant, owned by Sadia’s family. Not content with her contributions to Delhi’s cultural landscape, Sadia is equally passionate about the Dilli ka dastarkhwan . “There are few real Dilliwalas left in Delhi; with fusion food taking over, special efforts have to be made to keep the culinary traditions of our city alive,” she states with decision. Twenty-five years ago, Sadia created the first kebab kiosk on the streets of New Delhi (earlier, the only place one got authentic Delhi cuisine was on the streets). Al-Kausar’s menu includes Delhi classics and for over two decades, it has been elite Delhi’s favourite dhaba .

Our conversation is replete with ‘Sadiaisms:’ “Frankly, I find the rich very boring. I thank God for not giving me too much money, because a little insecurity keeps one going and gives life that extra topping of excitement. I try to make Arman understand this by explaining how boring it would be if we could afford to eat pizzas every day!” Another gem: “Money without vision becomes a curse. One must give back to society.”

Ferrying rasgullas from the kitchen, Sadia Dehlvi reflects on a life fully lived. “I grew up on a diet of feminist writers in an Irish convent boarding school in the Simla hills,” she comments. “”t resulted in a conflict of cultures and my teenage years were packed with trauma. That was the era of idealism and rebellion: we coped with the severest of generation gaps, annihilating with unthinking radicalism the truths wooed by our parents and grandparents.”

What a life, I thought as I left Sadia’s place. Here in Pakistan, it is important to understand the extent of her contributions, for we hold on to myths about the abysmal conditions suffered by Muslims in India. Minority status and the baggage of Partition notwithstanding, they continue to make their mark in every field. Perhaps the misunderstandings on both sides can only be undone through an easing of visa and border regulations. Meanwhile, those travelling to Delhi should not forget to give Sadia Dehlvi a call.

The author of this article, Raza Rumi, is a writer based in Pakistan. He writes extensively on Urdu literature and history. His blog can be found here. This article was originally published in The Friday Times. Watch out for this for illuminating articles from Raza.

About Raza Rumi

A Pakistani blogger. Also writes at www.pakteahouse.wordpress.com and www.lahorenama.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Journalism. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Delhi’s Able Daughter: Sadia Dehlvi

  1. taranakhan says:

    Wonderfully written dedication to a lady who can be a model for many women of her community. What I find most heartening is that she is working to keep the language Urdu alive.

  2. Mohib says:

    Well said, Tarana, I agree.

    Also, you have a great blog out there, congrats!

  3. Adnan says:

    It makes me sad to think how the publications of Dehlvi family were closed. It takes decades to build institutions and more so, credible papers and magazines.
    But pan-Indian magazines like Shama, Shabistan, Khilauna, Bano etc were literally killed. They had great readership and were read by Muslims and even non-Muslims all over the country.
    Bano was a great women’s magazine that could have served as a tool for reform and awakening among women. It was a modern magazine of great standard. At one point I felt that the family literally threw off all its assets.

    They just lost interest and by late 80s and early 90s looked like as if they wanted to get rid off every magazine. Today we need a Bano. Pakiza Anchals, Mashriqi Dulhans and Khatun Mashriqs can’t equip women to modern challenges.

    There is so much space for such a magazine but we don’t have one for Indian Muslim Women. Khilauna was no less an institution. For children, a magazine of such standard never appeared in India. Alas!

  4. razarumi says:

    Tarana, Mohib and Adnan

    thanks for appreciating the article and leaving the comments. Urdu language needs to be nurtured in India as it is still the popular lingua franca. Most of Bollywood and TV still speaks in the Urdu idiom. Even the wretched TV soaps employ Urdu language with “Shukriya” as the common word.

    RR

  5. I agree with Adnan that Dehlvi family must share the blame for closing Bano,khilauna and Shama.
    Pakeeza anchal etc are not thier substitutes.

  6. sara says:

    yes i am agree with u

  7. Jawad Zahiri says:

    Since I live outsid the Indian borders so it happened to be a news for me that Shama is closed. By the way does Sadia have any relation with Mr. Siraj Anwer Delhvi, the vetran photographer of Shama? Will somebody tell me please. Thanks.

  8. Aziz says:

    I appriciate the work done by Sadia and her family. I am so sorry about closing of Urdu Shama and Khilona. In my childhood I anxiously waiting for the Magzine. Now I could not believe these two can be closed.

  9. Moin Sattar says:

    Great articel on her. But it is very painful to accept the demise of Urdu in India, just because it has been accepted as an offical language of Pakistan

  10. RIZ REHMAN says:

    Salam,
    tired of hearing from every school & college girl, when asked what she want to become in future? Kiran Bedi ……..the answer.
    I, was happy to hear from a school girl the answer that she wanted to become SADIA DHELVI.
    My good wishes to her…………Ameen.
    Lot of wishes & good luck to Sadia for her remarkable, progrssive work & achievements , may sucess kisses her every step-Ameen.
    With Love
    Riz Rehman Dhelvi

  11. ali abid says:

    thanks for appreciating the article and leaving the comments. Urdu language needs to be nurtured in India as it is still the popular lingua franca. Most of Bollywood and TV still speaks in the Urdu idiom. Even the wretched TV soaps employ Urdu language with “Shukriya” as the common word.

    ali abidi amrohavi
    hindustan express daily
    urdu news papar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>