No language barrier

Veteran Hindi journalists, despite having no knowledge of Urdu, churn out a leading Urdu daily under the leadership of Arshad Faridi

India’s composite culture never fails to amaze. A good example is the leading Urdu daily Mera Watan.

This Urdu newspaper is run by Hindi journalists, most of whom can’t read or write Urdu script. Operated on a shoestring budget from a basement in Jangpura, the paper gives balanced news and perspectives on various issues, domestic and international; culture and fashion are also featured prominently.

Most of its readers are conservative Muslims. Mera Watan has ushered a silent social revolution by providing them news without filters, news without borders and news without biases.

If there are 15 people in the editorial, only six people on the desk headed by Dr Qumar Tabrez know the Urdu language. Tabrez started his education in a madrassa and went on to do a PhD in Urdu from Jawaharlal Nehru University; is proficient in Hindi and English as well. He converts reports written in Devanagari or English into loquacious Urdu for easy consumption of the news.

The founder-editor, Arshad Faridi,50, has worked in senior positions for 25 years in some of the leading Hindi dailies like Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala and Rashtriya Sahara. He was bestowed with the best journalist of the year award in 2003 by Delhi Government. He founded Mera Watan in 2015. His vision simple yet fairly revolutionary: to lure Urdu readership into the mainstream.

“I’m not an Urdu scholar. I have never been to a madrassa. I know the language because of my family background. But for sure, I’m a journalist and know journalism,” he says. And that’s important.

In the Urdu media can boast of many Urdu scholars but none of them are trained as journalists. There is a problem, a sort of crisis, when it comes to news gathering, treatment of stories and the placement of the news. It has to be done professionally, on the merit of the news. Professionalism has no caste or religion. “There’s a great need of progressive journalists in the Urdu media,” he adds.

The novel way to infuse new blood, new vision, new outlook, was to give the task of news gathering to the veteran Hindi journalists. For example, Rajesh Sharma, 48, has worked for two decades in Punjab Kesari, doesn’t know an alphabet of Urdu but he’s the one who puts the paper together. He decides where to place a particular news item, with what display. “A press conference by a Muslim cleric (maulvi) doesn’t necessarily get the front page. It depends on the news value of what he’s saying,” explains Sharma.

Sharma was a crime reporter for years, and believes in doing exclusives. The formula is simple, according to him: to go to ground zero and dig beneath the surface. Many of the crime stories done by Mera Watan get picked by the likes of Times of India and Hindustan Times.

Gyanendra Singh has been the chief reporter of a quarter of a century in leading Hindi dailies, particularly Dainik Jagran. He continues to operate under the same capacity in Mera Watan.

Another veteran, Naveen Gautam—25 years of experience in Dainik Jagran—has recently joined as the bureau chief. Another veteran of Hindi journalism, Asit Awasthy, has recently left after helping establish the paper as a leading Urdu daily in Delhi.

Manish Khatri, 35, covers courts and issues pertaining to law. She joined Mera Watan after contributing for a long time with Rajasthan Patrika.

The colloquial language of the ‘Hindi belt’ is a complex mix of Hindi and Urdu, and was called ‘Hindustani’ till a few decades ago. Though the script is different, the words are mostly common. And no one speaks orthodox Hindi or Urdu.

Rajesh Sharma, effectively the news editor, feels that his lack of knowledge of Urdu is not an obstacle. “I don’t feel any limitation. I write in Hindi, just make a conscious effort to use more Urdu words,” he says.

And this synergy is what makes Mera Watan a progressive Urdu paper, first of its kind. “Urdu media lives in a shell and they don’t want to get out of that shell,” says Afridi in a matter-of-fact way and adds. “It’s time Muslims start to look at the world as it is, not from their rose-tinted glasses.”

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