All under heaven will return to the Tao
As brooks and streams flow home to the sea.
Returning is the route of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
Ten thousand things are born of Being, and Being is born of Non-being.
- Laozi, in Tao Te Ching (6th Century BC, in China)
I first learnt about him from my maternal grandfather (Nana) - the award-winning headmaster of Feni Pilot High-school Late Jalal Uddin Ahmed. My Nana used to say that among his illustrious students of 1962 matriculation batch, who included two former vice-chancellors of Dhaka University as well as the chief of forces intelligence, the Observer journalist Moazzem Hossain was the brightest. As we used to keep Bangladesh Observer at home, I was quite familiar with his crisp and lucid reporting on the economy and business sector of the country. I however saw him first in the room of the PRO to Minister for Industries in 1992, when he went there to gather some information while working in The Telegraph after leaving the Daily Star. But I did not have the opportunity to get introduced as he was in a hurry. Two more decades elapsed before I got introduced to him for the first time in 2012. In between, he was alive on my radar, mostly as a reviewer of daily newspapers for BBC Bangla Service as well as a discussant in TV and radio programmes.
My first face-to-face encounter with him was in mid-2012, when I went to his Financial Express office to submit an article for publication. He welcomed me very warmly on learning about my kinship with his late revered headmaster and requested me to continue writing for the FE. I readily agreed and from there started my six-year stint with the FE, first as a contributor and then as an editorial consultant.
I started calling him Mama from day-one, as he was a schoolmate of my maternal uncles (Mamas). He reciprocated by calling me the same. He appeared to me to be very simple and unassuming, but quite forthright and receptive in words and deeds. The small room of the editor and the ordinary wooden furniture it contained only pointed to a modest personality who was more concerned about work instead of mere glamour and glitz. The receptiveness of his character was evident when I told him that the contributors could be remunerated through electronic transfers or by depositing cheques in their bank accounts by the FE. To my surprise, I found in the following month that my remuneration was paid directly to my account by FE; and this became the norm for all contributors since then.
During my occasional encounters with him at his office between 2012 and 2016, he often evinced keen interest about recruiting me at the FE in an editorial role after my retirement. He used to say that the contracts with the FE journalists were flexible, which allowed them to engage in other pursuits beyond their short working hours. His proposition seemed attractive to me, as despite being a government servant I worked in mostly writing jobs during my civil service career including as an editor of the official magazine 'Bangladesh Quarterly'. I therefore informed him about my status in June 2017 while undergoing post-retirement leave (PRL) after retiring voluntarily in August 2016. His health was in a frail state at that juncture after being bedridden with Chikungunia for almost two weeks. I could also see that age was catching up with him. I again met him a few months later. This time, he appeared non-committal, but asked me to write at least four pieces per month for the FE. I tried to oblige after the processing of my pension papers was over, and the contributions continued for another seven months. Meanwhile, my freelancing jobs were bringing me good returns, and my interest about joining the FE was waning.
But suddenly in April this year, an appointment was set with the FE editor through the initiative of our contributing editor Harun bhai. The agenda was exchanging views on writing post-editorials. But I was taken aback when the editor offered me the job of an editorial consultant at the FE, requested me to take up the assignment within four days, and took me to his meeting room to finalise the terms and conditions. I then recalled that Mr. Rahman Jahangir of the editorial section had just expired and his vacancy was apparently not filled up. I consented to the proposal of the editor but requested him to allow me at least two months for disposing of my tasks in the pipeline before joining. But his insistence was such and his words were so affectionate that I could not turn down his request.
While at the FE, I got the opportunity to directly work with him for around two months, until he was hospitalised. He seemed quite open to all kinds of suggestions, but was rigorous and meticulous in his editing work. One thing that I learnt from him was how to write editorials, and this will remain his enduring legacy for me. He also appeared to be very flexible and liberal with his colleagues. For example, if he could not accept any editorial drafted by me, he would tell me to convert it into a post-editorial so that no labour was lost. He also used to speak about the need to groom successors for the editorial team of the FE, as he was already 72 years plus and others serving were also around seventy.
We two used to arrive in office at almost the same time at around 11 am in the morning. Consequently, I sometimes had the opportunity to exchange greetings with him in the lift, when his behaviour was very warm and cordial. One day he did not notice me, and I was surprised while climbing down the stairs behind him that he was avidly browsing the pages of FE on his smart-phone. He was doing this without looking around, which seemed risky to me because of his age. I learnt from my colleagues later that he was a workaholic who monitored the work-progress of the newspaper round the clock. He used to send necessary instructions from even his home late at night. His undoing seemed to have been smoking throughout the years, which he continued till falling ill for the last time.
I shall always recall my last encounter with my editor at his office. It was probably June 09 2018, a few days before the Eid-ul-Fitr. I went to his room along with my senior Wasi bhai of the editorial section to decide on the topics for drafting editorials and post-editorials. After some discussions on potential themes, he declared very magnanimously that the writers should have the freedom of choice to decide what they would write. Then we moved our conversation to Wasi bhai's latest illness and his fainting for a few moments. The editor opined that this kind of attack could be fatal for some. I responded by saying that it is preferable to pass away at one go instead of struggling with sickness for years. The editor supported me by saying, "Especially when we are certain to go" (Jetey jakhon habeyi).
That was the last prophetic dialogue I heard from my editor at his office. I visited him twice at the Popular Hospital during the initial stages of his treatment for lung complications, when nothing serious was found from the tests. He informed me that it was his first hospitalisation in life and he was looking forward to returning home soon. He in fact did return home for a few days and even attended office for two consecutive sessions before leaving for Singapore. Although I could not meet him at that juncture, I was feeling confident that he would return amongst us soon after successful check-ups in Singapore.
He came back within a couple of weeks, but by then things turned very serious. He was hospitalised for the last time after landing in Dhaka. And when a journalist friend of mine informed me about his passing away one fine evening, I could not believe my ears. This state of shock continued throughout the weekend. But ultimately we humans come to terms with the evolving reality; everything gradually becomes business as usual as we try to adjust with our life's setbacks. The sun sets only to rise in another morn.
For me, the loss of my editor has left a profound impact. It is as if we were pledge-bound to walk many miles together, but suddenly that journey has been terminated without notice in a one-sided manner. When I walk past my editor's room on the corridor of FE each morning while going to my own room, a tinge of sadness touches my heart. I however pull myself up quickly in order to continue my work. I feel the absence of my editor acutely, because there are not many left behind who would call me 'Mama' with such affection. Adieu Mama, adieu my editor. I will miss you for the rest of my life.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is an editorial consultant of The Financial Express.
Email: [email protected]