It was like coming full circle for veteran journalist and columnist Zubeida Mustafa for the launch of her book My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Saturday. “She worked here as a researcher first,” said Dr Masuma Hasan while introducing the journalist, admired and looked up by many present there at the PIIA library lining up for the author to sign their copies of the book. “Later she joined Dawn newspaper and that was really where she built her career,” Dr Masuma continued. Mohammad Ali Siddiqi, Dawn’s Readers’ Editor, joked that recently when in a piece published in the paper he referred to himself as “a Dawn man” he received much flak for it because readers wanted to know if the journalists in Dawn called themselves that then where did the women journalists fit in?
“So we had it corrected in the online version,” he said turning to his former colleague to proudly say that they had worked together for four decades.
“In chapter 12 of her book, Zubeida writes that she has worked with four editors — the legendary Ahmad Ali Khan, who hired her in 1973, Saleem Asmi, Tahir Mirza and Abbas Nasir. But you will come across the mention of Khan Sahab again and again,” said Mr Siddiqi, adding that he was her mentor and mentors became like family members for their mentees.
About his own experience with the legendary editor, whom he too looked up to, he recalled how difficult it was for him to pen his obituary while knowing that he was alive and in the ICU. “But then I also knew that had he walked out of that ICU, he would have himself told me that obituaries of people are written in their life,” he shared.
About Ms Mustafa, he said she possessed a “robust common sense”. He said he has seen her keeping an open mind and a cool head during moments of crisis during their work at the newspaper.
Zohra Yusuf of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan aired her difference of opinion over the book’s title. She said My Dawn Years was fine but Exploring Social Issues sounded like an understatement. “Your time in Dawn meant much more,” she said to the author. “You played an important role in forming editorial policies in Dawn and had a hand in making the paper what it is today,” she said, adding that many women working in Dawn looked up to her just like she looked up to Khan Sahab.
It was mentioned that the book had revealed several aspects to Ahmad Ali Khan’s personality that no one knew. Such as she mentions how he was concerned about her work coming in the way of her home and young children’s upbringing. Zohra Yusuf also said that it was great that Zubeida had penned her memoirs. “She has mentioned many other women journalists of repute some of whom are no longer among us. Perhaps some young journalist now can carry out research on their lives and write about them as well,” she suggested.
During the question and answer session, a debate started about why the author never made it to the position of editorship in Dawn. She then clarified, as she had done in her book as well, that it was not due to being a victim of chauvinism as presumed by writer and feminist Fehmida Riaz. “The editor’s job, I feel is too administrative and it may take me away from my writing. Then I was never too interested in politics to make a good editor,” she said. But then she was reminded that all the issues that she had written on, be it environment, health, education, women’s rights, children’s rights and basic human rights after all also have to do with politics.
Finally, the author thanked everyone involved with the coming together and publication of her book. About the PIIA, she said she felt like it was her alma mater, where she learned how to do research and editing which came in handy later in her career as a journalist.
Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2018