Sadia Dehlvi dies at 63; Delhi loses its favourite story-teller

A well-known food connoisseur, she wrote a book on Delhi's culinary history in 2017

Sadia Dehlvi dies at 63; Delhi loses its favourite story-teller

Noted Delhi-based writer and activist Sadia Dehlvi has passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. Image: Twitter

New Delhi, August 6 

Author, activist, food connoisseur and raconteur, Delhi's very own Sadia Dehlvi, whose name itself reflected her bond with the city, has died after a prolonged battle with breast cancer.  

Dehlvi, meaning ‘one from Delhi', died on Wednesday at her home and is survived by her son Arman Ali Dehlvi. She was 63. 

Belonging to a family whose association with the city went back centuries, Dehlvi's Twitter profile read, “Columnist and author Sufism: The Heart of Islam & The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi. I live in Delhi, a city I love.” Dehlvi, who wrote about women, minorities, Islamic spirituality and Delhi's heritage and culture for more than 40 years, was laid to rest on Thursday at the city's Shidipura cemetery. 

A woman of many talents, Dehlvi also produced and scripted documentaries and television programmes, including "Amma and Family" (1995), with veteran actor Zohra Sehgal in the lead. 

She was also a close friend and confidante of the late Khushwant Singh, who dedicated his book "Not a Nice Man to Know" to her.

"To Sadia Dehlvi, who gave me more affection and notoriety than I deserve," he wrote. Singh's book "Men and Women in my Life", which has a chapter dedicated to her, also has Dehlvi's photo on its cover.

"Hers was a very illustrious family... I won't be exaggerating one bit if I tell you that the family was always leading from the front to keep Urdu alive in India,” Yasir Abbasi, who used Dehlvi's help for his book "Yeh Un Dinon ki Baat Hai", told PTI.

Dehlvi, who belonged to the royal Shama family, edited the Urdu women's journal Bano. Her grandfather Hafiz Yusuf Dehlvi founded the iconic Urdu film and literary month Shama in 1938.

“Under the Shama group, they launched other periodicals as well, including Bano and Khilona. Today we can't even imagine how popular the magazine Shama was. It was found in every Urdu speaking household," Abbasi said. 

Dehlvi was passionate about food, much like her family, which famously hosted Bollywood stars such as Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman in their palatial ‘haveli'.

"The Dehlvis' spacious house Shama Kothi in Delhi's tony diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri had become home to many visiting film stars. Their parties were the talk of  town. Food was something that the family was very passionate about. Sadia often talked about the many kebabs they used to serve in those parties," said Abbasi.

In 1979, Dehlvi founded Al Kauser, the Chanakyapuri restaurant famous for its kebabs, with her mother. At the age of 60, she donned the hat of a chef and tied up with ITC to celebrate the capital's authentic cuisine over a six-day dinner buffet festival – Delhi Table spread.

In 2017, she wrote "Jasmine & Jinns": Memories and Recipes of My Delhi", a book on Delhi's culinary history.

"She was in every which way ‘of Delhi'. She wrote about the food and culture of the city 30 years ago, a time when writing about Delhi was not fashionable like today. She was a true raconteur — she wrote about stories which she had not read or heard, but virtually lived," said author and friend Rakshanda Jalil.

"I remember Sadia was the kind of person who would travel across cities just to meet older people — her parents' friends, or her friends' parents, when they would be ailing or even otherwise, just to meet them for 10 minutes, with no agenda. That is the singular quality about her that I will always remember," Jalil told PTI.

“Sad to hear about the tragic demise of Sadia Dehlvi, a well known cultural figure of Delhi, a dear friend and a wonderful human being. Rest in Peace," historian and author S Irfan Habib said on Twitter. PTI

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