By Zubeida Mustafa
Every journalist has a story to tell. Teenaz Javat, by blood Indian, by bond Pakistani, by choice Canadian as she describes herself, and by profession a journalist, also has a story to tell. I ask her which story she wrote that gave her a sense of achievement. She speaks of ‘Turning Point,’ a story on domestic violence in the South Asian community in Toronto .
This was co-produced by her for CBC Radio. She was the lead researcher. The programme discussed several high-profile domestic murders of South Asian women. Her programme created quite a stir and it led to the Toronto police convening a conference to discuss violence in South Asian communities. Teenaz says, “I was really happy that something I did on radio had made such a big impact on the community.” She even won the prestigious Ontario Premier’s Award in 2011 for the story.
Good journalists must be rooted in the community about which they report. A media person who does not know and understand the men and women who are central to her stories can never be the best. Always aware of this truism, I would often marvel at a young woman who I met in my colleague’s office soon after she had joined Dawn in 1994, where I worked.
That was Teenaz Javat. Before long I discovered her forte. She managed to reach the heart of a story to distil its essence – mainly how it would affect the people. That was exactly what I wanted for the features page I was editing. It seemed she could read my mind and, having developed her writing skills, produced assignments which fitted the bill. That was over two decades ago when Teenaz had migrated to Pakistan after her marriage.
Teenaz (I like to call women by their own name to acknowledge their identity) had joined the Economic and Business section of Dawn. She held a Master’s degree in Economics from the Poona University, India. Her love for the people and the issues and institutions that affected them drove her to investigate them and write about them. Being an economist, Teenaz initially went after issues such as the stock exchange, ‘due diligence’ reports on upcoming industries and other similar projects. As she had no background in journalism, it was hard work for her initially to acquire the required expertise.
That was way back in India when she launched her newspaper career as a raw 22-year-old reporter in The Observer of Business and Politics, a business daily of Mumbai.
Her dynamism and enthusiasm knew no bounds and within 18 months she had visited seven small towns in Maharashtra and South India to investigate projects such as a new textile mill being set up, a fertiliser plant or the building of a dam which would have economic repercussions for the people who lived in their vicinity.
A true professional to the core, Teenaz has planned her life carefully. In 1993, she came on a ‘reconnaissance visit’ to Karachi. Earlier, she had met Mahveer in Mumbai, where he had gone to attend his friend’s wedding. They decided to tie the knot. But then some doubts set in. The worry was not about the man she had chosen to marry. It was about the country where she would be spending her life – especially her professional life. With so much propaganda in the air, Pakistan appeared to be a forbidding place.
She also worried about life in the media in Pakistan. After all, the country has not been known for press freedom. She requested her fiancé to take her to the office of Dawn, the best known Pakistani newspaper internationally. On the way to Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed Road, where the Dawn office is located, she saw several billboards advertising Dawn Bread. Confused, she turned to her fiancé Mahveer, an automobile engineer, who was not as media-savvy as she would have liked, and enquired if he was taking her to the offices of Dawn Bread, Teenaz recalls.
In Pakistan, Teenaz adjusted smoothly in her profession. “I was thrilled by the total acceptance I received at Dawn. I was never made to feel the ‘other’ because of my Zoroastrian religion, that never became an alienating factor in my relationship with people,” she says.
There was a major hindrance in her professional life, though. Lack of mobility. Teenaz very firmly believes that a journalist must walk around in the jostling crowd. Then only can she embrace the city she lives in. “I couldn’t do that freely in Karachi. That made me feel like a stranger in a city I wanted to make my home,” she says.
Hence her decision to move to the West. She cherishes her freedom of movement intensely and in Canada she gets it in abundance. She can drive to work at four in the morning by herself from Missisauga, where she lives, to downtown Toronto, where the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s office is located. She is not deterred by the most dangerous of localities if she needs to visit them.
Two migrations within a decade have given her confidence. Teenaz is one of the few recently migrating journalists from Pakistan who have found a job in the mainstream media in Canada and has integrated into the new environment smoothly. For nine years she took a break from work to bring up her two children – Sherezade (19) and Hormuz (15) – but used this time fruitfully to read the local papers and walk about Mississauga to learn about her new homeland. Before she took up a job at the CBC, Teenaz did a certificate course for internationally trained and working journalists that groomed her for the new work environment in her adopted country.
Today, Teenaz’s expertise lies in what she terms multi-platform journalism, which means that she is equally adept at working on-line, radio, television – and in print, from where she launched her career. She has now been confirmed in a staff position in CBC, being the “junior-most among the seniors,” as she describes herself.
Her work experience of 15 years is a diverse one. It includes internship and reporting for The Toronto Star, guest columnist for The Toronto Sun, freelance writing for newspapers in Canada, Pakistan and India, and numerous Zoroastrian papers. She has also taught journalism to students at the Sheridan College, Oaksville for four years. Her work has won recognition and she is the winner of eight awards.
Today Teenaz is as rooted in Canada as a journalist can be, given her love for the country of her choice where she cherishes her personal freedom. One of the projects she has been associated with is the The Shoe Project founded by Canadian author Katherine Govier in 2011. It was designed to “create space for women who have migrated to Canada to tell their stories using shoes as the focal point of their journeys.” For eight weeks every spring, a different group of women exchanges “stories of arrival.” Shoes figure somehow in their immigration – in their old and new lives.
According to Teenaz, in the last four years, “We have created our own platform and are now part of the national conversation around identity and immigration. We do not have to depend on mainstream and ethnic media to tell our stories. We are in control of our story and how we present it.”
Take her own story of migration. “I was a reporter in my past life. The move to Canada was my choice. I wanted to be free. My husband reluctantly complied. We uprooted ourselves, and left our jobs just so that we could be free. ‘Here, take your freedom,’ my husband told me, ‘and make pickle out of it,’ as the saying goes in Urdu. ‘You can do whatever you want, except park the kid in day care.’ I was stranded: no day care. No job. No transportation. No friends. Not much money. I could make merry with my freedom 24 hours in a day.”
She writes for the shoe project and her lens is the brown leather sapat she wore in those initially frustrating weeks when she went to Canada. “Then magic happened.” She discovered a newspaper to read. Her footwear and her baby’s black shoes are on display at the Bata Museum.
She speaks of her story “Disappearing daughters,” which she did for the CBC Radio, that made her feel “shame.” It was about foeticide among South Asian families. She feels that prejudices persist among the many immigrants to Canada. Their thinking has not changed at all, although they have the freedom to take the route to sanity.