Culture – Din Duniya, a Gentle Madness

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Din Duniya, a Gentle Madness

One man’s struggle to save a dying Urdu publication.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Dignity in the face of decline is rare. Consider a day in the life of 50-year-old Mr. Asif Fehmi, the writer, designer, editor, publisher, printer and owner of Din Duniya, a historical Urdu magazine, which in his own words is “financially unviable”.

Each morning Mr. Fehmi wakes up in his NOIDA Sector 41 bungalow, dresses up in a suit (tie included), drives to Jama Masjid, walks his way through Purani Dilli bylanes, and enters a haveli with a courtyard shaded by large Neem trees. There, Mr. Fehmi struggles, along with 15 employees, to produce the next issue of Din Duniya.

“Not many read a dying language like Urdu,” he says. Indeed, the 88-year-long journey of this magazine parallels the opulence and poverty of that language in India. Started as a weekly tabloid by Mr. Fehmi’s father in 1921, Din Duniya originally covered politics, films, and society gossip. The publication stopped for two years during the partition. Today, it is a monthly magazine that covers Islamic matters. And Islamic matters alone.

“We write on Muslim history, Hadith, and current affairs with a minority perspective,” says Mr. Fehmi. Such limited specialization has yielded a limited readership of around 4000 subscribers. There are hardly any photographs, few illustrations, and no advertisements. But the job has to be done.

From a garage-like room, off the courtyard, comes the whining of two printing machines (handfed machine, circa 1985; automatic, circa 1996), while Mr. Fehmi sits in an adjoining hall. Possessed by dogged dedication (call it a gentle madness), he busies himself writing editorials, checking proof copies, gulping down chai, and editing stories sent by two regular freelance writers.

Alas, all this passion produces no material wealth. The indulgence is subsidized by Khwaja Press, which Mr. Fehmi runs with the same two machines and which occasionally gets orders to publish academic books from Delhi and Kashmir Universities.

Else this Urdu magazine would have been long dead, something inevitable. Perhaps. For the owner’s only child is illiterate in Urdu. “What would happen to Din Duniya after you?” I ask Mr. Fehmi. “I really don’t know”, he says.

Contact Mr. Fehmi 9810115225

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Din Duniya, a Gentle Madness

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Din Duniya, a Gentle Madness