A tribute, drafted 16 years ago after the demise of an eminent journalist, remained unpublished somehow but has been found this week after the anniversary of his departure from the world here. To a new generation today, he might be considered a persona of the bygone era, which also defined Bangladesh’s contemporary journalism and political history. This is a slightly revised piece on the founding Editor of weekly Holiday and daily New Age.
The name Abu Zafar Mohammad (AZM) Enayetullah Khan carried so much of weight that even celebrities from different professions would show adoration and respect while speaking of or in front of him. Yet he was a favourite Mintu bhai in his circle and also to people lesser-known to him.
His God-gifted appearance, spellbinding manner of speaking, gesture and posture of bourgeois sophistication, unorthodox dress-up, and his own deliberate choice of informality made him different from others. A serene personality with an indomitable spirit, a legend in the Bangladesh intelligentsia, and an icon of journalism, Enayetullah Khan dominated his times of four decades and some people had reasons to be amazed by his flamboyant lifestyle. He did not also hesitate in inviting controversies through his writings and choices and had the courage to make enemies through professional pursuits.
I was lucky that this man of brilliant mind had loved me a lot and trusted me while assigning me to write on major issues and events and prominent personalities when I was a reporter at New Age. He kindly compelled me to remain seated and type when he restlessly kept himself on feet while editing my stories verbally. He had set a precedent of showing big character and open heart with exceptional height in editorship, and wisdom mixed with in-built humility. Despite all positive aspects of him and his achievements, he seemed to be an incomplete journalist, an embodiment of the turbulent 20th century.
When we came to know about his death on the morning of November 10, 2005, it was not any surprise. My colleague Asjadul Kibria called me over the telephone and said there’s a piece of bad news. I replied, "Has Mintu bhai passed away?"
Whether he was alive or dead might be immaterial when he had conquered many hearts of his generation! It still mattered to us at that time. New Age was a new newspaper of two years of age. The moment he died, he was 66; had he lived longer, the ‘old’ Editor would have had little to gain for himself, but a lot more for others. Senior journalist Mahmuda Chowdhury earlier prayed that May Allah keep Khan Saheb alive for at least 10 years so that he could contribute to journalism and the nation.
I was heart-broken when the Editor flew to Toronto, Canada, and senior journalist Amir Khosru told me that it was his "last journey". I could not accept the assumption that Khan Saheb, still a party boy who possessed all euphoria in formulating an idea with adequate, palpable logic, would die so early. It was the time when we were learning journalism every day and benefiting from his presence in the office.
I had been familiar with his weekly Holiday while studying International Relations at Dhaka University. In those days we had a shortage of updated and in-depth texts and analyses of global affairs, and Holiday was the local source for us. I first saw him at Dhaka University's Teachers and Students Centre (TSC) at a seminar on the 1990 gulf crisis arising out of Saddam Hussain's invasion of Kuwait.
General Ershad, the then ruler, had sent Bangladeshi troops to Saudi Arabia in support of the US-led coalition and Mr Enayetullah Khan had called for the withdrawal of troops in view of the risk of crossfire in the deserts. It was conspicuous that someone who had served as Bangladesh's ambassador during that regime was speaking against a bureaucratically motivated decision to send our troops to a war zone. It was so because Enayetullah Khan used to say what he believed.
Then a young reporter of The Bangladesh Observer, I went to cover a donor-sponsored policy meeting with senior citizens where I had the opportunity of interacting with him and discovered that he was easy-going. As I later joined New Age, many newspaper and television reporters attending Dhaka’s adda and discussions on a number of occasions requested me to request Mintu bhai to share his firsthand experience, and he never said no to them.
It was a time when many intellectuals had been asserting the role of Bangladesh's civil society, and he boldly said, "I don't want to be part of that kind of a civil society which acts on partisan lines and is full of otherwise motivated people." Only a few of his era could articulate their ideas the way he did.
He was highly opinionated at Holiday but promoted ‘news as it is’ at New Age. During an in-house mentoring speech, he once candidly said, "I don't believe in neutrality. We shall uphold the truth and remain professional in news items, but in editorials we will definitely take position – a position that goes in favour of the righteous cause, against all evils." This is how Mintu bhai philosophised on journalism, a profession which he described, quoting Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as 'The best profession in the world'.
He advised us to "read more and more texts and fall in love with reading and writing." Always fresh with newer ideas, he believed in empiricism rather than going by hardcore theories even though he himself was the representative of the generation of ideologues. To younger colleagues, he was an inspiration to stay in the profession.
A promising journalist can’t but follow in the footsteps of the likes of Enayetullah Khan, to transcend the height of professional standards set so far in this country. He did memorable things ranging from writing strongly worded editorials to doing progressive politics, from investigating political excesses to becoming a minister.
Mr Nurul Kabir, then Executive Editor of New Age and its current Editor, once said to me, "Look! This man, Enayetullah Khan, does whatever he likes in his life. His is a life to be jealous of and I have not come across anyone else like him." I nodded, but asked, "Don’t you think it would have been a different Enayetullah Khan, had he sacrificed many of his sweet wills?" Kabir bhai nodded back.
I wished Enayetullah Khan had more fundamental, journalistic and literary works so that his ideas and creativity could be passed on to the upcoming generations. A living legend could have been introduced easily to the enlightened people of the future. That was where I see him as incomplete and it is so when we compare one’s ability and potential with what came out of the man. His brilliance was reflected in his restlessness in living and moving. In his post-funeral prayers, former Chief Justice Mostafa Kamal called him ‘a restless soil dedicated to journalism’.
I could not finish a self-assigned task. I planned to take Mintu bhai’s interview – probably the last one – should he return home alive from Toronto. I could have asked him questions on life, their upbringing, dreams, aspirations and realisations, social changes and revolutions, political correctness and mistakes, historical characters, participation in movements, building and progress of the nation, cultural transition, democracy, growth of individuals and so on. When I realised that it was hardly likely that he would come back and I also found that he had still been writing from his sickbed, I requested an editorial section colleague to help make an arrangement for the interview with him through email. But I was informed that he had by that time stopped writing for the newspaper and had been taken to hospital again. The message was clear, but there was still a pious hope that the last interview of a great Editor and bridge of a transitional generation in Bangladesh could be possible.
At last came the inevitable – he left us forever. Those who knew him wouldn’t forget him as long as they would be alive not just because he was a great journalist but also because he had shown warmth of his heart every now and then. The New Age editorial, written on that day by our senior colleague Syed Badrul Ahsan, titled "Enayetullah Khan, as he was and will be," said that he "made sure that his voice was heard".
Shouldn’t we be loud and clear about what we as professionals tell people? I think, by not doing many things he could have done, Mintu bhai perhaps left those for us to complete and carry forward, as the nature of human civilization is.