History & Culture

33 years with Sadia Dehlvi

Sadia Dehlvi with Kamna Prasad at a mushaira for Jashn-e-Bahar   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Jinse mil kar zindagi se ishq ho jaye vo log

Apne shaayad na dekhe hon magar aise bhi hain

Meeting them makes you simply fall in love with life;

such folks,

You may not have seen them, but they do exist


I first met her in 1987 with Khushwant Singh at a calligraphy exhibition in Delhi. Sadia Dehlvi was so vivacious and effervescent. She enthusiastically introduced herself to Khushwant. “You must have heard of the Dehlvis of the Shama group of journals. I am Yunus Dehlvi’s daughter. I edit an Urdu magazine Bano.” Soon, Khushwant grew very fond of her.

As for me, her charisma floored me. The sparks of friendship were immediate. A friendship that was to last 33 years. Till she betrayed my advice. Two days before she passed away, we were in the midst of our usual long conversation. She was in pain.

“Kamna, I am going to die,” she said.

“Saddo, my friend, please don’t die. I will come and see you tomorrow at your home,” I replied.

Well, it came to pass. I did go to her place the next morning. And could literally only ‘see’ her. She had broken all the bonds of pain and passion and moved on. I am sure, to a better place. Leaving behind memories of a deep emotional tie and beautiful times spent together.

Sadia Dehlvi holding up Khushwant Singh’s book that’s dedicated to her

Sadia Dehlvi holding up Khushwant Singh’s book that’s dedicated to her   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Sadia’s zest for life was infectious. In the early days of our friendship, I would often pick her up and we would go riding in the President’s Polo Club grounds. Our many adventures included trying to learn flying, water skiing, ice skiing, and even walking to Meerut to protest during the communal riots. We travelled together to many places. We went to several dargahs and literary events. And ever since I started mushaira Jashn-e-Bahar, her presence was a given, every year. In fact, we had a hotline to each other.

We shared a common love for Urdu poetry, Sufi thought, films, the arts, and so much more. We started spending a lot of time together. I met so many renowned writers, poets, films stars, artists who would just troop in at Shama Ghar where she had a separate wing. Come evening, Sadia would be the light of the mehfil. Shama house was an open house. Open to everyone. A tradition she maintained at her present home even while she was severely ill. Like the conversation, the food was always excellent. The kebabs were often ordered from Al-Kausar which belonged to the family and was across the road. Those lush evenings and the generous hospitality bore the imprint of who Sadia was. Those times we spent together will never leave me. From poetry to politics, our arguments, our discussions, I cherish them all.

Her personality was clear as glass. She would speak as she felt, readily admitting the mistakes she made. She would listen to advice, but of course follow her own heart in all her actions, changing direction at will. Enigmatic and magnetic and, in her own way, a game changer in the lives she touched with her large heartedness. Her well received books about Sufism, culture, cuisine and life experience showcase her as an icon of our

Ganga-Jamna tehzeeb, our composite culture. I think it was this rootedness, this open-mindedness, and the spiritual bent that kept her going in the last two years when she was so severely tested.

She writes in her book Sufism: The heart of Islam: “I slowly began to understand traumatic experiences as both nourishing and necessary for those who truly seek to purify and liberate the mind, body, and soul. A particular passage from Chishti Master Baba Farid’s life impacted me deeply. The Sufi blessed his disciples with the prayer, ‘May God endow you with pain.’”

I miss you Saddo, my dearest friend. Rest in peace… till we meet again in that beautiful realm where all is one.

And bless you Arman. You were her world. May you carry forward Sadia Dehlvi’s vibrant legacy.

The writer is the founder of Jashn-e-Bahar, a film-maker, publisher, and an activist supporting Urdu

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2020 9:06:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/sadia-dehlvi-was-a-sufi-storyteller-a-supporter-of-urdu-and-a-dear-friend/article32320017.ece

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