Zubeida Mustafa recalls her years in journalism
KARACHI: Facing challenges since childhood, being the only woman journalist in a decision-making position in a newspaper office, dealing with the black era of Ziaul Haq, censorship, meeting with people of repute and so much more. Listening to senior journalist and columnist Zubeida Mustafa talk about her life was like an experience in itself during an evening organised by AMI School as a part of their Seniors’ Involvement Programme here on Friday.
In conversation with writer and artist Rumana Husain, Mrs Mustafa started from her childhood when she had to cope with a condition she was born with by wearing special shoes. “I could not take part in sports but I learnt how to stand up to all kinds of problems and challenges,” she said.
Despite having issues with her hearing and eyesight now she has not stopped writing. She is also an avid reader, a teacher and travels like any other normal person, Ms Husain shared about her adding that she herself cannot help but marvel at her will and courage. From Mrs Mustafa’s book My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues, she showed a picture of the journalist and her team from Dawn newspaper. She was the only woman among the men in that picture, which is true for when she had joined Dawn in 1975. There were no other women in the organisation besides her then and for several more years after that as she carved her niche among men.
But Mrs Mustafa gives her co-workers credit too. “Though I was conscious of the fact that there were no other women there besides me, I have to say that I was working with good men. I never felt isolated. It was good teamwork,” she said.
“Of course I had to work hard to establish myself. But my children were young and as I wanted to give them some time, I gave working part-time a thought. But Ahmad Ali Khan, my editor at the time, was very understanding. He was aware of my responsibilities as a mother and a homemaker but he allowed me adjustable work timings as long as I did the work because working part-time would have meant problems for me [such as] getting a low salary. Then later when my children had grown I was able to even volunteer to work for 12 hours a day,” she said.
Her years with the top English newspaper also include the adjustments she had to make with progress in publishing. She mentioned the old way when the newspaper was composed on machines and the words had to be pasted on film. “We had to remain very alert as even a slight act of carelessness could turn into disaster. Design and layout changes such as making two out of three columns could not be done as simply and easily that we do now. But technology was exciting for me. I welcomed it,” she said.
About the Zia era she said that it brought with it not just censorship and curbs but also religion, which gave her the most sleepless nights as it wasn’t easy to tell what could be interpreted the wrong way. About the censorship she said that the paper had to be approved from the Press Information Department, which would tell them to remove certain news items and as a way to show that news was removed under duress the newspaper would leave blank spaces. “But the government saw that as a problem too and told us to fill in the spaces, which meant double work for the journalists,” she said.
Another memory shared about that time was when her editor had nominated her to accompany a delegation going to the Far East with Zia but the delegation comprising all men thought it awkward to be accompanied by a female journalist. But then they took a u-turn and asked for her to come when Begum Zia also decided to go with them. “That was when I turned them down,” said Mrs Mustafa.
“From the start I looked at myself as a journalist because one’s gender should not have anything to do with one’s work,” she said. But she admitted that her being a woman did however help in her getting the female perspective in many a story hence making it read better than those filed by her male colleagues.