Small City, Big Dreams

Society | Liberalization | Media

A short interview with a female journalist from a small town and a quiet harbinger of change for her family

A train station in Quetta photographed in 2017. The valley city surrounded by snow-covered mountains has managed to retain its Old World charm through changes.
Image credit: Puffmuffin | Wikimedia Commons

With her tall stature, minimal make-up and her scarf firmly placed on her head, Zaibunnisa Garshin cuts a stately figure. Those who have met her more than once know that this attribute is not just limited to her appearance.

Zaibunnisa is an assertive and articulate woman. “My family is from Radashan, a small town in Balochistan. My father was a government employee and he was posted all over the province, and we moved with him. But once he retired, he opted for the quiet life of Radashan.”

It would be from that small town that she commuted to Loralai, a four-hour commute every day for two years to finish her undergraduate degree. Her older sister had graduated a couple of years earlier but was not working. “I wanted to do my Master’s so my father sent me and my sister to Quetta where we lived in the Balochistan University hostel for two years.”

It was a decision her relatives did not approve of.

“They were taken aback. But because my father had given us his permission, they couldn’t say much,” she explains.

Once done with her graduate degree, Zaibunnisa became a full time employee at Jang, where she had worked part-time while a student and shifted to the local Working Women’s Hostel with her sister.

“The biggest drawback of being in Quetta is that people are extremely narrow-minded and have certain notions about working women,” she says. “But we ignored them, though we did follow the rules and regulations of the hostel, never coming in late or having male friends over.”

Quetta is an old city in the province of Balochistan, mentioned in literary and historical accounts dating 11th century. Despite modernization of urban centres in the country, the city’s culture and traditions have remained untouched by outside influences.

People in Quetta considered them so ‘independent’ that they never realised the problems the two young sisters faced. “Because we were living alone, we had responsibilities that most people our age don’t,” Zaibunnisa says but adds that her experience has made her realise the importance of time and also motivated her to achieve more in life. “I became very responsible. If something had to be done, then it had to be accomplished, there was no way around it.”

Zaibunnisa admits that her parents did not expect any financial assistance from her. “While I was at the university, my parents would send money. Even now they support me if I run short as newspaper jobs don’t pay well.”

And it is to her parents’ credit, she says, that she is now pursuing her MPhil. “My parents never discriminated on the basis of gender. They have always been supportive of us.” Following their example, her other relatives have not only mellowed towards her but are now sending their own daughters for further education.

Since then, Zaibunnisa’s elder sister has married while her younger brother and two sisters have moved to the city. The four siblings now live in a small rented portion of a house.

People in Quetta considered them so ‘independent’ that they never realised the problems the two young sisters faced. “Because we were living alone, we had responsibilities that most people our age don’t,” she says but adds that her experience has made her realise the importance of time and also motivated her to achieve more in life.

Zaibunnisa Garshin, Quetta-based journalist

But even one of Pakistan’s biggest cities, it seems, is not modern enough for Zaibunnisa. “Here they like to stop all work at dusk and we have to make sure we are home by then,” she complains. “Quetta is still old in its ways.”

This interview was part of a larger report on women moving from small cities to work in broadcast media, at the height of its expansion in the 2000s. This article was first published in the October, 2009 issue of the Herald.

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