Shahida Kazi recalls the early days of Karachi University and her experience of being the first woman press reporter
“I joined the Karachi University way back in 1963. I had completed my bachelor’s from St Joseph’s Girls College, Karachi, and since I was fond of writing I thought I would study English literature. But then, I heard that a journalism department had been established at KU and immediately thought of joining that department.
“In those days, the route to Karachi University was an experience in itself. On the first trip, my father drove me there in our car, and on the way it was all jungle! Right from jail road, the entire place was completely deserted, just habited by bushes and shrubs — and a long road that never seemed to end. And I thought, ‘My God, how can anyone come here everyday, and study every day?’ “But then I managed it. I had come from a family which owned a car, and employed a driver, and was used to commuting everywhere. But here, I realised that I would have to commute to the university by bus. There were points (university buses), of course, but in those days, they were very few, and while in the morning the points would pick us up from closer stops, on the way back, they would drop us all at Gurumandir, which was the last stop.
“I used to live in Sindhi Muslim society at that time, so commuting in the morning was not such a big problem, but returning home was since I had to change three buses to reach my home —from Gurumandir to Regal and then to Sindhi Muslim society because there was no direct route. And this was obviously a very, very new experience for me; I had never been alone anywhere in the bus in my life. To add to that the roads were not so well-maintained. But once I made up my mind, it became more of an adventure. Sometimes, the bus would break down and we had to walk all the way to Gurumandir in that wilderness. But that was also part of the game.
“In those days, the entire journalism department at KU was just one office, one small seminar library, a single classroom, and a teachers’ room. In my class, we were hardly 20 students when we started and by the end there were just 13 or 14 of us left. I was the only girl in the entire department and since I had been to an all girls’ school and college, obviously dealing with boys was different. But it did not affect me much and I really enjoyed my studies, even though most of it was theoretical. The focus was more on the print media then; there was no television. We studied radio of course, but nothing practical.
“There were only two regular teachers and the rest were visiting faculty. Our head of the department, Professor Shariful Mujahid, and Inamur Rahman — my favourite teacher —comprised the regular faculty. From the visiting faculty I remember there was Mohsin Ali, who used to work at Morning News. Dr Zakaria Sajid was also there; he used to work with Asia Foundation and taught us research. The teachers were good and it was a very satisfactory state of affairs. And by the time I had completed my masters, the gold medal had also been instituted by the Union Insurance company in memory of the journalists who had been killed in the Cairo air crash on the inaugural flight of PIA to Cairo, and I was among the first to be awarded the gold medal.
“The university was relatively young then. In the science section, the basic departments were in place while all the arts faculty departments were situated in a single building. There were just a few students, though they seemed a lot back then, and there were more boys than girls. It was a good life; there were a lot of extra-curricular activities like debates — a culture I feel that has died out in our society. There used to be a lot of seminars and conferences and quiz competitions as well.
“This was the time when going to Karachi University was considered prestigious, the way people consider attending private universities today. I remember Javed Jabbar and Anis Haroon were my contemporaries in the department of international relations. Then there was Nisar Memon and Shamim Akhtar who later worked for Akhbar-e-Khawaateen. My journalism batch mates included veteran journalist Ziaaddun sahib. The academic environment was pretty good. Most students were serious about their studies. I think this was because there were fewer students and most of them were pretty motivated. Having come from an elite background, interacting with people from different social strata was quite a rewarding experience, and I feel that attending a public university is still great that way.
“Even though most of the students in those days were more liberal, we did have a kind of ‘puritan’ culture. For example, students had to wear gowns, and this may seem strange nowadays. And if a student was caught without the gown, s/he was fined. The moral policing culture had also started setting in around this time. If boys and girls were found sitting together, someone would call them and fine them. But overall, it was far more liberal than it is now. The burqa culture wasn’t there; I think at that time in the entire university there was only one girl who used to wear burqa.
“In terms of national politics, the period from 1958 to 1965 was a very quiet. Even if people were against the Martial Law, they could not express it. There was absolutely no freedom of expression, and we had come to take it for granted that the newspapers would be censored. We were very complacent at that time, including the journalists. We were not activists; all activism happened during the late ’60s. There was also the fact that when Ayub came into power in1958, practically everybody welcomed him.
“Student politics was different though. Elections used to be held regularly, and there was a lot of campaigning for the elections. But one good feature was that the representatives of different student parties used to sit in the canteen and discuss issues. There was no ‘gun culture’, even though there were serious rivalries in politics. Most of the time when I was there, the National Student Federation (NSF) had the upper hand; they were the liberal group, the dominating factor and most students used to support them. At the same time, Jamiat’s presence was felt as well.
“After passing out of KU, I joined Dawn newspaper, and was the first woman to have joined the reporting side. There were no female reporters in any other newspaper at the time. In Dawn, the city editor Shameem Ahmed started the trend of hiring female reporters. When covering conferences I used to be the only woman. People used to make fun, and call me ‘Meena bazaar’ reporter, but I was happy to cover places like Darul Aman, Kashan-e-atfaal, and Apwa.
“Once when the king of Afghanistan was visiting Pakistan with his wife and daughter, I was assigned to cover the engagements of the queen. I remember she visited Home Economics College, Karachi, and a few other places, and I went with her and wrote that story. But for me one of the most memorable events was the death of Fatima Jinnah which I covered and it made a front page story.”