KARACHI: There are not many women who have had the opportunity to meet Mehdi Hasan, ask Dilip Kumar for directions, talk politics with Pervez Musharraf or watch Ismail Gulgee paint in his London apartment. Durdana Ansari has met them all, sat down with them over a cup of tea and discussed what makes them who they are.
While working for the BBC world service, she worked as a presenter, an assistant producer and producer. She has covered everything from art to current affairs – from truck artists to Afghan refugee camps to the 2008 earthquake rehabilitation camps in Islamabad.
By the age of 16, she was married, had moved to the United Kingdom and had just started out in journalism. Over the years, she integrated her passion for art into her work and did a series of interviews with artists in South Asia. “Whenever I see an artist, my first impulse is to run over and interview them,” she said while speaking at the Koel gallery on Tuesday. “My heart starts racing and I know it will not settle down till the interview is over.”
Fashionably dressed in a tea-pink and beige sari, with a string of pearls around her neck, she did not seem like a woman who got her hands dirty. However, after watching a short video montage of her career at the event, the audience realised that looks were deceiving.
Although the sari is her signature outfit, there were clips of Ansari with a red dupatta over her head, talking to refugees, getting to know them and encouraging them to talk about their ordeals.
After years of being on the field, the 51-year-old said that after the earthquake she felt as if things had changed. “I had just returned from Pakistan and was watching a show on the earthquake and started to cry,” she said while brushing away the locks of hair that fell over her face as she spoke. “My father asked me what was wrong. I kept telling him it felt as if something was missing, was still incomplete. He told me that I should be proud that I had done work and I told him no, there was more to be done.” She added that a couple of days later she got a call from the British parliament and they asked her to go back to Pakistan and help out with an education project. Within days, she got her visa and passport updated and left.
On her return, she was contacted by the Ethnic Minorities Foundation to do work on a project to educate Muslim women in London. This had become a top priority with the government after the 7/7 bombings. They wanted to teach Muslim women English and basic IT skills so they could teach their children and share a better relationship with them.
Initially, the project was targeting 100 women with 12 volunteers and three coordinators. “We went to the community centres with laptops but the women refused,” she said. “They did not want to learn. We waited every day and eventually made our way in when I started to attend the Dars they had every Thursday.” She added that she started talking to some of the young Pakistani brides and within a year had nearly 900 women learning English. The project was so successful, that the foundation decided to continue with it for another year. When they decided that it was time to stop, Ansari put her foot down and said no, there was still work to be done. It was during this time that Ansari received the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II.
With the help of colleagues, family and friends, Ansari expanded the project to different cities and has plans to take it to Europe.
The Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on June 4,1947 by King George V to honour individuals with outstanding philanthropic achievements.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2012.
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