40 rs and a dream

I was born to a middle class family in Muradabad, U.P, India on the 10th of March 1940, In those meager but literary surroundings I started my life in this world. Things were much simple then, we did not have the trappings that the youth of today have, but I was fortunate enough to have a father in Adil Adeel who instilled in me the importance of the written word. Today people marvel at what I have managed to do, but to me it was bound to happen as publishing was in my genes.

Even in the early years of my childhood I clearly recall my father and Rais Amrohvi publishing a magazine focused on the arts of the day called “Musafir” which inspired and brought to light many a struggling painter or writer or theatrical performer in pre partition U.P. My journey of self actualization though began from the moment my shade from the harshness of life left this world. My father passed away in 1944 and after that I was brought up by my nana’s family in the best way they could manage. I did not come to Pakistan at partition, as my nanas family chose to stay behind. Obviously I did not have much say in this matter either as I was about 7 when the great break happened. However I vividly recall the helplessness I felt as a second class citizen in the now “New India” where I was one of the only 9 Muslim students in the Hindu college in my city. 9 amongst the 500 who studied there, 9 outcasts in every shape and form of the word. It is for this very reason that I ran away from home in 1957 to Pakistan, Karachi to be specific. I am quite proud to say I arrived here with only 40 rs in my pocket and a dream in my head..

Not knowing many people in Karachi, I took up residence with my father’s old partner and close friend Rais Amrohvi and immediately found myself thrust back in my early surroundings of poetry and philosophy. I did not however like so many of today’s great rebels give up on my studies but continued by taking admission in Urdu college where I finished my inter and B.Com This later turned into the Karachi university where I continued my academic pursuits by doing an M.A in sociology and political science. Some people normally associate my first writing steps from this period in my life but the truth is I have been writing since I was a child. Yes it did not attain the shape and finesse I achieved in it in the later years but the passion for words burnt in me from early on. As I did not have any outlet for it and whilst other boys played sports and pranks in childhood I used to write love letters to the famous poets of that day by the name of Shakila Jamal.

Perhaps I just fancied the romanticizing of my thoughts or perhaps it was the thrill of how I achieved a reply from each and every one of them to the said letters. Poets such as the great Krishen Chandar, Naresh Kumar Shad and Devinder Sathardi were just a few of Shakila’s pen pals. If you ask me whether I feel apologetic for these acts I would only say that the receivers were enjoying them as much as the sender so why feel sorry? These elaborate escapades continued till I sent these letters to Shakil Baduni the great song writ who shared them with Naushad sahab who immediately reprimanded me in the strongest of words to make me stop. Even then the romantic in me burnt on and I had finished my first romantic novel before I ever set foot in Pakistan, its still gathering dust and lying with me, never published, never exposed.

About the time I arrived in Karachi, the now famous urdu poet Jon Elia, brother of Rais Amrohvi arrived in Karachi to rest and recuperate at his family home because of contraction of TB which was a deadly disease in that day. As medicine the bane of all wallets was as expensive then as it is now in the Amrohvi family felt they had to undertake some sort of business venture to finance this rehabilitation and thus the literary paper “Insha” started out in 1958. I was a mere apprentice with Jon Elia who was not just a poet beyond par but well versed in Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew. It took me two years of toiling with this gentleman to present him with enough merit to let me write in this publication.

A far cry from what happens today, when a writer barely out of school can get their article published in the paper of their choice with a phone call to the right person. My first published piece was on the topic of “marriage issues of women in our society” a socially inspired look at what women go through in order to get hitched. Then came my translation of Col Midas Taylors book “Confession of a thug” on the famous Indian historical figure “Amir Ali thug” which was published in 5 parts. As “Insha” could not reach above circulation of 1250 copies a year the Amrohvi family decided to morph it into a digest to take it to the next level of revenue and the “Aalami digest Insha” was born, after this it became the “Aalmi digest” and was based totally on fiction which resulted in an increase in circulation till about 20,000 copies a year. It was at this juncture in life that I started feeling like a fifth wheel in this organization.

Although I had been assured of my position as a family member and comrade by Rais sahib and Jon. I did not see anything on paper and hence after Dr Mohammad Ali Siddiqui intervened on my behalf to no avail, I decided to once again take a leap of faith, the first one landed me into Pakistan and this one would land me into fame and some fortune to go with. By this time having worked tirelessly in the Amrohvi publishing dynasty that was “Aalmi digest” I had gathered some contacts as well as a capital of 1500rs and thus I debuted my digest called “Sabrung” in January 1970.

Even I was a bit shocked when it sold 3500 copies out of the 5000 I had printed, apparently the readers were not as fickle as I had imagined. This belief strengthened when the second issue also sold to the same volume and after that I never looked back. Yes people wrote against me, even Rais sahib whom i still hold in very high respect but they could not hold me or my vision back as in the space of one and a quarter years “Sabrung digest” went to a circulation of 25,000 copies. These were heady day’s indeed, such was the fervor I had acquired with this endeavor that I sometimes did not go home for 20-22 days at an end, as I ate drank and slept in my office.

Obviously the money was also flowing as the price of the digest was 1.5 rs and my entire months household expenses were less than 500 rs. However I did not spend it all on frivolities but started paying the writers double of the industry standard rates and poured in as much as I could on the color scheming the layout and the general look of the digest. I hired the best painters from all over and by gods grace became known as the inspiration to many a publisher with doubling of circulation every single year till 1976 when Sab rung digest had created a whole new genre of publishing with a circulation of 156,000 copies a month. It was in this period when the mushroom growth of this genre created digests like the Jasoosi digest, the Khawateen digest and so on. Suffice to say, I was on top of the world and had set a new standard for publishing as well as become a success, all of it with only 40 rs and a dream.


This is part one of the memoirs of “Shakil Adilzada” as published in “The Friday Times” on March 19th 2010

  1. I noticed your blog on facebook groups. I just added you to my MSN News Reader. Keep up the good work buddy! Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  2. Oh, this has been published. Good to read inspiring stories such as this one. I am proud from your neighboring country – Philippines.

  3. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.it was wonderful

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