Obituary | Delhi

Sadia Dehlvi loved to explore the unexplored

Author Sadia Dehlvi at the Hazrat Nizamuddin's Chilla, in New Delhi. File.

Author Sadia Dehlvi at the Hazrat Nizamuddin's Chilla, in New Delhi. File.   | Photo Credit: S. Subramanium

Sadia Dehlvi (1957-2020) loved to explore the unexplored. A devout Sufi, Dehlvi was a guide to the uncharted spots in Delhi where ‘the heart of Islam’ blossomed. An advocate of pluralistic aspects of Islam from food to music, a prolific writer and a persevering activist, she unravelled the layers of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeeb through her works and life.

The author of The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi often criticised the separation of religion from spirituality. She would say you could not have Vedanta without Hindusim and Sufism without its Islamic roots. It is about taking the first step and then spreading your horizons.

She was born to Yunus Dehlvi at the famed Shama House on Sardar Patel Road. Her grandfather Yusuf Dehlvi was a cultural connoisseur and the force behind Shama, the literary and film magazine. Dehlvi, who edited Bano, an Urdu journal of the group, would fondly talk about the evenings in the company of the likes of Ismat Chughtai, Ali Sardar Jafri, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Nargis.

The talk would eventually shift to their food habits as Dehlvi was a deft cook, someone who would not like to keep her recipes a secret. She generously shared them in her book Dilli Ka Dastarkhan and Jasmine & Djinns: Memories and Recipes of My Delhi, in which she talked about the evolution and inclusive nature of the Delhi food, which she described as a fusion of Persian and Indian styles and how it gained in sophistication when the Turkish chefs came in contact with the Kayastha cooks of Delhi. In the same breath, the raconteur in her would talk of jinns of different faiths who inhabited the Shama Kothi and how they had a sweet tooth!


She successfully dabbled in television as well, with Amma and Family for Home TV that opened a window to an urban Muslim family, with the irrepressible Zohra Segal playing the adventurous Amma. Part autobiographical, it broke some of the stereotypes that popular culture associates Muslims with. She shared a strong bond with Khushwant Singh and a common love for Delhi and Urdu poetry. Singh dedicated his book Not A Nice Man To Know to Dehlvi and she produced a tele-series in which he interviewed successful women from different fields.

When Shama House was passed on to the Bahujan Samaj Party, she saw it as a symbol of changing Indian polity in which Muslims were increasingly moving away from the centrestage because of various reasons. Often found at the Nizamuddin Dargah, the activist in her would question the filth around Muslim localities and places of worship and how they could not easily find rented accommodation in a city that once embraced everybody. She tirelessly worked for preserving the cultural heritage of the city that was increasingly becoming, as she would say, too boisterous and a show-off.

Like a true Sufi, Dehlvi carried many a pain in her heart but, like the title of one of her series, she always believed in Zindagi Kitni Khoobsurat Hai.

(Sadia Dehlvi passed away in Delhi on August 5 after a prolonged battle with cancer)

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 11:06:07 PM |

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