Thursday, June 20, 2013

Good Times

By Naseer A Ganai

On a rainy winter evening, perhaps in 2005, Rashid Shahid was at his desk in Greater Kashmir newsroom. It was a tense evening. Shahid Sahib was angry. He was talking loudly to an official from Forest Department, who was on the other side of telephone line. “Just tell me, where have the horses and smugglers gone if you have seized smuggled timber, which, according to you, smugglers were carrying on horses?”

Somewhere in Bandipora jungles, the Forest Department had seized timber. In its press release the department had proudly talked about seizing timber, which smugglers were carrying on horses. But there was no mention of horses and smugglers.

Rashid Sahib was aghast over the audacity of forest department. He said the department has let off smugglers and their horses and seized some timber and now they want this news - that they have seized timber -- published in Greater Kashmir.  It was unacceptable to Rashid Shahid. Almost for an hour Shahid Sahib grilled the officials.  “Where have the horses gone?” The forest officials were speechless.  And the sentence: “where have the horses gone” echoed in Greater Kashmir newsroom for quite some time.

Nothing would miss his watchful eyes. His day would begin in the evening. It would not even end at midnight. In his sixties, he was the man among a lot of tired and sleepy young reporters.
Once you cross 60, you prefer the calm environs of your home; you frequently visit doctors, you regularly check your blood pressure, you don't take sugar, and you avoid salt tea. He had no such issues. If there was not enough sugar in his tea, he would not take it. If there was no salt in salt tea, he would say, pour more salt, more.
I have never seen anyone enjoying journalism as Rashid Shahid did. He was a journalist 24/7. He would call you, give you directions on how to go about a story, and then he would call you again and give you further directions. Then he would call you once more and give you more directions. He was with you all the time showing the way.

In the evening, when he would edit your story, he would again pull you up for missing the dots. But next day, when you would see your story, you would love to read and reread it.

His entry would transform the newsroom. Lazy reporters like me would instantly realise that leisure time is over.  He would call all reporters one by one to his desk and seek information about their stories. And then point out loopholes and ask them to correct it. Some of us would enjoy to sit with him only when he was editing story of some other reporter.

You also come to know a person when you  work with him. You also come to know about his tastes. If I wanted to do nothing for a day, I simply had to praise Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in presence of Rashid Shahid. This was a sacrilege to Shahid Sahib. Shahid Sahib had an opinion about Sheikh -- he held him responsible for all miseries of Kashmiris. He was argumentative and believed in his argument only. I knew it. He would do everything to correct my perception but he never knew that I was just killing time.

Shahid Sahib was indeed a perfectionist. Every story was earth-shaking story for him. He would not miss even a comma, and he was particular about semicolon in the stories he mercilessly edited. He would never take half-baked stories and many a time would call you in the middle of the night and ask you to seek a quote from an official if it was not there in your story. He would not take this for a quote: “The official was not available for a comment.”
Official has to be available and he has to be on record. Lazy journalism, like writing, 'when contacted official was not available for comment,' was unacceptable to Shahid Sahib. “Hata ba’ba kous official chu nae available.” “Trace him and find him. It is part of our job,” he would say. .

He was young at heart. He had an amazing sense of humour. Once he pointed toward an article about human rights violation.  Shahid Sahib described the article as a biggest violation of human rights. He said it has killed grammar so mercilessly that it deserved to be hung on the wall and shot at.

Shahid Sahib had great faith in his reporters. He would describe them as backbone of a news organisation. “It is the reporters who run the paper. You should know it. If a reporter is not a repository of information, and if he doesn’t know what is going on in political circles, then there is no need to become a reporter. You should sell sausages somewhere,” he would say. And we couldn't help but agree with him.

In the newsroom he was harsh to reporters because he wanted perfection, but he would always defend his reporter. Once I filed a story about a scam in the Irrigation Department. The then Chief Engineer called Shahid Sahib throughout the day, saying the reporter has not taken his version.  I pleaded that I need not to as I had the document, the proof. Shahid Sahib insisted that I should show documents to him. And once he saw the documents, he called the Chief Engineer and gave him his piece of mind that would have taken peace from anyone’s mind.

When I heard about his illness, I called him. One by one he mentioned names of all those people, who were my colleagues and had worked under him. He said tell them to forgive him if he was harsh to them. “I was harsh at times Naseer.  I was harsh. Just convey them that they should forgive me,” he said.

I consoled him and said all will be well, that nothing will happen to him. And I did believe that nothing will happen to Shahid Sahib. That he will not die. Sometimes you feel that some people will not die. You feel some people should not die. Shahid Sahib was one among them. I was so sure about his recovery. But then death keeps no calendar.
Good bye Shahid Sahib. We have no complaints. We have only memories of the good times spent with you.
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