The sad news of the demise of Hussain Shahid Suhrawardy reached Dhaka through ether waves from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was plunged into deep tragedy as Suhrawardy, better known as 'champion of democracy,' was the only national leader of Pakistan who started organizing people to launch a successful 'oust government' movement against the military junta of Ayub Khan.
However, a night of grief also ends sometime. The wailing people, especially the Bengalis, were waiting to receive the body of their beloved leader that was supposed to be flown to Dhaka Airport directly from Beirut. Leaders from all political parties, including Awami League raised the demand for the burial of the legendary leader with full state honours. Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (still then he was not honoured with the title 'Bangabandhu'), who was most ardent political disciple of Suhrawardy, declared that the people of East Pakistan would not accept anything other than a 'burial with state honours' of their beloved leader.
But it is a historical fact that the Pakistani rulers, especially the military dictators, were never respectful to East Pakistani leaders. Leave alone burial with state honours, not a single representative from the Pakistani regime came to attend the burial ceremony of Suhrawardy at the Race Course Maidan, now Suhrawardy Uddyan, which shocked and surprised all conscious driven people.
At the time, Shahidul Haq, an icon in the field of journalism, was the chief reporter of the Pakistan Observer, a pro-government English daily owned by Hamidul Haq Chowdhury, once foreign minister of Pakistan. He covered the burial story of Suhrawardy. Shahid Bhai wrote, "As the coffin was lowered in the graveyard, thousands of people roared 'Suhrawardy Zindabad' like a 31 gun salute."
The notorious Pakistani regime was shy to offer state honours to Suhrawardy, but thousands of disciples of this great leader demonstrated their love and respect for him, which was much more befitting and prestigious than a 31-gun salute of the official contingents of police and the armed forces. Through master craftsmanship and the creative art of composing a report, Shahid Bhai narrated the whole episode in a single sentence. Former chairman the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism of Dhaka University, AKM Nooruddin, referred to this sentence in the reporting class of the department while he was teaching us the technique of writing reports. I believe this one sentence of Shahid Bhai will be thought of as an ideal reporting piece in the journalism departments of many other universities.
Today is the 27th death anniversary of Shahid Bhai. On this day in 1989 he chose the path towards eternity, leaving us in oblivion. I had the luck to be his direct pupil when I was a post-graduate student in the journalism department of Dhaka University and Shahid Bhai was a teacher and used to teach us the technique of reporting. That Shahid Bhai was a reporter of high measure is known to all who were by any means linked to journalism or even newspaper readers. But on this occasion of his death anniversary, I have taken up my pen not to write about the professional dignity and personal wisdom of Shahidul Haq. I have taken up my pen to write something else---to dispel some wrong notion about his personal life which has been wilfully propagandized by some vested quarters. It has been said by certain quarters that Shahid Bhai gave evidence against Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman when he was being tried by the Pakistani regime in captivity at Lyallpur jail on charges of treason. It is partially true that Shahidul Haq was among some other journalists who were taken inside the jail for giving evidence against Bangabandhu. Many of them were also highly rewarded by being given residential plots and other favours by the Pakistani regime. But Shahid Bhai was exceptional. Escorted by the DGFI men, Shahid Bhai and others were produced before the special military tribunal to testify against Bangabandhu. Many of them gave evidence suiting the intentions of the Pakistani regime as per guidelines dictated to them by the DGFI personnel. But only Shahidul Haq was an exception---a thorough exception!
When Shahidul Haq was produced in the dock, after a long time he saw Bangabandhu standing at a short distance - a back-brushed Himalayan like personality attired in a snow-white pajama and panjabi with black Mujib coat and a cream-white shawl around his shoulder. Shaid Bhai could not contain himself anymore. Like a child he cried out, 'Bangabandhu, Bangabandhu' that echoed through the whole courtroom, giving the entire environment a different meaning.
Bangabandhu could easily read the future fate of Shahid Bhai and he was fully aware of the brutal consequences waiting for this reporter at the hands of the displeased personnel in uniform. Drawing the attention of the chairman of the tribunal, Bangabandhu in his thunder voice uttered, "My Lord! I want protection for Shahid." "Accepted", said the judge, adding that full security and protection would be ensured for Mr Shahidul Haq. (Ref: I was told this story by famous journalist K G Mostafa, better known to us as KG Bhai).
Shahid Bhai did not accept any bribe, any favour, any reward or any benefit from the Pakistani regime and as such he did not tilt an inch from his love for Bangabandhu, love for the country and love for the nation. But he received due love, affection and rewards from Bangabandhu who, after the return of Shahidul Haq from Pakistan asked Moni Bhai (Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni) to give him a respectable and prestigious job. Moni Bhai immediately appointed Shahid Bhai the editor of the Bangladesh Times. After that, Shahid Bhai exercised his facial pen for materializing the dream of Bangabandhu of building a prosperous and exploitation free Bangladesh.
Shahid Bhai's death has had no consolation. In letter and spirit, his death was an irreparable loss for the nation; it especially created a deep vacuum in the realm of journalism. He was a professional journalist and always remained aloof from any kind of self-aggrandizement. During his time, there was a galaxy of brilliant stars in the domain of journalism. But Shahid Bhai was an exception. When press freedom was ruthlessly muzzled by Ayub Khan's martial law regime, Shahid Bhai was brave and vocal enough to wield his pen against all forms of oppression, repression and exploitation against the people of the then East Pakistan. He was praised equally at home and abroad for his style, craftsmanship and flavour of writing news. He was devoid of pursuing falsehood, sycophancy and beating the drum of half-truth. As a reporter, as a journalist, as an editor - he was a complete professional person. Over and above he was a patriot, a great patriot. He will remain ever glistening in the core of hearts of millions of people.
Azizul Islam Bhuyian is Contributing Editor,
The Daily Observer