It has been four years since A.H.M. Moazzem Hossain - editor of The Financial Express and a pioneer of business journalism in Bangladesh - left this earthly abode. But even today, a wall of sadness engulfs me whenever I recall that episode, as there was something personal in this loss apart from its professional ramifications for business journalism in Bangladesh. However, before delving into my personal recollections, I would like to present a short life-sketch of the late editor for the sake of our new generation.
A.H.M Moazzem Hossain was born in Feni town at the end of Second World War in an illustrious Muslim family. After completing his secondary and higher secondary education from Feni Pilot High School and Feni College with distinction, he got admitted to the Economics department of Dhaka University in 1964, where he earned his B.A. (Honours) and M.A. degrees in 1967 and 1968 respectively. He then joined the Habib Bank Limited as an officer in its training and research department at Karachi, and subsequently worked as a research officer for a brief period in the Ministry of Finance of the central government of Pakistan at Islamabad.
Hossain launched his journalistic career in 1971 as a reporter of the then leading English daily Pakistan Observer (later Bangladesh Observer), and this association continued up to late 1980s. He then worked as a Special Correspondent of The New Nation, Economic Editor of the United News of Bangladesh (UNB) and Executive Editor of the Dhaka Courier. In 1991, he joined the newly launched The Daily Star as its Deputy Editor followed by another brief stint at The Telegraph in 1992. Then in 1993, he founded the country's first business daily The Financial Express under the aegis of International Publications Limited (IPL) as its editor. He was the first president of Economic Reporters' Forum (ERF) and also served as the managing director of IPL during his valedictory years.
It was from my maternal grandfather and national award winning headmaster of Feni Pilot High School Late Jalal-ud-Din Ahmad that I first came to know about Hossain. He used to say that among his most illustrious students of 1962 matriculation batch (that included two future vice-chancellors of Dhaka University and a chief of forces intelligence), the journalist Moazzem Hossain was the brightest. I was quite familiar with his crisp and lucid reporting on the economy and business sector of the country as we were subscribers of Bangladesh Observer at our paternal abode. But I had to wait many years before I first saw him face to face in 1992 at the PRO's room of Industries Minister's office in 1992, when he approached the PRO to gather some information on behalf of 'The Telegraph'. But I did not get the opportunity to introduce myself to him then as he was in a hurry. In fact, two more decades elapsed before I finally got introduced to him at his editorial office of The Financial Express in August 2012. In between, he was alive in my radar as a popular reviewer of Bangladeshi newspapers during the morning sessions of BBC Bangla Service, as well as a discussant on economic issues in television and radio programmes of Bangladesh.
Therefore, it was in 2012 that I met him face to face for the first time when I went to his office at Tropicana Tower to submit an article as a follow-up to another published piece sent earlier by email. He welcomed me very warmly on learning about my kinship with his late revered headmaster and asked me to continue writing for The Financial Express (FE) regularly. I readily agreed, and from then on started my decade-long association with the FE, first as an occasional contributor, then as an editorial consultant, columnist and writer of views and reviews.
I called him 'Mama' from day one of our acquaintance, as he was a schoolmate of my maternal uncles. 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 but compact size of the editor's office-room and the ordinary wooden furniture it contained (reminded me of Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus) pointed to his modesty and a personality that was more concerned about work instead of mere glitz and glamour. His receptiveness to new ideas was quite evident when I told him some months later that the contributors could be remunerated through electronic transfers or by depositing cheques in their bank accounts by the FE; and this became the norm after that in case of all contributors.
He used to evince keen interest about recruiting me at the FE in an editorial role after my retirement during the occasional encounters with him at his office between 2012 and 2016. He used to say that the contracts with FE journalists were flexible, which allowed them to engage in other pursuits beyond their rigorous but brief working hours. His proposition appeared attractive to me, as I had mostly served in writing jobs during my civil service career, including as editor of the official journal 'Bangladesh Quarterly' for many years. I therefore went to his office in June 2017 while on post-retirement leave (PRL, after taking early retirement) to inform him about my status. His health was in a frail state at that juncture, as he was bedridden for about two weeks on account of Chikungunya. I could also see that age was catching up with him, although he still persisted with his lifelong habit of smoking cigarettes that ultimately proved to be his undoing. I again met him a few months later. This time he appeared non-committal, but requested me to write at least four pieces per month for the FE. I tried to oblige following the finalisation of my pension payments, and continued sending contributions for another seven months. In the meantime, my freelancing assignments as translator cum editor were bringing me good returns, and my interest about joining the FE soon started to wane.
It was at this juncture in April 2018 that an appointment was set up with the FE editor through the mediation of the then contributing editor and veteran journalist NM Harun. The agenda was to exchange views on writing post-editorials for the FE. But I was taken aback when the editor offered me the job of an editorial consultant, and took me along to his meeting room for finalising the terms and conditions. I then recalled that the veteran journalist Rahman Jahangir of the editorial section had just passed away, and that vacancy was apparently not filled up. I consented to the editor's proposal, but requested him to allow me at least two months for disposing of my assignments in the pipeline before joining. But he insisted on my joining immediately, and ultimately I had to oblige.
After joining the FE, I got the opportunity to work directly under him for about two months, until he was suddenly hospitalised apparently due to lung infection. While at work, he seemed open to all kinds of suggestions, but was rigorous and meticulous in his editorial tasks. One thing that I learned from him was how to write editorials step by step, and this will remain his enduring legacy as far as I am concerned. He also seemed to be very flexible and liberal with his colleagues with regard to write-ups. For example, if he could not accept any editorial drafted by me, he would ask me to convert it into a post-editorial so that no labour was lost. He also used to discuss about the need to groom successors for the editorial team of FE, as he was already 72 years plus, and other team-members were also around seventy. He even asked me to work in all sections of the daily to have an overall grasp, which indicated his long-term plans for me.
Interestingly, we used to arrive in office at almost the same time at around 11 am in the morning. As a result, I sometimes had the opportunity to exchange greetings with him inside the lift, when he sounded very warm and cordial. One day he did not notice me, and I was surprised while climbing down the stairs after emerging from the lift that he was avidly browsing the pages of FE on his smartphone. He was doing this without looking around, which seemed risky to me because of his age. I later learnt from my colleagues that he was a workaholic who monitored the work-in-progress of the daily round the clock. He used to send instructions from even his home late at night. As mentioned earlier, his undoing seemed to have been smoking, which he continued unabated until falling ill for the last time.
I can never forget my last encounter with our editor at his office-room, probably on June 9, 2018, a few days prior to Eid-ul-Fitr. I went to him along with my senior Wasi Ahmed of the editorial section to decide on the topics for upcoming editorials and post-editorials. But after some discussions on potential themes, he declared magnanimously that the writers should have the freedom of choice to decide on what they would write. Our conversation then moved on to Wasi Bhai's latest illness that led to his fainting for a few moments. Our editor opined that this kind of attack could be fatal for some, and so there was need for timely remedies. I responded by saying that it was preferable to pass away at one go instead of hanging on with sickness for years together. The editor supported me by quipping, "Especially when we all are certain to go".
That was the last prophetic utterance that I heard from my editor at his office. I visited him twice at Popular Hospital of Dhanmondi during the initial stages of his treatment for lung complications. During those visits, he warmly greeted me, introduced me to his daughter and son-in-law, informed us that it was his first hospitalisation in life, and said he was looking forward to returning home soon. In fact, he 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 before his departure, I was feeling optimistic and he would return amongst us after successful treatment in Singapore. What I did not know was that he was diagnosed with late stage cancer, and it was already a lost case.
Our editor was back within a couple of weeks, but by then things turned very ominous indeed. 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 (August 01, 2018), I could not believe my ears. That state of shock lasted throughout that weekend. But ultimately, we humans come to terms with the constantly evolving reality; and everything gradually becomes business as usual as we strive to adjust with our setbacks. 'The sun sets only to rise in another morn'.
The loss of my editor left a profound impact on me while at the FE. It was as if we were pledge-bound to walk miles together, but that journey was suddenly terminated without any notice or intimation in a one-sided manner. During my remaining two months at FE, whenever I walked past the editor's room on way to my own room each morning, a tinge of sadness engulfed my entire soul. However, I used to pull myself up quickly in order to press ahead with my work. I still feel the absence of my editor quite acutely, because there are not many left behind who would call me 'Mama' with such affection. Adieu Mama, adieu my editor! I shall miss you for the rest of my life, but God willing, hope to see you again on the other side of the rainbow.
Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed is a former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly, Ex-Editorial Consultant of The Financial Express, and a retired Additional Secretary.