Written by Bushra Alvi Razzack
Perhaps the city’s most famous “Dilliwali”, Sadia Dehlvi, was a woman of great talents — an author, journalist, film maker, activist, culinary expert, and much more. Sadia belonged to the famous Dehlvi family whose Urdu magazines, especially Shama and Khilauna, were a rage in the times gone by. She lived life on her own terms. Never one to be daunted by circumstances, she celebrated life in all its vibrant forms. Dehlvi was gutsy, flamboyant and bindaas — at the same time very spiritual. This quintessential “Dilliwali” could be seen across the cultural landscape of Delhi. At any function that celebrated Delhi’s culture, one was sure to find her.
When she passed away on August 5, a pall of gloom descended upon Delhi. The evening after she was laid to rest, my brother Sohail and I went to offer our condolences to her family. We met her mother, Zeenat Kausar, and her son, Armaan, at their house in Nizamuddin East. As we spoke about her, we went down memory lane.
My earliest memories of her go back to the Eid celebrations during our early years when we met her at the Eid Milan gatherings hosted by Hakeem Abdul Hameed of Hamdard Dawakhana at his Kautilya Marg residence. A regular feature on our social calendar, the Eid Milan was then a get-together of the elite Muslim families of Delhi with a smattering of politicians and diplomats. Among the regulars there were members of the Dehlvi family, popularly known as “Shama waley”.
While everyone was dressed in their Eid finery, it was vivacious Sadia and her dynamic mother who made heads turn. Their compelling presence made them the cynosure of all eyes. I remember them dressed in ghararas and I can recall Sadia’s chuna hua (crinkled) dupatta and dangling earrings. From very early on she stood out. She had a certain kind of aura about her and I, as a young girl, was already impressed. Later, she was to inspire many people whose lives she touched in one way or another.
For most people of my generation who did not have any formal education in Urdu, the famous Shama magazine, an Urdu film and literary monthly was the incidental Urdu teacher. We would excitedly read the magazine with the help of our mother. Everyone was hooked onto it and enthusiastically awaited the next edition. Bano was the Urdu women’s journal which was edited by both Sadia and her mother.
While for many “The Shama Group” meant magazines, periodicals and Urdu journalism, for us, it also stood for Shama Laboratories, manufacturers of Unani medicine. Both my parents being hakims, this connect was, but natural. Sadia Dehlvi’s grandfather had ventured into this business in 1956 and after him, this business was looked after by Mohd. Ilyas Dehlvi, her uncle, who was closely associated with my father Hakim Mohammed Abdur Razzack. Sadia’s elder brother, Faheem Dehlvi, was a regular visitor to our house in Nizamuddin East. Unfortunately, he too passed away a few years back. Shama Laboratories too shut down as did the Shama magazine and in its place Shama Remedies Pvt Ltd was started by Sadia’s cousin, Mohsin Dehlvi who has taken this venture forward as Dehlvi Naturals.
Sadia shifted to Nizamuddin East when their iconic family bungalow, Shama Kothi, at Sardar Patel Marg in New Delhi’s Diplomatic Enclave was sold off when the family’s fortunes crumbled. I would often meet her taking a walk in the colony park or at the Bhogal market buying meat and other items. Despite being a well-known personality, she was a very grounded person and, over the years, had found her peace in Sufism.
I would also often meet her at various events organised by the Aseem Asha Foundation which both of us patronised. She was very invested in girls’ education, upliftment and skill development and one section of the foundation’s activities was the Shama-e-Ilm Tailoring Centre at Okhla which was sponsored by her. To keep her memory alive, Aseem Asha Usman, director of the foundation, has decided to re-name this centre as “Sadia Dehlvi Cutting and Designing Centre”.
Dehlvi loved and enjoyed being a mother. One would always see her face glow with pride and affection when she spoke about her son Armaan Ali, a musician, who has already carved a niche for himself. At a Basant Panchami celebration organised in our colony in February 2017, which I was attending with my sister-in-law Nabeela, Dehlvi expressly came up to us and urged us to stay back as Armaan was performing. Last year, at the Sufi Route Concert organised by A R Rahman at the Garden of Five Senses, I again met Sadia, sitting in the biting cold of early February as she accompanied Armaan who was to perform later that evening. I was rather surprised to have seen her there as her father had passed away just two days ago, and she herself was battling cancer. Love for her son had made her overlook her own sorrow and comfort.
The epitome of the modern Indian Muslim woman with her roots in tradition, she will be greatly missed in Delhi’s literary and cultural circuit.
May she rest in eternal peace. Aameen.
The writer is a Delhi-based author, translator and poet, and the editor of Dilliwali: Celebrating the Woman of Delhi through Verse