This mag has preserved all letters to their editors
Editor of 78-year-old Urdu publication says letters to the editor are "part of a literary heritage"
The Times of India
Saturday, May 30, 2009
By Mohammed Wajihuddin
Mumbai --- We could have just marvelled at its sheer tenacity to survive the vicissitudes of time and moved on. But 'Shair' the 78-year-old Mumbai-based Urdu monthly, deserves a second look for a far more evocative reason. The magazine has kept, or at least has tried to keep, almost every letter that has been adressed to its editor since its inception in 1930.
Need proof? Visit a small, 3rd floor room at the ramshackle Dinath building in the heart of Kamathipura, Grant Road's infamous redlight area. Unknown to the dolled-up sex workers, pimps and pleasure seekers who loiter the locality's lanes, sits a part of Urdu literary history. Seated on a tiny bed is the 'Shair' editor Iftikhar Imam Siddiqui. Seven boris (gunny bags), several bundles and a huge trunk filled with letters cram the room. They carry the weight of myriad memories, moments of joy, sorrow, desperation and disillusionment shared by loyal readers from across the globe.
"People ask why I don't destory the letters. They don't know that these are part of a literary heritage," says 62-year-old Iftikhar, wheelchair-bound since he was crippled waist-down after a train accident in 2002. "Letters are not just about their writers but also about the spirit of the times they are written in," seconds Noaman Siddiqui, Iftikhar's elder brother who, along with younger sibling Hamid Iqbal Siddiqui, assists Iftikhar in editing the magazine.
If someone were to read through the letters to 'Shair', many little-known, sometimes unsavoury, nuggets about big names will surface. Like the fact that eminent poet-lyricist Nida Fazli would write desperate letters from his native Gwalior, pleading to be published in the magazine. There's also a famous writer who in his letter lamented his liberated daughter's marriage to a non-Muslim, against his wishes. "An editor's heart is like a graveyard, some facts should be locked there forever," says Iftikhar.
The story of letters to Shair is as old as the journals' tempestous journey. Seemab Akbarabadi, the legendary 20th century poet and writer and Iftikhar's grandfather, founded the magazine on February 14, 1930 in Agra. The idea was to provide a platform to budding poets. He would not only reply to hundreds of mails he received every month, but also religiously preserve them. In 1948, Seemab visited Lahore and Karachi, where he suffered a paralytic attack and never returned. After his huge haveli in Agra was declared an evacuee property, his children, the magazine and the letters, all found themselves orphaned and homeless.
Aijaz Siddiqui, Seemab's second son and Iftikhar's father, moved to Mumbai in 1951 with family and the periodical in tow. He nursed his father's baby, making it the subcontinent's leading literay journal. Though they changed 11 houses in Mumbai before moving to the Grant Road building in the 1960s, the Siddiquis never ditched the magazine or the letters that poured in.
Date Posted: 5/30/2009