One of Izhar Wani’s earlier mentors, Sheikh Qayoom, a veteran journalist himself remembers the ‘gentleman of the tribe’ as someone who managed a smile even in circumstances where it was impossible.
When, my colleague at IANS asked me why I had kept Izhar’s illness a secret from him, I just did not know how to explain the situation. How does one detail the illness of a dear younger brother to a colleague in Delhi? How could I have told a colleague that somebody I looked upon as a younger brother and even a son, was silently marching towards his end and that all of us were living in a state of self-denial?
How could I tell him that Izhar Wani was terminally sick? I never believed he was, till his very end.
I have known Izhar’s father as a gentleman when I was doing my post-graduation in Kashmir University. The father was humble, wise, down to earth and yet helpful when you went to him in the department.
Izhar was introduced to me in early 1990. I remember he came to meet me in Yusuf Jameel’s office which was the hub of journalistic activity in the city after all non-Muslim journalists had left the Valley. A soft-spoken friend like Yusuf Jameel stood to loss when compared to the ‘young man’ who was introduced to me there that day in his office.
He had read a feature I had written and as a student of journalism, he thought the feature was good. We became friends as I started discovering great qualities in this young man, the greatest of these being you could depend on him for his love and respect for seniors. Izhar Wani has never bated an eyelid even when I sometimes jokingly told him he had still a long way to go and learn. He would disarm you with his smile. I have seen him smile even in circumstances where it was impossible.
His respect for seniors, the ever-smiling and mesmerizing personality is something nobody would forget even if the interaction had been short-lived. For somebody like me who saw him bud, grow and groom as a matured reporter of events, as a dispassionate analyst of situations, Izhar comes to life each time I close my eyes. Perhaps this will continue for many years or till we meet in the other World.
I remember the evening when all of us gathered to work for the first copy of ‘Greater Kashmir’. Izhar was there with us and he painstakingly worked as a reporter, pages editor, sub-editor, copy taster and even somebody who reminded the kitchen that tea was taking too long to come.
Exhausted in the morning, we tried to catch up some sleep till the first copy arrived at the GK office from the press.
All of us had worked hard to ensure that the first copy of the newspaper, the first English daily of Kashmir to prove that Kashmiris can print and read good daily English newspapers, was impact making. Thus all of us were waiting with bated breath till the first copy arrived.
I must have been the first to get and read it that day. I was amazed to discover that somebody after we have left the pasting table (that is where the final layout was decided those days) had pasted a willow basket carrying a newborn with the caption “Good Morning–Greater Kashmir”. I was rather disturbed why such a ‘childish thing’ had been done when we wanted the copy to be serious and impacting? Out stepped IzharWani and told me he had done it. He smiled like a child with all his innocence. I hugged him for I must have said some hard words about somebody doing the mischief after the pasting table had formally been closed. I kissed his forehead and took him out with other two friends to a hotel for tea to make amends for my uncalled for anger.
I was pleasantly surprised when we received the feedback on the first copy. School children and even college students had liked ‘Izhar Wani’s basket”, the baby had really been finally born.
Some months back I was at the clinic of a renowned ENT specialist in the city when Izhar came there with his wife and two daughters.
“Sir, I am completely cured. I caught a cold yesterday. I just wanted to ask the doc whether I could avoid taking any antibiotics”, he chirped like a child. I saw him beaming with life. He had already been to the Tata Institute in Mumbai and had undergone a protracted period of treatment there.
He came to see me off after the doctor’s appointment. His turn had yet not come. I wanted to wait till the doctor saw him, but I did not want to make anything look unusual. After all, here was a patient with bad cold. He did not need any attendants. I assured myself that Izhar Wani had finally been cured.
Some friends would tell me he had been stricken with colon cancer. I would express surprise telling them I did not know what his ailment had been. I could not accept somebody I loved as a son to have been stricken with a consuming disease like cancer.
I kept a short distance away when Izhar’s funeral prayers were being said. How do you attend the funeral of somebody you treated as a son?
Izhar’s biological father was in fact organizing his son’s funeral assembly. Izhar’s father must be a great believer. He is a better Muslim than most of us. I salute his fortitude to bear the loss. Perhaps Izhar’s friends in the fraternity are not so strong. We have been crushed by his loss.
I would have to write all this to explain to MR Narayan Swamy why I kept Izhar’s illness a secret from him. That is why I kept his illness a secret from friends in Delhi.