A slice of Delhi lost in time

Feroz Dehlavi discusses why he spent hours on painstaking research before writing ‘Hamare Zamane Ki Dilli,’ which reminds readers of the rich literature and history of the city

June 10, 2022 02:12 am | Updated June 11, 2022 11:36 am IST

Man of letters Feroz Dehlavi

Man of letters Feroz Dehlavi | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There is something undeniably wistful about Mohammed Feroz Dehlavi when he speaks. He may have penned ‘Hamare Zamane ki Dilli’ with a mix of nostalgia and longing, but today he is saddened at the decline of the city.

He says he longs for the days when he would go to Urdu Bazaar opposite Jama Masjid, and immerse himself in the world of letters in iconic book shops offering Urdu literature, including Saqib Book Depot, Nadwatul Muslameen, Jamaat-e-Islami’s outlet, Qutub Khana Hameedia, Central Book Depot, Anjuman Taraqqi Hindi’s outlet and so many others.

The lost shops People in large numbers shopping at the market opposite Jama Masjid, in Old Delhi

The lost shops People in large numbers shopping at the market opposite Jama Masjid, in Old Delhi | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

“It pains me to go there today. There are only a few shops remaining now,” he says, adding ruefully, “Today, there are chicken and mutton shops, biryani corners. I call it Murgh-o-Mahi Bazaar, not Urdu Bazaar.”

He is pragmatic enough to understand that Urdu is “no longer the language of the economy” and “a language that fails to get you job or earn a living finds few takers” He says, “There are shoe, music or paan shops in place of book shops. The iconic Qutub Khana Rasheedia of 1930s no longer exists. Places where people used to read and discuss books, say at Sangam Kitab Ghar, Maktaba Burhan, Maktaba Shara or Azad Book Depot are all gone. Where does one discuss, debate or even read now? Like a generation has quietly slipped away.”

Also, gone is the Shama magazine He recalls old-timers buying the magazine for its moamma, and a pickle-seller in Chitli Qabar being smart enough to sell the puzzle only after making a photocopy for himself. Such was the popularity of the moamma that Shama went on to carve out its own niche as probably the first Urdu magazine on cinema. “The same fate has fallen neighbourhood libraries which used to lend books for two paise a day in Old Delhi. The moamma ended around 30 years ago. The libraries with books-on-hire facilities also shut shop around the same time.”

Feroz Dehlavi

Feroz Dehlavi | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Dehlavi’s book covers a vast spectrum of the city’s life from 1857 to 1975. Even as he talks of social traditions and hangouts of Old Delhi, the land of endless soirees and mehfils, he remembers many historic moments in the city.

Feroz comes up with a nice slice of nostalgia. “When the 1911 Durbar took place and India’s capital was being shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, the procession for Kingsway Camp started from the stairs of Jama Masjid. Tickets were sold here to be a part of the historic event. Abdul Rehman sahib has written about it in great detail.”

Replete with such anecdotes, the book is a result of painstaking research, hours spent in libraries, poring over books penned by those who loved Delhi. “I am a 12th-generation Dilliwallah. I am most attached to Dilli. Whatever I have heard from my elders, read or was told about the city, I decided to pen it down for the benefit of coming generations. Urdu is my language of speech and writing. So, I decided to do this book in Urdu,” he says.

Stating that he did a lot of research for many years for the book, Feroz says he read many authors on the subject. He also went through books and documents at the Urdu Akademi, Urdu Ghar, the library at Zakir Husain college. (Incidentally, Feroz used to teach at Zakir Husain from 1983 to 2008. Interestingly, he was a student at the same college.) He concludes, “I finally concentrated on the period between 1857 and 1975, The idea was to preserve the social life of the city, the small traditions and culture for the next generation.”

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.