Nayeema Mehjoor: Broadcasting for Kashmir

At BBC she travelled far and wide in search of stories and interviewed people from Parvez Musharraf to Atal Bihari Vajpayee; Her interview with former was termed as beginning of the end of the Pakistani president.
Nayeema Mehjoor: Broadcasting for Kashmir

A decade into BBC at its London headquarter, once broadcaster Nayeema Mehjoor was going to record his daily Sairbeen programme when she heard a familiar music coming from another room. The building had number of studios and the music was coming from English studio where a programme on Pandit Shiv Shankar Sharma's concert in Moscow was being broadcast. It was one of his Kashmiri albums that was being played which  caught the attention of Nayeema. Tears started trickling down as fellow broadcasters inquired what had happened. "I can still remember. It had been a long time outside Kashmir in London where one cannot even hear Kashmiri language and suddenly music from valley is heard," said Nayeema at a recent interaction with writers, artists, students, journalists and others organised by Jammu Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages. "It was that Sufiyana or spiritual feeling and I couldn't help myself and tears rolled down my eyes. I think I was starved of Kashmir. I went to studio and silently listened the music till I recollected myself. After our programme all of my colleagues had a huge discussion fo what home is."

Kashmir in every manifestation has always remained close to Nayeema whose profile ranges from child artist to actor to broadcaster to journalist, writer and now chairperson State Women's Commission. 

When she was elected for BBC in 1993, the higher ups complained about her peculiar Kashmiri accent in Urdu and suggested to remove it. "But I kept my ground. I said that Kashmiri accent is my identity and I will not let go of it to conform to some particular norm. I won and later the time came when senior broadcaster stuck on accent of some word would come to me and ask me how I would pronounce it," said Nayeema. "People all around the world love the Kashmiri accented urdu."

She had the chance to work in BBC when Kashmir was in the thick of one of the violent phases of insurgency. Though far away from Kashmir but everyday she had to deal with latest happenings from her motherland. At BBC she did some of the best features on Kashmir which went to highlight the plight of people. Her series of programme Laazim hai hum bi dekhenge brought forward the voice of victims in their own voice. Be it victims of Pathribal or any other incident, men women narrated the ordeal they had faced. "The series had such an impact that Human Rights wing of UN asked for the programme. They later sent the team to Kashmir and talked with some of the victims to confirm its reality. A pressure was also made on Gov of India to reduce Human Rights violations, " said Nayeema. "Some Hurriyat leaders later told me that when the series is broadcast their hearts bleed as it is rare reality that is being shown." 

Her another famous series of programme was the three generations of women wherein she talked to women from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It was stretched for 33 episodes. She also produced a series on Nomads and travelled with them from Kangan to Rajasthan. She also did many live programmes on LOC.

At BBC she travelled far and wide in search of stories and interviewed people from Parvez Musharraf to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Her interview with former was termed as beginning of the end of the Pakistani president.

Her tryst with Radio started at Radio Kashmir Srinagar, which was a stones throw from her Buchwara residence. Born in August 1955, Nayeema was first introduced in Radio Kashmir for children programme at seven and later switched to iconic Zoon-e-Dab programme where she played role of Nanne Koor. The programme and her character was such a hit that many families named their girl child as Nanne Koor during those times.

At Radio she was groomed by stalwarts like Prem Nath Sadhoo, Maryam Begum, Somnath Sadhu and K K Nayyar. 

She lost her mother when she was barely six but it was her father who supported her always and played a greater role in making her personality. "My father was a rock support for all of us siblings. He supported our endeavours and education. He would say that if you are right then don't thin what world is saying just remain committed to the right path," said Nayeema. 

It was her father who made it easy for her to overcome numerous challenges in life. She had the privilege of reaching Class 10 when she was just 13. The laws prevented her to take exam as the candidate has to be a minimum of 16 years. Not ready to give up she along with her father approached court who added two years to her age and she was allowed to appear in exams after a battle.  

After facing pressure of being small girl in women college she successfully got admission in Kashmir University and completed LLB degree. Now when time came for her to join Bar, her relatives most of them were lawyers protested. Here she had to give in forcing her to take newly introduced journalism course in KU. A rare young girl as journalist in 1970s made her relatives to say in protest, "why you can't just be a normal girl and take a normal career." But here again her father remained steadfast with her saying "if you love journalism then so be it."

She qualified UPSC exam and joined Radio Kashmir as education broadcaster. She was fond of reading and writing right from beginning and most often the central character of her poems or fiction was a woman. 

As a broadcaster her first documentary was also on famed women poetess Habba Khatoon. It was the time when writer Dr Asghar Wajahat and filmmaker Muzaffar Ali had come to Kashmir for making film on Habba Khatoon. "I was appalled when I saw their script as they had turned Habba Khatoon into a commercial character. I protested against such a move and told either read about Habba Khatoon or take to Kashmiri experts and then make a film on it," said Nayeema. It created a huge controversy at that time and Station Director Lassa Koul at that time told her, "yi kath taavnas laegith." (What the hell did you get us into.) 

Her writing which was not more of a hobby earlier gradually progressed with her career. At BBC her blog used to be translated into 42 languages attesting to the power of her pen.

In 2012 her urdu novel Dahshatzadi was published first in Pakistan and then in India. It got rave reviews for portraying the plight of women of Kashmir. Its peculiar name more eyebrows. "Dahshatzadi is a women who's is brought up in terror. Many people even some Hurriyat leaders asked me about it. I told them to read the book if they still don't like it I will think over changing it. But those who read ultimately said the name is perfect," said Nayeema.

The English translation of the book Lost in Terror was released by Penguin in October 2016. Currently she is working on her new book Lost in Peace.

Nayeema has the distinction of receiving awards in Pakistan, US and UK for her journalistic career. Talking about her book, Nayeema says she herself has gone through the challenges like any Kashmiri and knows the pain. "My father was a writer himself who had written a book on 1953 events which ultimately cost him his job. During the 90's he was detained in crackdown for three days and once when my nephew didn't return for days we went to every police station and jail to enquire about his whereabouts," said Nayeema. 

Barry Langridge who was BBC head gave a citation to Nayeema which read, 'I have first time come to know about the Kashmiriyat and originality that is in a Kashmiri and how much it is dear to them. I got it confirmed from Nayeema.' 

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