What makes Salma Sultan click even at 70?
Ever charming Popular news reader on Doordarshan, Salma Sultan
“I belong to a city where women ruled for 100 years. So much is the pride in that place that till date most women don't attach their father or husband's surname . Most girls still use ‘Sultan,' just like I do.”
Personifying pride coupled with grace and humility – meet Salma Sultan, the woman who ruled the small screen as a newsreader for over two-and-a-half decades. A rose became synonymous with her and news reading — an elegant exercise.
Today Salma , over 70 years of age, hasn't lost her charm and poise. Looking at her on television , no one would have imagined that she possessed such a tremendous sense of humour. Barely a sentence of hers is free of effortless wit and hilarity.
Salma, quite contrary to her appearance on the small screen, had been anaughty child. “I was very assertive, irrepressible, naughty but not spoiled. Not a single day of my life would go withouta prank in school.”
Born to scholar and secretary in the Ministry of AgricultureMohammed Asghar Ansari and a “Moghul” homemaker mother, Salma was her parents' second child. Salma did her graduation from Bhopal. “I did my post graduation in English from Indraprastha College, and simultaneously gave audition for an announcer on Doordarshan.” Salma became a newsreader by fluke. “Those days”, she recalls “only Pratima and Gopal Kaul used tor read news. Kaul wanted to become a producer, so his tussle with the DD was a regular affair. Once, as a protest and to make sure not to read news anymore, he shaved his head. As he entered the studio, the producer was shocked.” In the frantic search to replace him, Salma became a casualty. “But there was a hidden desire to read news as it was a well-paid, comfortable job where the newsreader, unlike an announcer like me, had to come at 4 p.m., read the news a couple of times and go back.” A nervous Salma read the 15 minutes news in eight minutes and “paused”. “The hapless producer decided to train me and that's how the journey began.”
She narrates the story behind the signature rose in her hair. “I once wore a pink rose to match my pink sari and read news. Telephone calls and letters of appreciation poured in. Then the day I wouldn't tuck a rose, letters of complaints and requests would follow. So, a rose became a regular affair.”
And to hunt for matching roses, Salma would either grow her own or “steal from the neighbourhood.”
After her retirement , Salma moved to direction. Her serials Panchtantra, Suno Kahani, Swar Mere Tumhare and Jalte Sawa drew attention. She recalls, “To shoot Panchtantraon minimum budget, I went to Mumbai to look for a set of rajmahal. Someone told me that B.R. Chopra's set for Mahabharata was being dismantled after the shooting. I met him and he was kind enough to let me use his set. Panchantraused to be telecast soon after Mahabharata and did very well. I will never forget his compliment , “ Mujhe is ladki ki daad deni padegi. Mahabharat ke baad bhi log isse dekhte hain”.”
The mother of an Income Tax Commissioner Saad and a choreographer daughter Sana and two grandchildren, Salma's quest for learning hasn't waned. “I am learning synthesiser and the harmonium for my love of music, and computers to be tech-savy.” Salma also does interior designing. She began by doing up her 13-room bungalow in Bhopal followed by an apartment in Patparganj. Her residence is proof of her refined taste. How does she keep fit? “I do yoga, walk and take supplements. I treat my body as a gift from God…. To purify my inner self, I offer namaz regularly,” she signs off, poise refuses to fade.
RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN
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