Within a few months after moving out of the classroom, a young reporter in Kashmir Life landed in a team that shot an infotainment series for Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting. Unprecedented, the almost all-women initiative was a huge success. Babra Wani connects dots and anecdotes to offer the behind-the-camera story.
I was working on a new story when Sabreen Ashraf, my friend and classmate, entered the newsroom, in the first week of Ramzan. She sat exactly next to me and said, “We are recording a video series in Ramzan that will be webcast on daily basis”. Excited, I kept my laptop aside and asked her for more details. The details looked interesting.
The idea of the first-of-its-kind series, about Islam, the Quran and Muslims envisaged travelling across Kashmir. It was a bit of effort to somehow get associated with it. Quickly a research team was constituted and we were four in the team – me, Insha, our senior Humaira and a junior Maleeha Sofi. Peculiar to the Kashmir Life newsroom, as I understood later, the initiative was literally an all-woman affair. The entire research team was women, the anchor was a lady and the editor of the show was Iqra Akhoon, the head of Kashmir Life’s audio-visual vertical.
The entire camera work, however, was done by Shuaib Wani with Mushtaq Ahmad and Imran also joining on special shoots. One day, even online editor, Raashid Andrabi willingly handled the camera.
Once the team was ready, it still required a lot of brainstorming. Almost everybody contributed to making the programme better. It was named Jashn e Ramadhan because the members felt that the Muslim month of fasting is being observed in such a way that it is not visibly a celebration as it is in the rest of the Muslim world.
Unwilling to Talk
The journey for this series was not an easy one but very memorable. As we moved from one place to another, we encountered different experiences some pleasant others not so pleasant. From each one of these short day-long journeys, we learnt a lot. It never was what the classroom was all about. It evolved on its own, the excitement, the challenge, the locations, the tensions of deadlines, peoples’ unwillingness to talk and having the best photogenic spots.
However, the biggest lesson I believe all of us learnt through the series was that of patience and understanding. Patience while coming across rude people and understanding why people would not talk to us. We all grew through this series.
We also learnt camera fear is so real and convincing people to talk to us was a really daunting task. I saw people covering their faces and running away just at the sight of the camera. And even if people came to talk, once they knew the series had Islamic questions, they backed out. It was so difficult to get the people to talk. Sometimes we were able to give away all three prizes and sometimes we returned back with one. Sometimes we reached back home early and other times after iftar was done. The 15 minutes of every episode was not an easy task. These were hours of travel, interaction and desperation to locate people willing to talk. After all, outreach was key to the series.
From framing questions during the nights to researching locations we were travelling to, everything seemed tiring at times. Despite the limitation of resources and our lack of knowledge about Kashmir outside Srinagar, we kept going simply because the audience loved it. Every morning I wake up I make it a point that I read all the comments and seeing how positively our series was received and accepted gives us immense pleasure.
Jashn e Ramadhan took me and Sabreen to places we had never been to. We explored different places and learnt about different people all through this series. Our journey began with Jamia Masjid, the place of immense importance in the history of Kashmir. And North Kashmir was our last destination. And for us, the series showed us the beauty of places and people.
We saw the white orchards of Kulgam and the yellow fields of Pampore. We went through the green roads of Watlab and walked along the markets of Bijbehara. We went from shrine to shrine in Qaimoh and crossed the Sangam of rivers in Anantnag.
We drove to places we ourselves did not have any information about. Every episode we published offered some idea about the hard work the team put in. It gradually evolved. Every new episode was perhaps better than the earlier one and this series helped us know what a perfect episode is all about. The beauty of the series was how people instantly connected to it and enjoyed it thoroughly. We learnt and we grew together in this journey of Islam and Kashmir.
For the first time in my life, I visited Khankah e Moula and it was not any lesser than a dream come true. To be able to visit a place of such immense importance and to be able to witness people’s faith there seemed surreal. Every time I remember it I feel a sense of relief. When we visited Aali Masjid I was pleasantly surprised to be able to read the history of the beautiful mosque, to be able to relax under the shade of the Chinars there, to be able to see how much people knew.
It was not an individual effort but a collective one. From Sabreen’s hosting to Shoaib Wani’s camera work to Mushtaq Sahab’s efforts to improve our research and to the flawless editing by Iqra Ma’am, each one of us had an important role to play and each one of us received credit. There were instances when some challenging episode was edited during the dead of the night. A few episodes, professionals may disagree, were shot, edited and used on the same day.
When we began the series our knowledge of Islam was limited, limited to a few basic things we have been taught in childhood. But Jashn e Ramzan we learnt so many new things about Islam, the Quran and Muslim history. Framing even a single question took us hours of studies and scrolling through different Islamic websites and blogs, we read books about Islam about Seerat e Nabvi to set questions and for every episode, we needed to frame almost twenty questions. The questions went through various stages before getting finalised. Though the process was exhausting and tough, yet every time we learnt new things and every time we learnt more.
Yes, we committed mistakes. And, yes, we rectified them.
Partners and Prizes
The series could happen only when Kashmir Life got three partners – the Kanwal Food and Spices; the JamKash Vehicleads and Alloha. It was done by the business section and that took them their own time.
Every time somebody won a prize all of us felt really happy to know how people had such great knowledge about their faith. Every time Sabreen stood in front of the camera, she was very nervous, she rechecked everything more than thrice just not to make any mistakes. And every time we began shooting all of us prayed to Allah for confidence and help.
The memorable part, however, for me was how children everywhere were more than willing and excited to participate, talk, face the camera and try their luck. Some recited Qur’an for us while others chose to recite beautiful naats for us. Young girls came to us everywhere to talk to us and asked about who we are and what we are doing. These boys and girls made us happy and vindicated that the idea was not as small as it looked in the routine newsroom brainstorming.
There were many places that I, Sabreen and Insha visited for the first time in my life and knowing about the place through its history, its people and its culture was such an amazing experience. For example, I never knew that Bandipora was such beautiful, but when I first saw it, I was mesmerized, by its picturesque beauty and by the politeness of the people there.
I never knew that stone carving was a thing in Bandipora as well, I had a concept that stone carving was just done in and around Pampore. However, through this series, I learnt that and I learnt about various issues the people involved were facing. Our team came across some different scenes, from a stone carver with hearing and speaking impairment to a woman who was selling vegetables in Sopore, every person we met had a story to share.
We learnt about the different shrines of different places, from the Khee Naag in Kulgam to the shrine of Baba Shakurdin in Sopore, we visited many places of cultural importance.
Through this series, we learnt about different types of bread. What naan khoashek is in the South is Kulche in North Kashmir, what is kandi kulche in the South is mitthe biscuit at other places. We learnt about different dialects. We learnt about different types of pickles. We travelled along Jhelum and Wular. We saw Sangam, not just of three rivers but of different people as well. We met people with immense knowledge and we met people who did not know anything at all.
Shopkeepers and street vendors in every place we talked to said they have landed in a very economy. Every one of them wanted to talk to us about the severity of the issues they were facing.
As the series went public, people started to recognise us. There were many people who came to us and wanted to try their luck. A man with two daughters we met in Sopore came to us and gave us feedback. A young boy who talked to us in Anantnag said he watched all the episodes and recognised us while travelling with his father. Many people came and complimented our efforts especially Sabreen’s.
In some areas, however, we had some unpleasant experiences as well. There were places where the team was hounded by a crowd. People tried to take pictures and videos and when we stopped them, they argued. Generally, however, people were respectful and we were highly appreciative of that.
While we travelled in all directions from Srinagar, I witnessed the hospitality of people and how it was the same all across the valley. The people of Kulgam and Sopore asked us to stay at their places to make us feel comfortable.
This series not only took us to places but it showed us the rawer side of everything, every place, every person.
Before concluding this personal experience, I need to put on record that the team shot a lot more than what was used. The decision was to make it light and manage one area in one episode. Many episodes that were shot were not used because we could only publish 15 episodes. There was a thought process that the series should move to Shawaal, post-Eid, but its name did not permit that luxury.
I pray the Jashn continues in the 1445’s Ramzan too.
(The author is an intern with Kashmir Life and intends to hone her skills in the newsroom across print and audio-visual verticals.)