Nadeem Qadir: Over the past several months, we have lost some brilliant people who represented us as journalists. The passing away of a friend or a near one is always sad, but it is even sadder when such news is unexpected. The death by road accident of my colleague Zaglul Ahmed Chowdhury was one such death – a man I had met only days before he was suddenly no more.
Over the past several months, we have lost some brilliant people who represented us as journalists. I had the honour of working with these three brilliant people, including Mr Chowdhury, and it was a great experience to know them closely. But Zaglul bhai (Mr Chowhdury) was different.
First, it was Mr Mahbubul Alam, editor of The Independent, who died of old-age complications. When news of his death came, I had flashbacks of the time when he was my boss in the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) news agency.
One day, he called me to say that he liked my copies, and that I had to accompany him to his flooded hometown to write a feature on the situation there. I was delighted, as the compliment had come from someone who had such a firm standing as a journalist.
I agreed and went with him to his village home. The journey was interesting, it was on a hired BIWTA ferry, and we quite enjoyed the journey. We got down on country boats to reach his village home in Munshiganj.
I was escorted around the village on boats and rickshaws, and I had come back with two stories sensing my boss might not be happy with one. The first story was about the floods, and the second one was about how people were coping with it.
It was the returning journey that was interesting. The BIWTA ferry was stuck, as it had settled down in the mud from the flood water moving in and out. We were told that the only chance was to wait for the high tides to come in, so that the boat could be pushed out. I remember my boss Mr Alam sweating, as he was very worried about the whole matter. Anyway, God was on his side, and we started for Dhaka, but the water flow was against us, and thus the journey was slow.
With no mobile phones at that time, he expressed his worry over my mother fretting about me, and also how the BIWTA had lent the ferry for a fixed time. We reached Dhaka’s Sadarghat ferry terminal early in the morning, battling with mosquitoes as we did. As we finally made it to land, he told me how it was “good experience” for a young reporter. Oh, but I truly was both hungry and angry …
After filing the story, Mahbub bhai asked me about my education and my family. He told me that he was honoured to know that I was the son of a valiant freedom fighter.
When I was hosting TV programs in English, he would never say no to me. The last time I met him, he asked me why I wasn’t writing for The Daily Star and Dhaka Courier as much as I used to. He asked me to write for his newspaper The Independent. That never happened, and I am truly sorry to Mahbub bhai for that.
Then I lost my other boss – ABM Musa, the doyen of journalism. He succumbed to old-age complications, and I had gone to see him in the hospital several times. His son would brief me on his condition, and I would pray that he would come out of the hospital soon.
He used to make fun of me because I was an army officer’s son who was running around the city with a pen and notebook, instead of reporting to the Bangladesh Military Academy. “Why do you want to be a journalist?” he asked me one day, and I told him that it was for esteemed professionals like him, and my own passion for writing.
Then came his proposal to send me to the BSS office in Chittagong. I was upset and with my eyes looking elsewhere, I appealed to him: “Musa bhai, I came back from the USA to stay with my mother … if you force me to go, then I will have no other choice but to quit.” My posting never happened.
The only two people who used to address me using the typical, affectionate Bengali word “tui,” were Musa bhai and Zaglul bhai. For Musa Bhai, I was his “bhatija” (nephew), since I was introduced to him by the great freedom fighter Major Rafiqul Islam, Bir Uttam. Since the major was my uncle, so was he. However, that privilege was absent when it came to work.
Now, Zaglul Bhai. Why can we not stop the reckless driving? He was perfectly capable of driving, and he had a car; but he loved to mingle with people and used public transportation often. We were colleagues at BSS when he returned from his stint in New Delhi. Then we became relatives when a relative of mine married into his family. He would always make it a point to tell everyone that I was special to him.
As I grew into the role of a senior reporter, that restriction of not smoking or drinking together was lifted, and we were more like friends, along with Farid Hossain bhai and Hasan Shahriar bhai. He would never miss a party at my place. When my mother passed away, he would always remember her with the respect and love with which she had entertained my big brothers.
We became closer when he became the president of the Overseas Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (OCAB) and I was in my third tenure as the secretary. He backed me up in all my work, and would secretly tell me how happy he was with my work, but when some people objected, he would simply say: “Oh, Nadeem never asked me.”
On professional matters, he would read my reports in BSS, and later on the AFP wire, and would make his opinion very clear. Once, about an analysis on Saarc, Zaglul Bhai, the expert, disagreed with me on some points. It was very enlightening.
The last meeting I had with him was at the wedding reception of the son of our respected Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam, but it was brief. I wish I got a little more time with him that day.
The crowd at his funeral said all there was to say about Zaglul bhai. The political divide was represented – there were diplomats and bureaucrats, almost everyone. He always maintained an interesting balance and it was clearly visible that day, and so was his friendly nature.
He did not deserve to die the way he did, and it’s important we note that. Mishuk Munier, my CEO at ATN News, did not deserve to die like that either. But who cares? Laws are meant to be broken, and if they are enforced, chaos ensues.
To my gurus: May you rest in peace for all eternity, we will surely meet someday as we are but mortal; but some people, like yourselves, are truly immortal.