Farida Master lives in the pulsating world of media. In her three-decade-long journey, she has written stories for leading publications back home and in New Zealand, handled the end-to-end production of magazines and has published two books. In an exclusive interview with Indian Weekender, the Auckland-based senior journalist speaks about her stint in the industry, the differences between Indian and New Zealand media and the challenges she faced while working her recent book An Uncensored Life.
IWK: You came to New Zealand with a vast experience in Indian media. How different do you think is the field in New Zealand compared to India?
Farida: It’s very different and still the same.
Most journalists from overseas find it difficult to find a foot-in-the-door but we are gradually getting there. Every time I see a byline of an Indian journalist in the local papers, I sit up and silently applaud them for making it out there. I do believe that immigrants are a brave breed of people who take on the challenge of starting afresh. It’s as if you have wiped your slate clean of all the goodwill, friends and contacts you have created in your country of birth.
There are a couple of reasons why it can be tough to find a toehold and it’s mainly because all papers demand New Zealand experience, and rightly so. Also, there aren’t as many publications, and the scribes who have been around love their jobs with a passion and will probably be around for the next 20 years. Unlike India, there is not much movement of journalists in the editorial departments of mainstream papers.
In terms of being similar, if you are a storyteller and you have the nose for sniffing up good stories, you will continue to do so whichever corner of the globe you may be in. It is a skill that will travel with you everywhere you go, through land or sea or shore.
IWK: What was the reason behind your move?
Farida: All of us are constantly looking for new adventures, and that probably was one of the reasons why I may have consented to move here, although the main moving force behind the relocation was my better half that was keen to live in a 100 per cent pure, green country with clean air to breathe. He’d heard it was a crime-free country and that the politicians are as clean as the air we breathe.
IWK: You've been in the industry for 30 years. Your journey so far.
Farida: Never a dull moment, I say! Not many people get to meet so many wildly interesting or inspiring people and have an opportunity to probe into their minds and ask many questions, all in the name of work.
One thing is for sure, as a journalist, I have interesting stories to tell.
Having started my career with Stardust in the early ’80s, there are still people who ask me about the matinee idols and the real life stories vs the reel ones. It was almost after 10 years that I stepped out of the ivory tower that film stars live in to interview everyday people for the city magazine, Citadel that I later edited. My first reaction then was of surprise. I hadn’t realised till then that people are so easy to interview and want to share their stories of triumph and tribulations they’ve faced.
Being the editor of Pune Times of India with a huge readership was another whirlwind of activity, people and their timeless stories that were food for the soul. As was editing Society Fashion—an ode to high fashion, uplifting photography and creativity that rocked my being.
IWK: You have two books to your credit—The Making of a Legend and An Uncensored Life. What was your reason behind working on these books?
Farida: It’s about taking the leap of faith and grabbing opportunities that come your way. Nothing was premeditated. Dr K. B Grant, the founder of Ruby Hall Clinic, which is a state-of-the-art hospital in Pune, had asked me to write his biography someday since I had interviewed him over a period of time when I was editing Citadel.
Strangely, I finally took on the challenge after I resigned from Pune Times to move bag and baggage to New Zealand. I thought this would keep me busy for the first six months and give me time to introspect about the big shift.
However, fate had other things in store. My dear mum suffered a stroke on the day I was about to leave for New Zealand. She was hospitalised at Ruby Hall Clinic, where I knew all the doctors. I, of course, postponed my trip and wrote the biography whilst I practically lived at the hospital for a month.
On the other hand, An Uncensored Life, biography of Zerbanoo Gifford happened at a time, almost 10 years later when I asked the universe for an all-consuming challenge that would nourish my being. I was freelancing for a short while and the opportunity for the book came through then.
Society magazine that I used to occasionally write for asked me to write an article on the top Zoroastrians in the world who had contributed to humanity. I contacted Zerbanoo Gifford for the article and the rest is history.
In retrospect, both the books have been a great learning curve for me.
IWK: What is the most challenging part while working on a book?
Farida: Working on the biography was simply mind-boggling, starting with Ms Gifford’s neatly arranged archives in the attic of her home. I had never seen anything like that before. There were hundreds of articles, written by journalists all over the world. Meticulously filed documents cards, notes, photographs, newspaper cuttings, elbowed for attention. At first glance, I thought it would take me a decade to go through the wall-to-wall cabinets that housed the documentation. A fiery lady who believes in the ‘power of now’, it was at times hard to keep up with her physically, mentally and emotionally. She was always on to planning her next big project before I could fully comprehend the last one. Sometimes as she jumped from one chapter of her life to another, I had to figure out the timelines and sequence of events.
However, the most difficult part was digging deep to uncover those hurtful incidents in her life that she had locked away in the inner recesses of her mind. Not the kind to brood over past misgivings—since she is always on the go—I felt terrible about opening up old wounds to understand the intricate weaves in the fabric of her life, and how they unfolded. I am truly thankful to her for trusting me enough to reveal the innermost secrets and give me a glimpse of the most vulnerable moments of her life. She now calls me Socrates, her philosopher and shrink and recommends everyone should have a biography written. I do hope that An Uncensored Life acts as a catalyst and enables readers to become game-changers and make every moment count.
IWK: A great tip that has helped you achieve your goals.
Farida: When one door closes, the other opens.
Have faith in yourself and the universal spirit that makes things magically happen. Also, don’t be too cautious.
Grab every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t look at the monetary factor. Do things to help others and the good karma pays you back a hundred fold.
Above all, listen to your inner voice and don’t be afraid to take chances.
IWK: Any advice for the ones who are new to the industry?
Farida: Keep going, there are lots more opportunities in the media than there were earlier.
Remember, where there are people, there are stories. Think of an innovative idea, a good angle and approach editors with four to five ideas neatly keyed in. Most times, they will approve of at least one or two ideas.
Once you have got a foothold in a publication and established a relationship, the rest is relatively easy.
IWK: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline? Any exciting news/updates?
Farida: After a grand book release in India, which we recently had, An Uncensored Life published by HarperCollins India, followed by public readings in Auckland at the Swaminarayan Temple, Botany Library, the Auckland Art Gallery and Auckland Library—that Ranjna Patel kindly helped organise—there are plans to do more book readings locally, before we release the biography in the UK, US, Dubai and Mauritius. That is a lot of work and planning to do. But right now, I am just enjoying getting back to normalcy with my job at the Botany and Ormiston Times. Sometimes routine is good to take stock of things.