The timeless Urdu magazine Akhbar-e-Jehan is over 46 years old now. It is the most widely circulated Urdu weekly magazine in all of Pakistan (both urban and rural areas) and UAE.
Back in the day, hardly anyone would subscribe to a newspaper without asking for the weekly Akhbar-e-Jehan. It was immensely popular and catered to both men and women.
As for me, I grew up drawing a moustache on every cover girl of this magazine, so I'm rather partial to it.
Over the years though, Akhbar-e-Jehan's charm has faded somewhat – not because the magazine could not maintain relevance with the rise of new media, but because the content has shifted; there are numerous strange, even outlandish articles inside which seem largely irrelevant to the Pakistan of today.
From an avid reader, here is a list of editorial decisions Akhbar-e-Jehan needs to address:
1. Black magic
While the magazine begins with letters from Pakistanis – “Aap ke khat” – that address real issues in a smart way, a following section, “Aap ke khwaab aur unki taabir” ('Dreams and Interpretations') is the exact opposite.
The dream predictor invariably diagnoses the dreamer to be under a severe spell of black magic (sifli), never entertaining the slightest possibility that the dream might have psychological underpinnings or other simple explanations.
Whether the issue is winning over the heart of Aunty Shamim’s daughter or getting a quick promotion at work, this section preys on the superstitious. It is important to move beyond this.
2. Old, not really gold
This used to be the ladies' favourite section, stuffed with fictional stories of a woman standing up against a villainous mother-in-law, or stories of two sisters who cannot stand each other.
While gender roles and characteristics have since shifted considerably, these stories remain the same with titles like “Mamta ne rasta bhulaya”, “Apnay shohar ki qaatil” etc.
The entire section might as well be titled “Teen aurtain teen ghissi-pitti purani kahaniyan".
Read through: Stranger than fiction
Why can't there be stories that are closer to the Pakistani woman of today – stories that we can identify with, rather than those that do not even interest our grandmothers anymore?
3. Singles ready to mingle
In the section, called “Jam-e-Jahanuma”, an 'expert' gives solutions to daily life problems just by knowing an individual's date of birth. But if you read through the page, all you see is “meri shaadi kab hogi?” [when will I get married?], “meri aulaad kab hogi?” [when will I bear child?]
Pakistani citizens residing in other parts of the world also write to this section asking when they will get their long-awaited promotion.
All I can say in response is... seriously?
I am not sure who is to blame here, the solution expert or the people posing such questions. If there are actual people out there who genuinely believe that the writer can accurately predict the events in their lives, then rest in peace reason. All this superstition needs to go.
4. Not fair but still lovely
In the section “Mein aap ki doctor”, people discuss health issues and seek expert medical advice from a qualified doctor, but most of the section is inundated with requests for ways to get a fairer complexion.
Are we really still stuck on that point?
Also read: The complexion obsession
There is so much more to us Pakistani women than fair and dark skin. The magazine needs to consider what to publish here - diversity, and more pressing health issues need to be given space.
5. Guess the picture
“Bazm-e-Atfaal” is where children share interesting stories and jokes, and where people excitedly scan for images of their children, only to find them misprinted with double ink stamps and kids looking like four-eyed zombies instead of cute and cuddly.
Pakistan is developing sea-based missiles and expanding its interest in tactical nuclear warheads. Can the leading Urdu magazine also aim to improve its print quality?
6. Sad zodiacs
Zodiac signs are one of those less harmful, somewhat forgivable superstitions that magazine readers all over the world are still interested in, for fun, if nothing else. But while globally horoscopes/zodiac signs offer what the day/week ahead looks like, Akhbar-e-Jehan seems to think that Pakistanis are only interested in 'shaadi' (marriage) and bairoon-e-mulk naukri (foreign jobs).
How about something else for a change? How about the odds of getting your college funding, or a reunion with old friends or perhaps an imminent adventure?
7. Truth shall be told
Female celebrities are the butt of jokes for their fake ages pretty much everywhere. But make no mistake, Akhbar-e-Jehan reveals the true age of all women.
8. Tweak the title
There is this one section that delivers important information that I believe every Pakistani woman needs to be aware of. But how about changing the title to something else?
“Aye Behen” sounds like the angry aunty from next door yelling at you from her balcony. Ironically, this section is about female attitude adjustments. Maybe a softer title would serve that end better?
Take a look: Urdu on the internet
Criticism aside, Akhbar-e-Jehan is still loved, and loved by many. With the range of topics it covers and its decades-long legacy, it pretty much stands for all things Pakistani.
I just fear it may fade away now.
An overhaul seems imperative if the magazine wants to return to its past glory. I hope this critique will be taken constructively by the Akhabr-e-Jehan editors and we will see an improved version soon.