Old timers miss enchanting Urdu monthly for kids

June 16th, 2008 - 12:54 pm ICT by IANS  

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) Khilona, the popular Urdu monthly of yore, has long gone out of print. But the magic that Khilona exercised on their adolescent imaginations remains unforgettable. Today an assortment of adults - most close to middle and old age - continue to seek it out from ‘raddi’ (scrap dealer) shops in every city. “The craze for Khilona is keener among the older bunch,” Shahid-ur-Rehman, owner of Kutb Khana-e-Rahimiya at Urdu Bazaar, told IANS, adding smugly that the old magazines always sell “at a premium”.

When the publishing house stopped publication, readers became collectors of the glorious magazine. I, and hundreds of other Urdu lovers like me, are in search of a brand that was once a household name in the comity of children’s Urdu monthlies - Mahnama Khilona!

Khilona, a treasure trove of Urdu culture and heritage, had carved its niche in the hearts of both elders and children, with umpteen readable stories, poems, cartoons, comic strips like “Suraj Ka Bahadur Beta Shamsi”, “Hamarey Naam” (letters from readers), “Batao To Bhala” (Readers), and much more. Ilyas Dehlvi, the editor, had titled the editorial page “Apni Batein”.

Many people, like me, have retained old issues of Khilona. While some refuse to tell anyone about their collections, stashing them away in trunks and suitcases, there are others who trade Khilona issues with fellow collectors.

Quips Aziz Burney, joint editor of the Urdu daily Rashtriya Sahara, who reads Khilona to relieve stress, “You escape back into your childhood, when you didn’t have a care in the world.”

Renowned Urdu poets and writers of the time like Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Hafeez Jalandhari, Hasrat Jaipuri, Qateel Shifai and Ismat Chughtai, among many others, were household names in those golden-flavoured childhood days.

The Shama publishing group brought out Khilona. Shama was the most highly regarded literary monthly of India and Pakistan, and almost all the big actors and actresses of yore frequented the palatial mansion of the Dehlvi brothers - Yunus Dehlvi, Ilyas Dehlvi and Idrees Dehlvi. Their father Yusuf Dehlvi had firmly cemented his reputation as an Urdu publisher at Asif Ali Road, New Delhi’s huge first floor office known as Shama Building, just after partition.

The magazine was priced at only 50 paise, which rose to 62 paise in the late 1960s and then increased to 75 paise in the 1980s.

Some time in 1987, the glorious tradition ended, owing to the dwindling population of Urdu-loving kids and the rift in the Shama family. The February issue of Khilona used to be a ’salnama’ (annual edition). The cost of this 168-page issue was Rs.2.50.

The artists’ team that decorated the scintillating Khilona was headed by the inimitable Siddiqui Artist, who people vouch would have been the best children’s books illustrator had he been in an English or French publication agency. The others, equally remarkable, were Jagdish Pankaj, Zia Faizi and Ghayasuddin.

The Khilona Book Depot brought out little bubbly storybooks for kids that were so popular that children used to register for them in advance at street libraries for ‘ek anna’ (six paise) and later 10 paise per day. This was when there were Urdu book libraries everywhere in Shahjahanabad. Some of these titles were: Chand Shehzadi, Gauhar Pari, Mano ke karnamey, Ghasita ki Bhutnashahi…

Extremely popular children’s novels like Siraj Anwar’s “Khaufnak Jazira”, “Kali Dinia” and “Neeli Dunia”, Zafar Payami’s “Sitaron Ke Qaidi”; Krishan Chander’s “Hamara Ghar” and “Chidyon Ki Alif Laila” were also published by Khilona Book Depot, after they were published in series each month in the magazine. The smaller storybooks were priced between 19 paise and 45 paise and the novels between two rupees and five rupees. What a wonder era that was!

Khilona lovers like 70-year-old Shamim Hanafi, an Urdu professor, who spends much of his free time rummaging through raddi shops and roadside booksellers, 50-year-old Atyab Siddiqui, a lawyer whose eyes turn wistful as he recollects the distinctive smell of the magazine, all aver, that Khilona and Khilona Book Depot books bring back the joy of their childhood days, “right from the feel of those pages to the sheer pleasure of being lost in the story”.

(Firoz Bakht Ahmed can be contacted at firozbakhtahmed07@gmail.com)

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