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Dr. Sughra Mehdi (1937 – 2014): Jamia Urdu Professor, Writer Extraordinaire

A fiction writer, an academician, a women’s rights activist, a noble soul and what not; these are the superfine elements that comprise the eminent personality of Professor Sughra Mehdi,  lovingly known as Sughra Aapa in Jamia community and among her near and dear ones. Those who have a slight acquaintance with the historical and cultural background of Jamia must be aware of her personality. For those having a deep sense of Urdu fiction, she was an institution and illuminant in Urdu fiction writing.
Sughra Aapa exhaled her last breath on the 17th of March in 2014 in Abid Villa, her Jamia Nagar residence. Apart from the million dollar memories she left behind, there is an invaluable treasure of literary work that she carried out throughout her active life, including about 35 books that she authored and compiled since her first novel published.

Syeda Imamat Fatima, who was later named Sughra Mehdi, was born on 8th August 1937 at Qasba Badi in Bhopal district in the family of Syed Ali Mehdi, a sub inspector in Bhopal Police. Earlier years of her childhood passed in Bhopal. Later she returned to her ancestral town where she lived till the age of 10 and acquired primary education according to the local customs, mainly based on religious education and Urdu under the guidance of her grandfather. It was her 11th year when she was brought to Delhi to Dr. Abid Hussain, her maternal uncle, who was one of the former most patrons of Jamia Millia Islamia, who worked altruistically for the development of the institution.

Sughra Mehdi acquired further education in Jamia Millia Islamia under the erudite guidance of her uncle and her aunt Dr. Saleha Abid Husain (famous Urdu writer and wife of Dr. Abid Husain). She pursued her graduation from Aligarh Muslim University. She did her M. Phil in Urdu from the University of Delhi. Later she did her PhD on the literary works of Akbar Allahbadi under the guidance of Prof. Gopi Chand Narang from Jamia Millia Islamia. After completing her PhD, she joined Jamia as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Urdu and later reached the rank of Professor and served her beloved institution with pride and dignity.
Sughra Mehdi had a keen interest in literature from a very early age. She recalls in an Interview given to Dr. Shagufta Yasmin few days before her demise, that it was her aunt, Dr. Saleha Abid Husain who ignited the spark of becoming a writer in her. She used to prophesy often that this girl will grow up to be an author. Her prophecy came absolutely true when Sughra Mehdi got her first story published in an Urdu monthly in 1951. Since her debut, Sughra Mehdi never looked back and kept publishing stories in reputed magazines and journals of that time. She won several awards for her stories during her student life. She came out with her first novel in 1972, ‘’Paa ba Joolan’’, that beautifully covers the problems of her contemporary women. It was awarded by the Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy. Since then she has brought several promising titles, including her second novel “Dhund” and other books that she had complied. Not only fiction, but she also bestowed Urdu literature with her humour. She was born a great humourist too.The last book she authored was based on the culture and history of Jamia called “Hamari Jamia” published in 2014.

Sughra Mehid was very close to Quratul Ain Haider, the Aag ka Darya fame novelist. She often used to stay at her place during her visit to Delhi. Azra Raza a close friend of Sughra and niece of Dr. Saleha Abid Hussain, Sughra Mehdi’s aunt, narrates in her article while commemorating Qurratul Ain Haider, “She (Quratul Ain Haider) considered Sughra Mehdi as her friend and confidant (Aini Apa bestowed the title of “Musheer Fatima” on Sughra as Sughra is forever being solicited for practical advice by the young and old alike).” 

Prof. Sughra Mehdi (left) with Quratul Ain Haider (Photo via
Prof. Sughra Mehdi (left) with Quratul Ain Haider (Photo via
Though, Sughra Mehdi was not very much impressed by the writings of Quratul Ain Haider as she confessed in the interview given to Dr. Shagufta Yasmin.
Sughra Mehdi was a strong advocate of Jamia’s secular and liberal status. Even she expressed her disapproval of the environment of AMU in comparison to the atmosphere that Jamia provided to its students. Syeda Hameed, former member of the National Commission of Women and a close associate of Sughra Mehdi writes about her love for Jamia, “Whether it was the backlash after the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses or, decades later, the incident at Batla House, Sughra Mehdi defended Jamia Millia as a secular and a liberal institution opposed to all colours of fundamentalism. She lashed out against those who for their vested interests marred the beautiful face of her alma mater, leading to the hateful perception outside.”  She further writes, “She had lived and breathed in an institution that symbolised the philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore that enjoined the opening all the doors and windows of one’s mind so that winds could blow in from every direction. Jamia welcomed children of every religion and community, and allowed them to freely practice their faith.” She could never ever bother to tolerate anything false said about her loved institute.

Though her demise declares the end of a golden era of Urdu fiction, but her work and the memories associated with her will always remain afresh in the minds of her admirers and her fellow workers. She was a gem for the entire Jamia community, a woman who was considered bitter and blunt in her expression, but everyone wanted to meet her, talk to her and she was always there to help them with her arms wide opened. Jamia community will never be able to fill the space left by her death. She was a living legend.
1) Dr. Shagufta Yasmeen, Prof. Sughra Mehdi Se Guftugu, Ajkal (Urdu),  July 2014, pg 7-10.
2) Nigar Azeem, Ek Bagh o Bahar Shakhsiyat – Sughra Mehdi, Ajkal (Urdu).
3) Azra Raza, Aini Apa No More?, Outlook India, Web Version, August 2007
4) Syeda Hameed, Sughra Mehdi, a Friend and Fellow Traveler,

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