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Mulla Wahidi: a true `Dilli-wala`

August 19, 2008

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Delhi, once the capital of the Mughal dynasty, was the capital of Indian culture and literature also. Its culture, literature and language were representative of the entire country. So enticing was the atmosphere of Delhi in the Mughal era that people from every nook and cranny of India were lured to this city and to ultimately become `Dilli-walas`, raising their new generations there and taking pride in it. These true Dilli-walas loved their city so much that they did not leave it even in the worst of circumstances and when poets, writers and artisans left for Lucknow or Deccan in search of greener pastures (for lack of official patronage in Delhi due to political turmoil and lean economic conditions), many of them preferred to stay on. Ustad Ibrahim Zauq, a vintage Dilli-wala, said of such times

In dinon garche Dakan mein hai bari qadr-i-sukhan

Kaun jae Zauq par Dilli ki galiyan chhor kar

Mulla Wahidi was one of those true Dilli-walas who did not want to leave their beloved city after partition in 1947 but had to for one reason or another. But he could not forget Delhi for the rest of his life and craved for it till his last breath. He himself felt that his love for Delhi was too much and was not appreciable on at least one count it was more powerful than religious feelings. That is the reason exactly why he once prayed to the Almighty that the passion for Delhi may remain ever so intense but may it be changed into the love for Almighty and his last Prophet (peace be upon him). Such was the sincerity and truthfulness of people of the older generations, such as Mulla Wahidi, that they honestly committed such things into writing as well.

An epitome of Delhi`s old culture and traditional values, Mulla Wahidi was a learned, pious and humble soul. Having experienced Delhi`s cultured, traditional and noble ways of life, when he put pen to the paper to narrate some of the historical tales he had heard or to record Delhi`s cultural values, he brought the old times and old souls back to life. While reading his famous Mere Zamane ki Dilli, the reader feels that he is watching live the life and times of Delhi of the first half of the 20th century. He has recorded, in his naturally lucid style and chaste Urdu, his observations about the scholars, clerics, writers, kebab-sellers, hawkers, kite-flyers and other characters of the society of Delhi. This book is also known as `Delhi`s elegy` because of its pathos.

Mulla Wahidi was not a mullah in the traditional sense of the word. His real name was Syed Muhammad Irtiza. During his student days, writes Jaleel Qidvai in his book `Chand Akabir Chand Muaasir`, Muhammad Irtiza once quipped to his classmate Mushtaq Ahmed Zahidi (who later became the principal of a college in Bhawalpur) `You are Zahidi and I am Wahidi`. This casual rhyming stuck to him and from then on he was known as Wahidi. He was a disciple of Khwaja Hasan Nizami who was very fond of giving nicknames to people. According to Hasan Nizami Sani, Wahidi was lovingly called `mulla` by Khwaja Hasan Nizami. But Mulla Wahidi in his autobiography `Mera Afsana` has mentioned that to avoid the title `moulvi` and `moulana` he adopted the title `mulla`. Anyway, this title too caught on and he became Mulla Wahidi, so much so that people forgot his real name.

Born in Delhi on May 17, 1888, Mulla Wahidi was a writer, publisher, journalist and businessman rolled into one. Though equipped with little formal schooling, Mulla Wahidi began contributing to Urdu`s established literary magazines when he was hardly 18. In July 1909, when barely 21, he launched a monthly from Delhi named `Nizam-ul-Mashaekh`, in collaboration with Hasan Nizami. Later, Hasan Nizami handed it over to Mullah Wahidi completely. The magazine rapidly established itself and Mulla Wahidi became quite a celebrity, making friends with the literati and glitterati, such as Allama Iqbal, Shibli Naumani, Abul Kalam Azad, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Akbar Allahabadi and Zafar Ali Khan.

Wahidi Sahib decided to launch his own press and publishing house. With the passage of time, his venture flourished and he became a well-known and respected author, editor and publisher. He launched several magazines and a newspaper, including `Tabeeb`, `Khateeb`, `Inqilab` `Ustani` and `Durvesh` and soon he was printing and publishing nine publications four monthlies, four weeklies and a daily. Some of them were edited by Mulla Wahidi himself. In addition to his publishing business, he dealt in herbal medicines and tooth powder. Soon he became a well-known person respected for his honesty and penmanship. He was elected a member of Delhi`s Municipal Committee in 1934 and won two consequent elections to hold the post till 1946 and was made a rationing officer in 1940.

At the time of independence, he had no intention to leave Delhi and had launched a new weekly, named `Sach`, or `truth`, on Aug 15, 1947, celebrating the independence with an eye on the freedom of the press and the freedom to write and publish truth. But the paper could not survive beyond four weeks as the attitude of his Hindu colleagues, as he has mentioned in his book, made him realise that it was the time to leave the beloved city.

After migrating to Karachi, he launched a magazine `Firdous`, only to close it down shortly. He re-launched `Nizam-ul-Mashaekh` from Karachi. In 1960, the government asked all publications to obtain a fresh declaration and `Nizam-ul-Mashaekh` was denied one and it had to be closed down.

Wahidi Sahib visited Delhi in 1958 and recorded his impressions in a booklet `Dilli Ka Phera`. It was later included in the second edition of `Mere Zamane ki dilli`, published by Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu, Karachi, in 2000.

His other books include `Sawaneh umri Hazrat Khwaja Hasan Nizami`, `Hayat-i-Sarwar-i-Kainat`, `Tassauraat`, `Hayat-i-Akbar` and `Islami Culture`. His autobiography `Mera Afsana` was partially published posthumously in `Tehreer`, a quarterly published by Delhi`s `Majlis-i-Ilmi` and edited by Malik Ram. In monthly `Hilal`, Rawalpindi, he used to write `Tashreeh-ul-Quran`, a commentary on the Quran but it remained incomplete and he could finish only about half of it.

Several of his books still remain unpublished, some of which he had issued to a limited circle after cyclostyling. Karachi`s Bedil Library has a few of the manuscripts.

Mulla Wahid died in Karachi on Aug 22, 1976.