Jack Of All Trades
Reuters Dhaka Bureau and Late Anis Ahmed
Published : Wednesday, 11 July, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 1263
I was heading towards Chittagong for attending an unavoidable family engagement when Nurul Islam, a Reuters stringer phoned me up from Cox's Bazar to share the news on the sad demise of Anis Ahmed, the former Dhaka Bureau Chief of the international multimedia news agency.
I cannot say now, how I reacted with the stringer, with whom Mr Anis and self had worked together nearly for two decades to cover natural disasters, Rohingya influx, forest depletion, incursions on Myanmar border etc.
Moments later Hasan Shaheed Rahim, our colleague at The Daily Observer was on the phone to know about my itinerary and also to inform me the news, which he probably could not absorb out of shock. I am sure with the interaction Mr. Shaheed was disappointed as the sad news could not detract me from my previously fixed engagements in Chittagong.
For the rest of the day I received many calls from colleagues, friends and well wishers of Anis from Dhaka and stringers and anchors of Reuters at some important places of the country.
Most of the callers thought that, as a long associate of Anis I would attend his funeral including Janaza, the prayer to bid farewell to the deceased and seek blessings of Allah for his departed soul. They wished I would represent them at the Janaza congregation held at the National Press Club on the day.
However, as I was at a point of no return to Dhaka jumping out from the non-stop intercity train, I was deeply feeling a guilty conscious of skipping the Janaza of a colleague and guide who after becoming the Bureau Chief in 1993 shifter me from Chittagong to Dhaka as a full time correspondent in early 1999.
Out of my 38 years in journalism, I worked with Anis for 27 and a half year. Of the years I worked with him for 23 years in Reuters as stringer and also as correspondent and the rest in The Daily Observer from early 2014.
It was Anis, who had extended full cooperation to me after the then Reuters Bureau Chief Atiqul Alam appointed me stringer for Chittagong on January 1, 1987, while I was working as the Chittagong Correspondent for The New Nation. My door to Reuters opened as the news agency needed a correspondent in Chittagong to cover then ongoing tribal insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), financial and business activities including auctioning of tea leaves in the country's leading port city.
The firebrand reporter of 1980s Shehab Ahmed Nafa, then an aggressive reporter of The New Nation introduced me to Mr. Atiqul Alam and my mission in Reuters started with the coverage of deadly bomb attack on a cinema hall in Khagracchari town on my joining day.
Atiqul Alam, Anis Ahmed, I and Cameraman cum Photographer Rafiqur Rahman covered the deadly cyclone of April 29, 1991 that destroyed Chittagong -- Cox's Bazar coastal belt killing some 145,000 people and destroying properties worth billions. The follow up stories were filed everyday for more than two months as Operation Sea Angels of the US Task Force comprising American army, navy and air force conducted relief and rescue operations.
For most of the follow up stories Anis Ahmed and Rafiqur Rahman frequented Chittagong and I served as a fixer for tapping sources and making appointment with officials. In the same year in September Anis, Rafique and me undertook a risky assignment to intrude in to a forested no man's land on Bangladesh -- Myanmar frontier to visit a camp of Myanmar Muslim insurgents group Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO). As fixed priorly we drove to bordering Naikkoncharry from Chittagong via Ramu some 450 km southeast from Dhaka by road with a hired microbus. We were equipped with video and cameras and voice recorders. We walked towards remote forested areas after the sundown as advised by the insurgents' liaison.
At one stage we were suddenly cordoned by a group of Rohingya Muslim insurgents donned in deep green uniform carrying automatic assault rifles. They said they had come to guide us to RSO camp. They escorted us in the deep hilly terrain in the dark. But soon it started raining cats and dogs, within half an hour the alley passages in the foots of the hills were inundated and the escorts themselves lost the directions to the camp.
As there was no mobile telephony, internet and satellite-backed ground positioning system, we were completely lost in the wilderness in torrential rains. At one stage we thought we will perish in the jungle as waist high water almost destroyed our gears including cameras. Even cash and other documents were soaked and turned mostly unusable. However, as torrent ceased the escorts, could relocate the directions and around 11 pm we reached the camp.
The insurgent commanders received as and apologized for making us to walk through jungles in heavy rains. However, as ordered the insurgents troops gave us a full shower pouring buckets of water on our heads. After the bath we were taken to one of the rooms of several barrack like makeshift structures. We were served meal after which we fell in deep sleep.
On the following morning Rafiqur Rahman with his expertise brought one of his cameras back to operation. He filmed how hundreds of RSO insurgents trained up themselves to fight against Myanmar troops. Anis and me took interviews of RSO commanders and fighters throughout the day. In the following morning we were escorted back to the edge of the forest at a walking distance from a road.
A small public transport was awaiting there who drove us back to Ramu from where we hired a microbus to return to Chittagong. The Reuters video footages were played extensively in foreign televisions and stories on RSO camp were published in many renowned newspapers of the world. However, Myanmar junta failing to evict RSO camps started persecution of Rohingya Muslims forcing some 250,000 to flee to Bangladesh in 1992.
Coverage of insurgency in CHT drew Reuters team including Anis, Rafique and myself often until the peace treaty was signed in December, 1997. The counter insurgency unit of Bangladesh Army often embedded Reuters team to visit vulnerable and remotest spot like Kutukjiripara in Bandarban district, where naked tribes still exist. Until late 1990s Kutukjiripara was accessible only by helicopter.
In Reuters we worked in multiple beats including political and general, business, financial, sports and Anis was the source of inspiration with his dutifulness. He used to arrive at the office in the morning and stayed at stretch until evening and never missed any breaking news. When there was no internet and systems to file stories from home, we under the leadership of Anis often returned to office even at midnight to cover the breaking news. He retired from Reuters in 2011.
He breathed last in sleep as he never liked to bother others for his ailments accompanying him for years. Many of his kin blame him for inviting multiple health hazards by overworking. He was cooperative, frank and easy going guy who befriended anyone he met in course of interactions. May Allah host his soul in Jannah.
The author is Business Editor,
The Daily Observer