J&K studio legend dies in studio

Cardiac arrest on live TV show

By Muzaffar Raina in Srinagar
  • Published 11.09.18
Rita Jitendra with Hafiza Muzaffar at Gulmarg on Sunday

Srinagar: For Jammu and Kashmir broadcasting legend Rita Jitendra, television had been her life. On Monday, the 81-year-old's end came on the sets of a live morning show on Doordarshan.

The long-retired Rita, a Kashmiri Pandit married to a Jammu Dogra, was discussing her life and memories before the cameras when she suffered a cardiac arrest, began choking and died a few minutes later.

"She was telling us a few interesting things about her life and was looking absolutely normal," the anchor of the show, Zahid Mukhtar, told The Telegraph.

"But suddenly she stopped talking and began having hiccups. We had to cut the interview (and switch to) a documentary to attend to her and take her to hospital."

Mukhtar added: "She had a great association with television and her last words were on how she had started doing the dramas."

Doctors at Srinagar's SMHS hospital declared her dead on arrival.

Hafiza Muzaffar, Rita's host in Srinagar, said that while Rita was being driven to the studio for the interview, she had told an accompanying Doordarshan official that she wanted her death to be like former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's.

"She told him that Dr Kalam had died while working. That is how she met her end too. She breathed her last in the studio itself," Muzaffar, former secretary of the state women's commission, said.

Kalam was delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong, when he collapsed and died of a cardiac arrest on July 27, 2015, aged 83.

Footage shows Rita suffering a cardiac arrest on a live TV show

"Every time she came to Srinagar she would stay with us. She was like my mother," Muzaffar said. "We took her to Gulmarg yesterday and had a lot of fun. Early today, I served her tea before she left for the Doordarshan studio, little realising it was our last interaction."

She added: "She was to participate in several events and had interviews with Doordarshan and Radio Kashmir lined up."

Rita had worked for both these broadcasters, in Jammu and in Kashmir. She wore many hats, serving as the first woman secretary of the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages after retiring from broadcasting.

She had started out as a Sanskrit professor and wrote books, including plays. "She remained busy with her work all her life, and her love of television and radio was legendary," Muzaffar said.

Tributes poured in for Rita on Monday.

Jammu University professor Kavita Suri, who was close to her, said: "She was the first woman from Jammu and Kashmir to break the taboo on radio appearances in the 1950s and ruffled many feathers by wearing sleeveless dresses. She was the foremost advocate of women's empowerment."

Union minister Jitendra Singh tweeted: "Had a very close association with Mam Rita Jitendra for 35 years. I began as a radio drama co-actor opposite her when she was already a star. She recalled this when I met her just 15 days back on 26 Aug. Great, she died doing what she loved the most, speaking into a studio microphone!"

Fayyaz Sheheryar, director-general of All India Radio, wrote on Facebook: "She has been an ace broadcaster, writer and a person who knew the significance of sound broadcasting and also the nuances of production and direction.

"A small faux pas if ever occurred during the transmission of Radio Kashmir, Srinagar, she would feel fidgety and call me all the way from Jammu and suggest measures to guide the station to restore (its) broadcast ethics, which it has always been known for."