Mission Delhi - Abu Noman, Maujpur

Mission Delhi – Abu Noman, Maujpur

Mission Delhi - Abu Noman, Maujpur

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

In his 70s, he is frail, he walks with caution, and his advanced years has taken a toll on his hearing. And he flits around the capital in public buses. This elderly man single-handedly sustains a piece of heritage literature.

Abu Noman is the editor-publisher of the literary minded Rehnuma-e-Taleem Jadeed. The monthly “risala” (journal) in Urdu was founded by Master Jagat Singh in 1905 in Lahore, eventually moving base to Delhi following the partition.

This afternoon, the venerable gent in white kurta-pajama is walking in the hostile May heat, on way to meet one of the magazine’s contributors. He pauses under a shade for gupshup, informing that he used to be “full-time” calligrapher in a series of Urdu dailies. Those newspapers shut down one after another, he says. “Now Maktaba Jamia too has shut down,” he says, referring to a bookstore in Old Delhi’s Urdu Bazar.

Abu Noman’s present-day journal was similarly shutting down back in 2006. The founder’s descendants blamed its non-profitability. But “I couldn’t have let this chirag (lamp) be extinguished… I had a long association with the risala as a freelancer, I convinced the owners to hand it to me.” He relaunched the magazine, amending the name from Rehnuma-e-Taleem to Rehnuma-e-Taleem Jadeed.

Each month, the magazine receives about 20 contributions from writers through email. Not proficient in online correspondence, Abu Noman routinely walks over to a “computer operator,” a kilometre away from his home in north-east Delhi’s West Gondha. The operator hands him the prints over every successive visit. He spends the next few days closely reading these contributions at home, after which he returns with the edited content to the operator, who arranges it in the magazine’s formatted design, emailing the computer file to a printer in Daryaganj. 400 copies are produced, priced at 25 rupees each. Abu Noman then walks to the nearby post office in Maujpur to personally parcel the journal to subscribers, spread across 19 soobe (states).

Fluent in Urdu and Punjabi, he discloses that the magazine does not yield profit, even though the writers aren’t paid any remuneration. “It is all about Urdu ki khidmat (sevice).” The latest issue has ghazals by poets Mohsin Azim Ansari, Kanwar Mahinder Singh Bedi Sehar, Noor Hasan Noor Nawabi and Aslam Hanif. There is also an essay on the poets of Tonk town by Shaheen Afroz, and a satire on writing life by Narang Saki, the magazine’s principal advertiser.

Abu Noman will soon start preparing the next issue. “The risala will continue as long as I am.”

[This is the 578th portrait of Mission Delhi project]