Nissar Ahmad, 53, has been telling the story of Kashmir through his lens since the onset of insurgency in the Valley in 1990. A veteran photojournalist, Nissar is an eyewitness to the horrors of the ‘90s. He shares his thoughts with Aasif Sultan
When did you start your journalistic journey?
I have worked for more than three decades as a photojournalist in Kashmir. Currently, I am working with the prominent south Indian daily The Hindu. I was just 18 when I started portrait photography. Later on, I joined the local daily Aftab as a photojournalist. At that time it was very rewarding to be a journalist as news was a rare commodity and few could access it.
Was it a choice or compulsion?
It was a bit of both. Since my father was inching towards retirement, it was becoming difficult to make the both ends meet. So I had to discontinue my studies after passing the matriculation. Higher education was a distant dream and only a few could afford it. Since I had to shoulder the responsibility of my family, I opted to be aphotographer to earn some quick bucks.
Journalists in Kashmir were seldom paid a handsome salary. Why then did you choose to be one?
I would always ask myself one question: do I love journalism enough to put my life to risk and go broke for it? The answer was yes, for myself alone. I knew that if I persisted in this field, today or tomorrow I would reap the fruit of persistence. Besides, those days every journalist was a celebrity, especially a photojournalist. If you had a camera, you had power.
Do you find any difference between photojournalism in the days of yore and today?
One needed to be proficient in photography those days. Unlike today, you didn’t have the luxury of delete button. You needed to be correct all the time, 12 out of 12. There was no room for error.
Which camera did you use in your earlier days?
I started, obviously, with still film cameras. A camera film, with 12, 24 or 36 exposures per roll, would cost Rs 18 those days, and I would find it extremely difficult to put together money to buy one on a daily basis. However, I somehow managed a Yashica camera, a Japanese brand, and started clicking. I quickly learnt the art of film developing and would process the film myself and then send it to outside news agencies while keeping no record of my own work. This is what I lament about now.
Which assignment did you find the most challenging?
The Kunan-Poshpora rape incident of 1991. The police subtly warned us that we are not going to return alive from the two ill-fated villages of Kupwara. We were asked to handover our I-cards so as to make their task easy to inform our families about our death. That was a horrific incident.
Any advice for present and future journalists?
Maintain balance in your work and be fair in your reportage. Balance is important in any media outlet anywhere, but it is more emphasised here. Work with sincerity and dedication. Remember the old rule: do not turn journalism into activism. Activism kills journalism.