Of days gone by

By Nikhat Sattar

In 1947, a well known and educated gentleman, Yousuf Dehlvi started a publishing house in Delhi along with his three sons. Shama Publications as it was named, catered to the growing educated class in both India and Pakistan, and had an office in London through which it reached out to readers of Urdu and Hindi in Europe.  Yousuf Dehlvi was a man of letters, highly religious, well connected with politicians and what would now be called the “elite”, as well as a sound business man.

He recognised the  signs of an awakening among writers post independence, and realised too the huge market of readers that could be further stimulated and developed. This was also the time when the film industry was just beginning to produce films having social messages.

Shama Publications brought out three monthlies in Urdu: Shama, a film cum literary magazine that focused on Indian films and film stars and had Urdu short stories and poems from authors many of whom owe the beginning of their career and popularity to the magazine; Bano which targeted the educated woman, but again contained gems of the Urdu short story, and Khilona, for children. Khilona was edited by the youngest son, Ilyas Dehlvi, assisted by his elder brother Idrees Dehlvi. The Hindi magazine was called Sushma.

guest-contributorThe three Urdu magazines were a must for all Urdu speaking families with an interest in reading, and were read avidly in both countries. Postage was low cost, and the readers in Pakistan were well served by the postal services. Khilona cost Rs. 0.50 during the 60s, and I am informed that the price was raised to Rs. 0.75 when it was closed in 1987. The Publishing House published various Urdu and Hindi books, fiction and non fiction. It included various sub companies, of which one was Khilona Book Depot, that published books for children.

Incidentally, Yousuf Dehlavi had an interest in “unani “medicine too. Yousuf Dehlvi also manufactured quality unani medicines under the name Bara Dawakhana.  This is the only initiative started by Yousuf Saheb that still exists today, in the form of a highly successful company researchning and producing herbal products and run by his grandson, Mohsin Dehlvi. Yousuf Saheb’s eldest grand daughter, Sadia, who had edited Khilona and then Bano in the 80s is a famous media personality of India, having acted and produced TV dramas, and has written extensively on Sufism.

With the war of 1965, communications between India and Pakistan came to an abrupt halt. And have remained so to date.  Pakistani readers lost their source of entertainment, fun and knowledge, for these magazines provided all three in a rare mix that no other magazine has been able to provide.

Socio political and economic conditions took a different turn after the 60s, and Shama publications too attempted to follow the winds of change. Sales had declined after losing the Pakistan market, and as India began to lose interest in Urdu as a language, local readership also plummeted. After Yousf Dehlvi’s death and internal family disputes led to closure of the magazines along with the disbanding of the publications house.

Khilona claimed to be a magazine for “ aath se assi saal tuk ke bachhon ke liyae”. And this was so true. Children and their older family members fought over who should read it first as soon as it was delivered by the postman, and eagerly awaited the next issue. It spun magic in the lives of all those who read it, and people who are now in their 50s and above believe that Khilona played a substantial part in their intellectual and emotional growth.

The world of Khilona was essentially mischievous, funny and very much with the times. Stories, poems, articles of general knowledge, cartoons revolved around each and everything that a child can experience. This covered studies, school, relationships with teachers, parents and elder siblings and neighbours. It was full of pranks played on each other. The strange part was that the most studious and serious, and the most mischievous and playful child could relate herself with it. It was especially focused on the adult-child relationship, and brought out nuances and lessons for both in a most playful and engaging manner.

It used to be a prestige to write for Khilona. Most of the big names in Urdu fiction were contributors, including Ismat Chughtai, Wajida Tabassum, Jilani Bano, Raees Amrohvi and Krishan Chander. Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote poems, one of them especially written for his daughter, Moniza on her sixth birthday.


Siraj Anwar wrote serials of adventure which , left us children wide eyed and dreamy. Both Ismat Chughtai and Krishan Chander wrote serials that were then published in book form by the Khilona Book Depot. Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, who made a big name for penning the lyrics of Indian hit songs in the 50s wrote hilarious parodies of his own and other popular songs as well as originals. And then there were Tirlok Chand Mehroom, Krishan Gopal Abid, Adil Rasheed, Firaaq Gorakhpuri, Masood Jahan, Hajra Masroor and Khadija Mastoor.

Today, Urdu is considered to be the language of Muslims in the subcontinent. This was not so always. Urdu was the language of several famous poets and writers and they wrote about Muslim, Hindu and Sikh children and their families in Khilona. Nor were the stories particularly gender focused. Literature for children was non religious, non sexist and non sectarian.

Khilona and its contributors were alive to external circumstances. The content that was tilted towards kings, princesses and princes adapted itself to the changes and events that were happening both in India and externally. The war with China, the atom bomb and the standoffs between the US and the then USSR brought serious, but hopeful stories and poems on war and peace.

There was one particularly lovely poem about the children of the world making a plea to Krushchev and Kennedy, and one most heart wrenching story of a young girl physically completely distorted by the after effects of the bomb. But along with the topical issues, there were some topics that never did lose their charm. These were, for example, lamentation of children about their older siblings, the fear of exams and the well meaning but fun filled pranks played by family members and friends on each other.

Khilona was perhaps the first children’s magazine to bring the beauty and spiritual value of nature home to children. Poems on the diverse seasons of the sub continent, related to how each brings enjoyment to people, fruits such as the mango, and species such as grasshoppers, fish, frogs, lions etc were a key feature almost every month.

Illustrations, sketches, cartoons were of the highest quality.  Some were picked up from international publications, with the text translated to Urdu. Thus those who did not have recourse to English comics were introduced to Lulu and Tubby, Nancy and her aunt, Peanuts and other loveable cartoon characters. Indigenous cartoons were equally good.  The language was so simple, yet without distortions. It was the everyday language we used at home, yet brought something new in terms of style and composition.

Khilona is a treasure that remains hidden from today’s lives of mayhem, superficiality and troubled minds. If this treasure could be made available to those who can read, its magic can be re-created. Not only would this offer a glimpse of how children lived and interacted with their world more than 50 years ago, it would bring nostalgia and the childhoods dreams back to a large part of the population that may have forgotten the sweetness of school days. Khilona re prints would attract not only children, but also hold appeal for their parents, grand parents and relatives who are not children any more, but who yearn for some innocence of their childhood.

7 thoughts on “Of days gone by

  1. ZM's article in DAWN (July 3) says that Khilona was started in 1947 in New Delhi. Sorry, this is incorrect. Shama and its sister publications Bano and Khilona had their office in Old Delhi, outside Phatak Habash Khan where we had our ancestral home. Hafiz Yusuf Dehlavi used to operate from his office adjacent to the office of our (Nikhat Sattar's and mine) paternal grandfather, which my elder brother and I used to visit. We were one of the first, if not the first, buyers/subscribers of Khilona, which would be delivered to us personally by Yusuf sahib's youngest son, Ilyas Dehlavi. We continued the association after coming to Karachi in late 1947, and maintained the whole file of Khilona, which was passed on to our younger siblings.

    1. Sheihk Sahab kiya aap mujko Shama aur Sushma ki sahi publishing date bata saktay hai. Mehrbani kar kay.

  2. It was perhaps 50's when I was a kid and used to read Shamam & Khilona. Few novels like Chaut & Gunah by Dutt Bharti, I still remember and trying to find but unable to get. In Khilona I read a couplet which I still remember. Muh say bolain to Makhian Bhinkein, Kitnee Meethi Zaban Hai Piyarey. Khilona used to publish booklets for children also. One name I still remember. Ghasita Ki Bhutna Shahee. I wish if some one could place its publications on Internet. I do not think after such a lengthy period there would be any copy right issue.

  3. goya ke main koyi regular Shama/Sushma padhne wala na tha, Phir bhi aaj eisa lagta hei ke mein un tamam padhne wallon ke parivar se Tha Jo Aaj woh mahool aur tehzib miss ker rahe hein. Aaj beshumar Novels aur Kitaben padhne ke baad bhi zehan mein Ismat Chugtai aur Krishan Chand ka hi Naam sab se uper hei ? Eisa kyon hei ? Jawab doondhna mushkil nahi.

  4. Agar kisi ke paas ghasita ki bhutanshahi hai to meherbani karke mujhe email kar den ya bata den kahan mil sakti hai , mujhe apni mother ko gift karni hai ye unki pasandida kitab hai jo wo hamesha humen sunati hain

  5. My early memories of childhood reading are associated with Khilona. And this was possible due to the urdu lessons given to me by my phuphu. She taught me urdu and my first reading of the language was through Khilona. Perhaps a few other followers of Khilona might remember- there used to be an illustrated story in Khilona- the story revolved around a madarsa- and there was a jinn who would also study there in the form of ayoung boy. When asked to fetch water, the jinn would just let his arm elongate and get the water. It was so fascinating to read these stories. later i graduated to " Mujrim"- detective stories. Kahan gaye woh din?

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