A handful of families can rightfully claim to be true-blue Delhiwallahs — the earliest settlers of Delhi. Sadia Dehlvi belonged to one such family of traders who took on the name Dehlvi upon making this city their home. Sadia, 63, died at her home in Nizamuddin East after a long battle with cancer. Her son, musician Arman Ali Dehlvi was by her side. The last rites were performed on the morning of August 6.
Saddened by the untimely demise of historian and writer Sadia Dehlvi Ji. Delhi will remember her as a true dilliwali and a historian of the people. RIP pic.twitter.com/I59ri3vbT5
— Manish Sisodia (@msisodia) August 6, 2020
In her lifetime, Sadia donned many hats —an author, journalist, scriptwriter. She also wrote a column for Hindustan Times. She would narrate stories and talk about the tehzeeb of Dilli with such soulfulness that you would be transported to a mystical place — a Delhi that is now lost. Her home was a warm place filled with the laughter of friends, the music that her son made, and of course, food. Her wit was distinct, just like the aromas wafting out of her kitchen. Her dastarkhwaans were legendary, transcending food.
Author and close friend of Sadia’s, Rakhshanda Jalil wants to celebrate her life. “I want to remember her for the sparkling person that she was. She was a great raconteur and could really spin a story with a twinkle in her eye. She was a great cook and her benchmark was her mother; if her mother nodded in approval, that meant it was alright. Family was important for her.”
A devotee of the Chishti order of Sufism, Sadia was most at peace at the dargahs of Ajmer Sharif and Nizamuddin Auliya. Haji Syed Salman Chishty, Dargah Ajmer Sharif, says, “It’s tragic and there really are no words to express the loss. Sadia Aapa has always been so full of life and a great human being. Her home was the essence of Tehzib-e-Dilli — the immaculate culture as well as hospitality of Delhi. A great lover and devotee of Chishty Sufi tradition, she frequently visited Ajmer Dargah Sharif. Sadia Aapa had a special connect with Khawaja Gharib Nawaz and would spend hours in Dargah Sharif meditating as well as interacting with mystics, faqirs and deekers. For us, visiting Delhi will never be the same.”
Author Bhaichand Patel, who had been friends with Sadia Dehlvi for over three decades, talks about Sadia’s love for life. “I have known her since 1986. I had just come to Delhi at that time. She knew everybody in town, and came from a distinguished family. She was a wonderful person, very bright, brainy and a learned person. She was always helpful to people, everybody loved her. She also had a wedding reception at my home and a lot of VIPs came including the Giani Zail Singh who was the President that time. And when she was young, she was prettier than any movie star,” he says.
Sadia spent a considerable time in Old Delhi, and at her family’s ancestral home, Shama Kothi in Central Delhi, forging strong ties with the people there. Of one such family of hakeems, Munib Ahmed Khan, recalls his time with her. “Sadia aunty was a very strong person. She was a fighter all through her life. Our families go back a long way. Mine is a family of hakeems, so we were close to people who would make Unani medicines. I knew her for as long as I can remember,” he says.
Author and lawyer Saif Mahmood remembers her as a feisty woman: “I had known Sadia Apa forever. Our families had known each other for three generations. She fought orthodoxy and cancer alike. She typified the old Shahjahanabadi culture even while driving the image of the traditional Muslim woman away from the stairs of the Jama Masjid and bringing it centre stage. Her mannerism, on one hand, made her look like a post-modern elitist woman of the kind you see on European screens, and on the other, evoked that certain sense of plainness which is characteristic only to the streets of Purani Dilli. To me, it seems that she will pop out from somewhere, laal gulaab in hair, and say: chalo ab ho gaya rona dhona, celebrate me now.”
Her aura was such that even those who hadn’t met her, or had only seen her socially a few times, were immediately besotted.
For chef Sadaf Hussain, who has seen the bylanes of Purani Dilli through her lens and stories, and how she has narrated those, meeting her was on his wish list. He says, “I never got to meet her but her work has inspired me, and it was the meeting I wanted to do this year. She and her family used to say, “we are the real Dehlvis”. This added swag to her personality,” adding, “If you ask me how I would give an ode to her, I would say I will make nihari.”
Abhinav Bamhi of Faqirchand and Sons Bookstore says that it was her unmistakable aura that attracted everyone. “I have seen her at our shop a few times, and met her at book launches, literary events and cultural evenings. She always had this charisma — everyone going around her, people greeting and coming up to her. I enjoyed admiring her assertively profound presence and aura. She had such an amazing Dilliwali vibe that one could feel the culture in her, that urdu ka andaaz and mystical sufi vibe. These are some things that will stay with me forever,” he says.
Anuj Bahri, of Bahrisons Booksellers, says that she would visit them often, and in true Dilli style, he pens an ode to her:
Dilli ki nazaakat
Ko dekha hai kareeb se
Tum woh lau ho
Jo dilli ke dil se roshan rahe gi
The night was cooler, the moon shone a bit brighter and there was a whiff of jasmines somewhere close. Delhi would never forget you, Sadia.
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