Delhiwale: Shama’s luminous past
- A derelict building that is also an iconic literary landmark for the Capital
The building has lost its colour. A tree is growing out of the balcony.
What rescues it from general anonymity, here in Delhi’s Asaf Ali Marg, is a rusting metal hoarding. One word is shining bright in white this afternoon — “Shama”. Urdu for candle. As in Dehli ki Aakhiri Shama, or Delhi’s last candle — the title of a 19th century poetry work.
But this Shama was different.
Among a certain generation in Delhi, and wherever Urdu was read, Shama, a monthly literary and film magazine, is remembered with a pang in the heart, as if one is mourning for their lost love. It had acquired such a cultish appeal that, in its heyday, from 1950s to the 1980s, its copies were smuggled by magazine suppliers to neighbouring Pakistan — according to Sadia Dehlvi who passed last year. Her grandfather, Mohammad Yusuf Dehlvi, founded Shama in 1939. Both her parents left their editing imprints in the publication group. Her father, M Yunus Dehlvi, the managing editor, died some years ago: Her mother, Zeenat Kauser, is today a citizen of neighbouring Gurugram and lives with her (late) eldest son’s family, in DLF Phase 1.
According to information provided by Zeenat Kaiser’s younger son, Vaseem Ahmed, who lives in Mumbai, and her grandson, Ali Ahmed, who lives with her in Gurugram, the founder’s three sons shaped the magazine’s evolution. Sister publications were gradually added — Bano, Shabistan, Khilauna, Mujrim, Doshi (in Hindi), Aina and Sushama, which Shama translated into Hindi.
Gradually, with the decline of the Urdu readership, say Vaseem and Ali, the magazine’s circulation plummeted, forcing it to publish its last issue in 1999.
The Dehlvis, who ran Shama, could themselves have been its final cover story material. Their sprawling mansion in Delhi’s prized Sardar Patel Marg was celebrated for its soirées. Every film star landing in the capital would be obliged to stop by at their address. The late Sadia Dehlvi had hundreds of black-and-white photos showing Bollywood legends hanging out in her house. The family sold the bungalow four years after the magazine’s dissolution. Today, Zeenat Kauser, both the matriarch and the last principle living link to Shama, resides in quiet anonymity in the Millennium City, with her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, including the aforementioned Ali whose passion is to collect every detail related to his family’s great legacy.
In effect, while the old Shama survives as a relic in Delhi, those who would have been its inheritors, had it continued, live with Shama’s memorabilia across the border in Gurugram.