An Urdu magazine so popular it was smuggled across the border

The Urdu language literary tradition has been romanticized and written about by so many throughout the ages, and the 1940s magazine has added to this rich history. Shamawhich became so popular that after partition copies of it were carried across the border.

In a fascinating Twitter thread, media website Paperclip recently shared the illustrious story of Shama and how it rose to popularity and became associated with the glitz and glamor of the film industry at the time.

Explaining how Urdu in pre-1947 India was seen first as a language of rebellion and then as a language of art, culture and cinema, we are told that Shama was started in 1939 by a Delhi businessman named Yusuf Dehlvi. The two-aana magazine was billed as a combination of religious and literary media entirely in Urdu.

The first issue of the magazine carried the following verse:

Lo shama hui raushan, aane lage parwaane
Aaghaaz jab aisa hai, anjaam khuda jaane

Here the candle is burning, the butterflies are coming
When the start is like this, God knows how it will end

The extensive use of Urdu in the magazine made it popular among people associated with or admirers of the film industry, as most of the song lyrics and film scripts were also written in Urdu. Thus, many of the magazine’s contributors were also lyricists or film scriptwriters. Paperclip says as movies grew in popularity, so did Shama.

The magazine had many well-known writers, and after Score, the publication’s audience grew even more. By the 1950s Yusuf Dehlvi’s sons and wives were also involved in their publishing empire and established several new subsidiaries. These included a women’s magazine called banoone for children called Khilauna (toy), and a spy/crime themed one called Mujrim (criminal).

The magazine’s popularity began to grow to such an extent that hundreds and thousands of copies of it would be transported across the border to satiate the growing readership.

Even Bollywood’s biggest stars loved the magazine, so much so that Yusuf Dehlvi was rumored to have persuaded actor Sunil Dutt to allow his wife Nargis to have a role in the film. Raat Aur Din.

Unfortunately, with the rise of the Internet in the late 90s, Shama could not keep up and was forced to close its offices in 1999.

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