SAMAA [UN]COVERED – Islamabad reporter Fouzia Ali was quite happy doing features until someone decided to target a federal minister where she was scheduled to do an interview on streetlights
By Mahim Maher
They always give the chicks the soft beats – women’s issues, health, the art galleries, kiddie parties, book launches, lunches and brunches. Thus it was only natural that a soft-spoken, baby-faced Fouzia Ali, who joined SAMAA two years ago and who had barely left her cub reporter days behind, would be given Social Welfare, Population Welfare and Diaper Duty. But then, as is usually the case time and time again, the ‘ladies’ cub reporters find by some sheer dint of fate that there was a big cat in them all along. And this is exactly what happened to Fouzia on Thursday.
There had been some delays and they were late for a quick interview with the director of the Capital Development Authority Shakeel Khan on why street lights were left on during the day. “I just had to get a SOT from him,” Fouzia said, lapsing into an inordinate amount of detail on the ‘bijli ka bohran’, the bad traffic in Ramadan, how she shot that on the way, the bus stops, the vans… her indignant disco version of a vigilante journo’s evergreen pocketful of non-stories.
They reached the CDA’s office at Melody only to discover that the director didn’t sit there and was waiting for them at the Secretariat. It was already 3:00 p.m. and the team was cranky from shooting the bad Ramadan traffic, the bus stops, the vans…
Fouzia was just in the middle of wrangling with them to turn around to go to the Secretariat when shots rang out.
“That’s firing,” said cameraman Kashif Bajwa.
“I just heard one shot,” replied Fouzia.
Suddenly people were running towards the van. Kashif, who didn’t need to be told twice, leapt out with his gear and started shooting. There was police, the road was suddenly blocked. “I thought there was a fight or something that broke out,” said Fouzia later on. “I had the mike with me so I instinctively ran after Kashif.”
And so despite any initial fears or trepidation, she streaked through the crowd, running and stopping against its stream, to ask what had happened. “They said there was firing and people were dead,” she said. “I had no idea who it would be and that it would turn out to be so big.”
When she reached the car, she couldn’t see anything. Kashif emerged from the crowd to throw the DV to the driver Tassavur who tore like the wind to the office.
Fouzia, in the meantime, had to take a look for herself. “There was blood everywhere and glass,” she said. The anti-terrorism Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Hamid Saeed Kazmi had been ambushed and shot. His guard had been shot thrice and his driver was dead. “They shot him in the forehead and chest.”
Fouzia couldn’t look at the blood and had to turn away. “I was really tense and excited and my first maddened response was that I had to call the office,” she recalled, forever laying to rest any assignment editor’s panic that reporters sit on a story.
All the numbers were busy but then the Karachi central desk rang her for an immediate beeper. “I was shivering. This was the first time in my two-year career that something like this happened…”
But she delivered. And when back in the office applause and praise awaited her along with an offer for her to start crime reporting. And this was a 26-year-old who had just completed her MA in International Relations and worked in administration at a private school for four years. Her first package was on senior citizens' homes for SAMAA Metro.
What would she have done better? Her answer belies her news instinct even though she’s barely aware of it. “I was a little worried I was just repeating myself,” she mused. “I wanted to get fresh information but they wouldn’t let me off the line.” She would have liked to shiver less – that’s a point. But after the initial chaos, she picked a spot a slight distance away from the circus and reported from there after gathering her wits about her. Another smart move.
How many times has she gone over the coverage? “Not even once,” she laughed. “I couldn’t stand the blood.” As for the offer to take up crime reporting, she’s flattered but not interested for the same reason.
“But you know,” came the slow afterthought. “I was really excited. I didn’t want to leave the crime scene even after the male reporters came to take over. I just wanted to stay there.” And that is exactly why we are sure this is how it’s going to be from now on, Fouzia. SAMAA