In my official position as Director Information at times Shujaat would at times get annoyed with me. My standard response would be, bayaa zimdari chekh dichmech, kareh kyah. (brother, this is thankless job, what can I do?) The rate at which I am losing friends, I may end up with none in few months, I hope I am out sooner than later. That would calm him down, and leave me smiling. In second week of June days before his death, he had been invited to Lisbon for a high profile conference of World Editors.
And in the mean time I was transferred to Archives department. Once back to Kashmir, he called to say “Mubarakh” ( congratulations). And we were back to old good days. Two days later we met at Shireen Qalam exhibition of Culture Department on 9th of June. I made an unusual request, for a group photograph with other friends . And that is the last image of him imprinted in my mind for ever. And probably one reason I didn’t want to see his face post death.
Usually it is Khurshid ul Islam the pivot in our friend circle who is first to inform about any untoward incident. I was busy with some personal work for few hours, and our of touch with friends. Post evening prayers, I opened fb to find one line on someone’s timeline “RIP Shujaat.” I was numb. This time Khurshid didn’t pick up phone. All the close friends had left for Kreeri, Through out night I just kept pestering Peerzada Aashiq, who was in Kreeri, hoping against hope, but didn’t have courage to go to Kreeri.
I don’t know when and where we met, but first time I probably heard his name in 1991 when Manzoor ul Haq and Masood Hussain had come to Delhi to get their relaunched weekly newspaper Takbeer e Nov printed. Besides others columnists there was also the name of Shujaat. In fact I had met once or twice Basharat Sahab elder brother of Shujaat in Sarai Julena at Delhi. But probably we met in the office of Kashmir Times for the first time, where all my other friends including Zahoor Malik worked.
Of and on whensoever I was in Kashmir I would end up being in their office , I knew almost everyone there. As and when anyone from the KT news room needed to contact anyone, there was no need to look up to telephone directory, Shujaat remembered all phone numbers. Within two years of joining the Kashmir Times, Shujaat knew almost everyone who mattered for a newsman in the State.
Years later he joined The Hindu as their correspondent for J&K. From well established contacts in the State Shujaat not only built a strong network across country, but lifelong friends too. I too joined State service around same time. I deliberately kept myself away from all my friends in media. And that meant less interaction with all including Shujaat. But nevertheless, friendship and trust continued as before.
Seemin, my better half had applied for post of lecturer in REC in January 2000. I had heard that these posts had been advertised many a times in last five years but no interviews had been held. But it was quite a surprise when on 10th Feb 2000, telegram was sent to her address at Muzaffarpur that her interview is scheduled for 14th February at Jammu University Guest House. She boarded a direct train from Muzaffarpur for Jammu.
Train was supposed to reach on 12th at one PM. I had planned to leave by road from Srinagar on 11th to be there in Jammu to receive her. As luck would have it, it started snowing on 10th, air as well as road traffic got severely hampered. She never had been to Jammu. Although I had spent seven years of my life in Jammu and had so many friends there, but the only person to come to my mind to receive her was Shujaat. Train was late by around five hours. There were no online systems to confirm the exact time of delay. You had to physically visit railway station to confirm the arrival of train. Approximate time was off the mark by hours together. Shujaat had to remain stationed at Railway station to ensure that Seemin doesn’t feel at loss. Now how do you recognize the person you haven’t seen. Shujaat and Sheikh Zahoor waited for everyone to leave the platform. Next day I too joined them. Seemin prepared bread roll as snack, a friend from Jammu came to see Shujaat. He was offered snacks, I do not take eggs he said politely. But it is not egg, and for years we would laugh at this incident of bread roll passing off as egg. She appeared in interview and joined REC now NIT. Love for Urdu was common between Shujaat’s family and Seemin.
Shujaat was in Delhi, Vajpayee’s government had to step down because of shortfall of one vote in Lok Sabha. Let’s meet the man who was making it to headlines across the country. Discussions centered around what next, there were too many suitors for this MP from Kashmir. I was of the opinion of joining either of the three mostly regional parties of Hindi heartland. Shujaat had better argument, do they have future in Kashmir. And rest is history.
In last three years I have of and on been in Information department and as such interaction with Shujaat as Editor and me as representative of Government was more official. I got chance to talk to many of the journalists across country, and I won’t be off the mark if I say almost everyone knew Shujaat personally. Some months back I was in Delhi Press Club, a very senior, well travelled female journalist was quite offended with Shujaat’s articles, tweets and his stand at seminars, there were other senior journalists too. I was amused to see that other colleagues strongly came out in defence of Shujaat. In a discussion of an hour or so, more than Kashmir politics, it was Shujaat who was discussed. And that speaks about his aura.
Once Shujaat had been laid to rest I saw his two friends from Delhi distraught and numb, Siddarth Vardarajan and iftikhar Gilani, images of Shujaat’s marriage function of year 2000 came rushing to my mind. Most of his friends from The Hindu were there to attend the function. Years were squeezed into moments, it seemed as if all this happened in a jiffy. But in this short period Shujaat had made a huge impact and lots of friends across globe and ruffled few feathers too.
Shujaat’s marriage was a grand function spread over three days in Jawahar Nagar. One day was exclusively for relatives mostly from Kreeri and Madar( Bandipora). Usually the job of maintaining the register of monetary gifts from relatives to groom would be given to our friend Sarshaar Sahab. He got stuck somewhere and this job was assigned to me. In less than an hour I was looking for escape route, thankfully Sarshar showed up, I just handed over the job to him. Shujaat in his usual style said kyasah revenue woul te govah fail. No dear, I couldnt cope up with two liner names of your relatives. Panun naav te chhue doones kilmoteres ( BTW, your own name too is half a mile long, he quipped ). We had a good laugh.