by Suhail A Shah
On April 4, 2012 Kashmir’s prominent journalist and correspondent for the Agence France Presse (AFP), Izhar Wani, breathed his last after his yearlong battle against Cancer.
The next day Rising Kashmir,where I had been working for about two years then, carried a front page jacket dedicated to Wani, the Editor in Chief, Syed Shujaat Bukhari, had insisted.
A few days later,during an editorial meeting, Shujaat, with his effervescent smile told the team that he had set a precedent.
“From now on deceased journalists will get a jacket dedicated to them,” he said, following it with a prayer for the departed soul and another one for the well being of all others.
Who would have thought Shujaat will,-only after a few years, become the jacket of his own newspaper.
I first met him sometime in early 2011, when I decided to pursue journalism, without a degree in the trade or any prior experience of it.
Someone told me to go meet Shujaat, probably knowing that only Shujaat had the heart to hire a neophyte, and he was right.
A friend, Nasrun Mir, worked as a sub-editor at the newspaper and he kindly enough fixed a meeting with Shujaat.
“We will keep you for now, on a trial basis, for a month or two. And we are not going to pay you for the period,” Shujaat told to me.
I had a difficult time deciding, for I did not want to work for free but in the end I took the offer and I am glad I did.
The decision proved out to be a splendid one on two counts, one, I have since grown in the field and two, I got to know, Shujaat, one of the most wonderful people around.
Not more than ten days after we first met Shujaat gave me a call and told me that a salary has been fixed and how he was impressed with my work.
He would have most definitely seen way better journalists in his career but the way he encouraged me has stayed with me and has helped me grow.
In my more than six years of association with Rising Kashmir and with Shujaat I have had the privilege of knowing this man, whole of Kashmir is mourning right now, up close and I have had only admiration for him. He personified the art of being immensely successful and utterly humble at the same time.
I was one of the junior employees at his newspaper and given our work culture-and the colonial hangover we live in-I would not have taken to heart even if I was not allowed to venture into his office. On the contrary, however, every meeting I have had with him is one to be cherished and to learn from.
Seconds after he offered me a seat in his office he would pick up the phone and spoke the same line, always, “Suhail chu aamut, chaai soozive,” and then he would strike a conversation.
I still fail to understand how he managed those conversations. He was obviously a very learnt and a very well informed man but regardless he kept asking my opinion about “things” with the curiosity of a child.
He would share stories, anecdotes, his personal experiences and his ideas with me like somebody would do with a close confidante. He made you feel welcome and he made you feel important.
There is no doubt that he was a down to earth, humble soul and what made him a dream to work with, was the freedom and the security he provided his reporters with.
I, in the first few years of my career, had a story lined up and it so happened that a person known to me approached and asked me to drop the story-for reasons better known to him. He kept bragging about his close relations with Shujaat and how he could stop the story from getting published, by making a single phone call.
Irritated, I called Shujaat. He was furious. “I don’t even know who this man was. Go ahead with the story, it will go on the front page,” he said. And the story did appear on the front page.
A few months later I came to know that the man was indeed a very close friend of Shujaat’s and not only that, they had strong family ties. I met this man at Shujaat’s funeral. We did not speak, but we did share the grief.
Shujaat’s ties-by virtue of his family-to a particular political party are not a secret but never in my six years of association with the newspaper was any of my copies not carried, just because it was against that political party.
This freedom of work had an added sense of security for the reporters who worked with the Kashmir Media Group-the umbrella group for Rising Kashmir and other related publications.
I remember how he once confronted a top, dreaded cop-with the sternest of the words-after one of the reporters at Rising Kashmir was manhandled by the police.
On that fateful evening I was called by a friend from the press colony, who spoke with dread and in a quivering voice. He told me about the catastrophe that had hit our community, minutes ago.
I have still not been able to wrap my head around the fact that Shujaat was no more, despite offering his funeral prayers, despite reading dozens of obituaries and despite attending several condolence meet’s over the sad demise.
At one meeting, on Thursday, a journalist said, “Shujaat has not been killed, he has been immortalized,”. Perhaps.
The picture on the banner-right besides the place where he was killed-says he was fifty years old. This was certainly no age to die, but then he has died and we can only pray for his eternal peace.
The “banner” has a couplet which, I think, is the most apt of tributes to the fallen journalist.
Mar bhi jaunt toh kahan log bhula he dengay
Lafz mere honey ki gawahi dengay
(The author has extensively reported for The Rising Kashmir and Kashmir Life and is currently affiliated with Kashmir Reader.)