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Author Interview | ‘Shair-e-Kashmir’  Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor  

Now this is not how I start telling stories usually but in this particular case, nothing else seemed better. As the summer in Kashmir was paving way for the beautiful autumn in 1885, Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad was born in a small but beautiful village of Mitrigam in Pulwama, to a Persian and Arabic scholar father. Little did anyone know at that point of time that it was the birth of a revolution, a movement that was going to be known by the name ‘Mahjoor’. What started with not agreeing to his father to follow his profession, the rebellion of Mahjoor not only made him what he became years later but also brought in the much needed revolution in Kashmir, ultimately earning him the title of ‘Shair-e-Kashmir’ (the poet of Kashmir).
While I could go on and on talking about Mahjoor, it is not about him today. It is about the interesting, insightful and amazing conversation I had with this lady, Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor. While reading above you might find some connection between the two Mahjoor’s, I will be honest enough to admit I had no clue till the last 3 minutes of our conversation that lasted well over two hours in total. And it is when she confirmed the connection that I realized that it didn’t really matter. This Mahjoor shines as bright as the other one, on her own. Such moments are hard to come by in our routine lives, but when they do, they always make me smile from the heart.
Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor needs no introduction and as I said above, it has nothing to do with her last name. One of the leading journalists from the country, Nayeema has worked as News Editor (Urdu) at BBC World Service in London for 22 years, and travelled from South Asia to the Middle East to Europe in search of big issues faced by people, particularly women. Her unique style of short-story-writing has earned her fame in literary circles and almost all of her work has been translated in other languages. From past 19 months, Nayeema is rendering her services as the chairperson of the State Commission for Women (SCW) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Born to a government employee father, Nayeema suffered the first tragedy of her life with passing away of her mother at a rather young age. But her father never let that become a hindrance in her growing up and Nayeema certainly didn’t disappoint him in any way. A hobby that started with a short radio play, became career defining for her as her talent was properly groomed giving her the power to express her feelings through words and voice, alike. In a land where an educated woman doing all things same as her male counterparts was unthinkable, Nayeema was out there breaking all stereotypes, with grace. Her stint with BBC London which started in the decade of 1990 further escalated her status as the modern day Indian woman bringing proud not only to Kashmir but to the entire country as well.
Meanwhile, Nayeema continued voicing her opinions by all the mediums she could and writing was definitely one of her stronger fortes. Through her various short stories she came out in different magazines, blogs and newspapers all over the world, Nayeema managed to bring out the ignored side of the Kashmir story- the women. Highly respected for her writings, at the beginning of this decade, Nayeema decided to bring out her voice in the form of books and out came in 2011, her first book ‘Dahshatzadi’. Written in Urdu, the novel was published in India and Pakistan and was highly appreciated world over for the courageous stand it took for the women of Kashmir.
“When the violence started in Kashmir in 1989, things went worse in a very short span of time. The life was devastated; the people were lost in counting the number of dead bodies that came every evening. What was not noticed amidst this chaos was the breaking of thread that binds the society together- the women. With each passing day, the suffering increasing and amidst that tragedy, another tragedy happened from which we have never been able to recover. In ‘Dahshatzadi’, I have tried just to bring forth that aspect,” tells Nayeema.
The years after this novel saw many big changes in Nayeema’s life. She came back from London to Kashmir an year later and joined a political party- People’s Democratic Party in 2013 and worked as party’s media advisor before taking up the charge as chairperson of the State Commission for Women (SCW) in 2015. But only a year later, her writing shook many as the heart-breaking stories she told in ‘Lost In Terror’ made every one witness a new side to the old issue.
Nayeema tells us more about ‘Lost In Terror’ which released in the latter half of 2016, “This is my own story, and of many like me. It basically revolves around the period when insurgency started in the state. While I left for London after a while, it was not without many scars that haunt me till date. The initial 2 years of this period were nothing less than a burning inferno. I have seen crackdowns, the search operations; nothing has made me forget those 4 days when my father was taken away from us and how we died several deaths in each second. I have seen people close to me- the woman in my neighborhood, whom I used to call ‘Aunty Ji’, that friend of mine who was just about to get married- being hit by this, turning them numb for life. You wouldn’t believe but I used to have nightmares for many coming years. Even in London, my kids told me many times that I used to murmur things in sleep. It actually depressed me for a while and had to consult a Psychiatrist!,” she shares.
She continues, “It was actually on the recommendation of my Psychiatrist that I started writing this book as per him, it could be the solution to my nightmares. It took me long to complete this book, each incident taking me back to the unfortunate times. This book is dedicated to those who have suffered the most in these 27 years in Kashmir. Both my books, although tagged as Fiction, are based on the real events.” The book was loved by all and praised by all the language enthusiasts for its bold narration of the ignored side of the issue.
Nayeema is of the opinion that in all that has happened, the Kashmiri people have been stabbed from front and back. “The leadership has failed the people on both the fronts. While local leadership here lied to the people hiding a lot from them about their stand with Indian leadership, the national leaders also betrayed them by turning back on the promises they had made. Dissent is part and parcel of democracy but here the opinions and arguments were crushed and it was a handful of personal interest that gave millions of people in Jammu and Kashmir their worst times,” she asserts.
On a lighter note, Nayeema shares her best memory of working in BBC for 22 years- “As I have worked as a broadcaster here before, the workplace and work conditions in London were completely different in London. One of the best memories, the one which still makes me smile, is when I was very nervous for this show and just before the shoot, my Boss walked in with a cup of coffee for me. This was unlike anything I have seen in India as here meeting your boss is nothing short of a task in itself. Surprised and shocked, I asked him, “Barry, why are you doing this? Someone else could have done it.” And to my pleasure, he replied, “I know you are under a lot of pressure and I am just trying to get you relaxed. After all, no one else is going to benefit more than me if you do this show good.” This thing has made a great impact in my personal and professional life as well. Although interviewing some of the tallest leaders of the world is another thing I remember, this one is still the best memory at BBC.”
Nayeema, not surprisingly, is a very simple person in life as she herself admits. “I have a very simplistic approach to life. While in chair, I have to look after certain aspects, I am just an ordinary woman otherwise. I wash dishes, clean my garden when autumn leaves the traces of its beauty in the form of fallen leaves, I sweep and I vaccum clean on a regular basis. Many a times, they (house help) argue but then I have my own terms to follow and nothing would made me compromise that. After all, I am the lady who made the Kashmiri Phiran popular across the world, wearing it world’s biggest news TV channel,” Nayeema laughs as she completes her sentence.
Coming back to books again, Nayeema has already started working on her next book, a sequel to ‘Lost In Terror’. It would be based on the how Kashmir was seen by her from her window in London. Out of the odd 20-25 chapters she has planned for the book, Nayeema has already finished writing three. It is no shame to admit that even I, like many others in different corners of the world, am waiting for this eagerly.
And talking of Mahjoor’s, as I stated above, the fact that Nayeema is married to the grandson of Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor, didn’t matter; for this Mahjoor tells tales equally good as that Mahjoor, for this sun is shining as bright as that sun did.


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