My friend Naushaba

February 19, 2016


SHE was a fellow traveller in our journey in journalism and before long we became friends. That was Naushaba Burney whose death last week has robbed many of us of a valuable supporter who infused moral strength in us during critical times. She began her career as a teacher, and as

good teachers do, she knew the art of bringing out the best in those she interacted with.

I can’t even recall the first time I met her. She seems to have been around in the wide and colourful canvas of friends I have cherished all my life. Having launched on her professional career before I did she had already made a mark and was recognised for her talent. After graduating in journalism from Berkeley in the 1950s, she began teaching at the University of Karachi. Although she left the University after a few years at heart she remained a teacher forever.

She had fresh ideas and did not spare the sacred cows.

Her marriage to Iqbal Burney, an outstanding journalist who was an inspiration for many younger media persons of the 1960s and 1970s, certainly reinforced Naushaba’s love for the vocation she had chosen for herself. Iqbal was fearlessly outspoken and a man who wrote powerfully without mincing words. Naushaba kept away from politics but what she wrote was refreshing as she expressed forcefully an unconventional point of view that called for courage.

For years, she worked for PIA editing Humsafar, the airline’s magazine that in those days matched the excellence that Pakistan International itself displayed in its flying record. Passengers had no qualms about taking away a copy for bedside reading.

We kept in touch, meeting each other on different occasions, especially at parties which were a common meeting point for Karachi’s intelligentsia. They were not just venues for socialising. Profound views on politics, foreign policy, the economy and matters of sociocultural relevance were exchanged here and networks were formed. Remember that there were no mobile phones, internet or other communication devices available in those days. And information is the journalist’s staple food.

When Naushaba retired from PIA in 1993, she wanted to be out of an active professional life. She was looking forward to having time at her disposal and spending it as she wanted to — reading books, engaging with her family and friends. Dawn offered her a job as she was a valuable asset but she wasn’t interested.

It was then that Iqbal Burney died suddenly. He went while reading a book in bed, a shocked Naushaba recalled. Life changed for her. She called me and asked if Dawn would still be interested in having her. “I will go crazy with nothing to do,” she said desperately. She was willing to edit any section that was required of her.

Thus began the best period of her journalistic life, especially when she started editing the Sunday Magazine. She had fresh ideas and did not spare the sacred cows. With encouragement she could polish an uncut diamond and bring out its shine. It was this quality in her that I admired

most. You didn’t have to be a novice to benefit from the Naushaba touch. It was embedded in her and her gentle encouragement dispelled all inhibitions. It made one bolder.

The next most productive period of her working life that was cut short by death was her entry into the field of education. That came after a brief stint at the AKUH. She opened a school for the children of the underprivileged in Korangi. Often she invited me to visit the school to talk to the children, the teachers and even the mothers.

We had long discourses on education and language. She had complaints against parental attitudes but when the children did well she was quick to commend them wholeheartedly. She always called me to share the good news when exam results were announced. We did not agree on every issue and also argued on them. But that was the beauty of our friendship that we continued to be comfortable in each other’s company and her support for my passions never flagged.

The last time I met her was in typical circumstances. She read in the papers — which she did as a daily habit — that the SIUT was holding a public symposium in December to celebrate its 40-year journey. She wanted to come as the SIUT was an institution she admired tremendously. As was her wont she showed up at very short notice — tapping on my arm to tell me she had arrived. As usual she had kind words for me.

We lingered over tea. I wanted her to stay but she had to leave. Now there will be no more sudden appearances at the most unexpected of places to cheer me on and to tell me, “You were good”. Rest in peace, my dear friend. You were still better.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2016