Daylight barely enters the hall. The paint on the blue brick wall has started to flake off. The switchboards are covered with layers of dust. The blades of the ceiling fan are wrapped in cobwebs. An empty red refrigerator stands, with its doors open, next to an air cooler. A rotating chair with torn plastic sits beside a wooden table, the empty drawers of which are arranged upside down atop it. A tall stack of bundled paper lies in one corner.
The two “hand-fed” printing machines, however, are nowhere to be seen.
This dingy place, at a few steps from Jama Masjid, is in Old Delhi’s atmospheric neighbourhood of Chhatta Sheikh Manglu and, until recently, used to print Din Dunia—a subscriber-only Urdu magazine on historical aspects of Islam. There is, however, nothing to despair yet. Only the printing machines were done away with last month; the 95-year-old monthly magazine will continue to be printed from a different location. The hall of the Din Dunia office is in a state of abandonment—the century-old-mansion in which it is located is gearing up for renovation.
“To be exact, I got rid of the printing machine on 10 July,” says Asif Fehmi, the magazine’s 60-year-old owner, publisher, editor, and designer. He is also its principal writer. “There have been drastic changes in printing technology and it was no longer financially viable to operate those machines.”
An extremely gentle-mannered and soft-spoken man, Fehmi himself is a magazine-profile material. He is always dressed in Western-style suits, even during the peak of Delhi summer. His office is on the ground floor of his ancestral house, where his younger brother’s family currently stays. Fehmi chose to live in the comparatively less-congested Noida.
The printing machines’ departure is no loss to heritage. Fehmi had brought them 30 years ago to replace the much-older Litho printing machines, one of which belonged originally to freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who used it to print the weekly Urdu newspaper, Al-Hilal. That historic machine was eventually dismantled and its parts were sold off to scrap dealers.
Fehmi inherited the magazine from his father, Mufti Shaukat Ali, who had founded it in 1921 as a weekly tabloid on society, politics, and films. The publication was temporarily suspended during the years following the Partition, after which the magazine was restarted with a single-minded focus on Islam. Owing to his father’s ill health, a young Fehmi took over Din Dunia in 1987, right after graduating in law from Delhi University.
Those were the golden days for the magazine. There used to be 15,000 subscribers at that time. The number has trickled down to 4,000 today.
With printing machines gone, Fehmi’s 12-member establishment has been reduced to Fehmi alone. The magazine’s future is uncertain. His only child, a daughter, who teaches nursery students at a school in Noida, cannot read Urdu.
At the moment, hopefully, Din Dunia, will continue to come out every month with its regular edition of 64 pages. It is one of the few Urdu magazines that still survive in the labyrinthine alleys of Old Delhi. The other notables include the Sufism monthly Astana Tasawwuf, the women’s monthly Khatoon-e-Mashriq, and Jaam-e-Noor, which devotes itself to Islam.
Since his brother is in the process of renovating the house, Fehmi will have to work from a small book-lined study on the ground floor in the coming months. He will pore over books and write new articles from there. Fortunately, the printing will pose no problems. Old Delhi has dozens of small hole-in-the-wall printing presses. The next issue of Din Dunia will be printed from Seema Offset Press in Gali Chooriwallan, or the street of the bangle-sellers.