Zeba Warsi

Zeba Warsi


My family’s one of poets and writers. My grandfather (the first graduate in his village & an Urdu scholar) wrote poetry about uniting people and about communal harmony. My father is the same- he did a lot of things professionally, but in his heart he was always a writer. Both of them were extremely idealistic in the way they lived and saw life. Their influence moulded everything even though my family is a conservative Muslim family. For example, my parents were out for dinner when the Babri Masjid was demolished. They narrowly escaped the violence. My uncle’s shop was destroyed and he himself was attacked. Even though that had a lifelong impact on us, my family constantly talks about love, unity and patriotism. 

Similarly, unlike many other families, my parents didn’t want a son. They’re both proud  to have two girls. So I was always doted upon and encouraged. This isn’t the norm in the community, where sons are favoured. Naturally, I was an extremely talkative and active student. Papa wrote speeches for me on justice, righteousness, and love which I remember winning elocution competitions by reciting them. Even though he had odd working hours, he would always find time for me. I would shed a few tears on the phone and he would come back home late at night and write my speeches for me.

One year, papa met with consecutive accidents and was bed ridden. That year, our family suffered severely, both financially and emotionally. Despite this, our education, extra curricular activities- everything went on as it is. Even the rewards we got every time we did well in exams or competitions continued despite the hardships my family was going through. I only realised this much later because at that time my family never let me or my sister realise it.

The kind of love, values and emotional investment my papa put in me made me the person I am. He made sure we got the best of everything. He never made us feel like we lacked anything. In fact, I became a journalist because of his guidance. In class 7, I was to participate in an essay competition on the topic ‘My aim in life’. The Iraq war was on at that time and news channels were on 24*7, and I religiously followed the coverage. I recall thinking that this is how I want to give back to society. I know it sounds idealistic and emotional, but that is how I was back then. I mean, I was just 12 years old and I knew that a journalist is what I want to be.

When papa realised this, he had a very serious conversation with me. He explained how there was so much more to life than what we saw on TV, and emphasised the importance of the media in a democracy. After that conversation, I wrote about how I want to be a journalist and how I want to make a difference through my work. I don’t know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing because after that, I restricted all my options since my heart was set on journalism. My mother didn’t really want me to be a journalist because she had seen my father work in the media and felt it lacked stability, and had odd working hours. Because she wanted me to get a corporate job instead, I took up commerce at HR College of Commerce. But eventually, I pursued Bachelors of Mass Media and Masters at ACJ. My mom has evolved, from not wanting me to be a journalist to being the proudest of my work. Today, my mother is my biggest fan and staunch critic. She’s truly my greatest support system, watching each of my stories, following my work most closely and giving the best feedback

When I started working, every senior would tell me that I’m too idealistic and that the real world is not how I imagine it. I was repeatedly told that my bubble would burst soon. I think I understood the practicality of this advice, but I also knew that I was a journalist because of my ideals. But carrying this sort of idealism in a profession like journalism definitely comes with a price. I distinctly remember resolving that even if the world was going up in flames but I will keep doing my part. 

But holding on to that idealism is not easy. When you’re on the field, reporting on horrific stories, it changes you. My friends used to call me Geet from Jab We Met, the cheerful, bubbly girl. Now, all the things I’ve seen have sobered me. I’m much more aware of the dark times that we live in and the responsibilities that we have. The Delhi riots is one such example I can think of. I’ve  heard about riots from my family (who also faced them) but to see living and breathing examples of communal violence is a completely different experience. Irrespective of which community the victims belonged to, riots ultimately affect lives. People lost their lives and others were changed forever. That was a life changing moment for me. We reported on some very tense stories from Jamia, the JNU violence, Shaheen Bagh protests, the Delhi riots. It took a toll on me and my colleagues. There was so much death, destruction and tragedy. I still have vivid dreams about these incidents. I think those will remain with me forever.

I think the only way you can remain positive is by focusing on the impact our stories have. For example, one of my first stories was about this girl who needed a Rs.1 lakh injection every month as she had stunted growth and her father was just a tailor. It wasn’t a headline story but the story helped get the attention of AIIMS who then helped her get injections for free. The father was so thankful that he called me to thank me. I started crying after that phone call because I felt for the first time that I had done something meaningful. 

These days, it’s challenging to be a journalist. Because of the way certain media organisations have chosen to do their jobs, people are very hostile on the ground. I understand what they feel, but I also feel it’s unfair to target field reporters. We’re just trying to do our jobs and most of us genuinely want to do good. It’s quite unfair to attack us for what happens in some prime time debates. There’ve been times when I doubt and question myself. But then I remind myself about my privileges and my duty. I tell myself that I have a job to do and I just have to keep fighting harder.

Humans of Democracy