There is the approaching twilight.
There are times when I tell myself that life needs to move on. Many have been the years I have spent in journalism, a vocation I have thoroughly enjoyed being in. Nothing can beat the joy of writing, indeed of speaking one's mind. In all these years that I have been working for newspapers, the world has changed enormously. It makes me rather happy knowing that, at least in my country, I have been part of this change. And what has been the nature of this change?
When I first began writing for a newspaper or working for it, the shadow of dictatorship hung low over the country. There was something called 'advice' which the agencies of the government were all too ready to proffer --- and proffer they did --- to newspapers in the middle of the night. The 'advice' was basically a warning: a particular news item will not go, or else! And that was it. On a personal level, I recall the silence which prevailed over a true presentation of history at a time when the nation's military regimes, two as a matter of fact, made it their business to keep out Bangabandhu and the Mujibnagar government out of the public domain.
Well, that was understandable. For here we were, burdened with a military presence in government that was a reminder of the dark days of Pakistan. But what was not so understandable or acceptable was the calculated manner in which some newspaper owners or editors felt disturbed by talk of Bangabandhu in print. One of the editors I worked for was deeply upset one day when I called Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by his honorific Bangabandhu in an article. My response was a simple one, and I conveyed it to the bearer of that note of sadness from the editor. How is it, said I, that this editor once joyously joined Baksal and today is unable to stomach Bangabandhu's reputation as a history maker? There was, obviously, silence at my question.
It is a strange world. I have seen media owners cheerfully speaking of democracy, of the values ingrained in it and then linking up with Khondokar Moshtaque's Democratic League. There have been journalists whose love for Bangabandhu has always been a pronounced affair and yet they have stayed well away from publicly recording their appreciation of him. In certain cases, they have even linked up with dictators to derive certain personal benefits, to the discomfiture of the nation.
But, then again, I have had the opportunity of learning all about journalism from some of the most committed men in the profession. There was Motahar Hossain Siddiqui, whose political beliefs I could not share but whose belief in journalism being impeccable as a profession I fully subscribed to. He had a pulse on what constituted news and what ought to be a comment. It was he from whom I learnt, in my callow youth, that individual opinion on a particular issue must always be subsumed to one that aims at collective welfare. And then there was Hasan Saeed, one of the men instrumental in my entry into the profession. A thorough gentleman, he epitomised for me the idea of a newsman who knew what the world was about. Sadly, though, he left the newspaper where he had found a place for me only a week later. Sadder was his death some years later, at a time when we needed him the most.
From Waheedul Haque came the lesson that beyond journalism, beyond any profession lay an individual's commitment to society. The arts, poetry, politics, arguments resting on logic, patriotism, unity with nature --- these were the thoughts he imparted to me in all the years of my association with him. There was a great teacher in him and I was, still am, the disciple he moulded into a somewhat better person than I used to be. For him, the world and everything which lay beyond it were the library from which people could learn. I am still learning. And yet Waheedul Haque was in the end humiliated by men of lesser calibre. In his last newspaper job, he was shown the door in most discourteous manner. Mediocrity always has its pyrrhic victories.
One of my deepest regrets has been to miss out on working with SM Ali. He and I would have got along famously and indeed he had planned things so that I could be on his team when he brought out his English language newspaper. And then something of a mystery occurred. The newspaper appeared but I was no part of it. Months before he passed away, on an evening of monsoon rain, he told me he was sorry he could not have me on board owing to some reasons. Central to those reasons was that someone on his team had vociferously opposed my entry into the corridors of the newspaper. I understood. There are days, as I recall his 'My World' columns, when I wish he were yet around. He was the kind of intellectual editor you only read about from afar but hardly get to work with. I missed working with him. And I miss his absence in the world of our journalism.
My interaction with Enayetullah Khan was in a different league altogether. In school, I read Holiday voraciously because of the smart English it employed in its articles and editorials. Khan's political beliefs directly contradicted mine and I told him so. And yet, as we walked the streets of Kathmandu on a hot afternoon more than a decade ago, he asked me to join him on the daily newspaper he was planning to bring out soon. I took up the offer. It was sheer pleasure working for him. He spoke well, wrote well, sang well and in every way was a proper gentleman. His idea of me was that I was a writing machine. It was flattering, but it made me happy. And then he died. I walked away from his newspaper.
Writing for newspapers, working for them, trying to create opinion, getting polemical at times --- all of this has been rewarding. Should I now not think of moving on, into the approaching sunset?r
is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer. E-mail: [email protected]