Minutes before hearing the news he was no more, I was reminiscing about a discussion with my former colleague and good friend, Murtaza Razvi.
We were meeting for the first time when I joined Dawn some six, seven years ago. Anyone who knew him would agree that it was very difficult not to like him instantly. We got talking, laughing. A bond was formed.
I shared an anecdote about my move back to Pakistan. An acquaintance was intrigued by my decision to leave a good, stable job in London to return to an uncertain state of affairs at home. He wasn’t happy with my honest answer: I had been offered the best journalism job in the world by my reckoning.
Although irritated, I didn’t wish to offend him so played along till he thought he got it: “Oh, so you have a 10-year-old daughter. Now I know why you wish to return. Why didn’t you say so?” the wise man commented, in a tone one had heard among some in the expat community before.
“Not quite actually,” I responded stopping him dead in his tracks. “I am going now but hope to be back by the time she is 14-15 because I want her to have the freedoms that our hypocrites deny more than a half of our population in one name or the other — tradition, values, religion.”
Murtaza’s expression changed. Where he was smiling, laughing, he was suddenly serious, very serious: “I have three daughters, Abbas. I have neither the option to go abroad nor do I seek it. I’ll stay and fight these bigots. I have the same dream for my daughters as you have for yours. All of us can’t leave.”
Somehow the exceedingly polite assistant editor, who was till then in agreement with most of what the new editor was saying, had seen red. Frankly, I have seldom been so embarrassed, actually ashamed, of myself. And I told him so. My respect for him grew and so did our friendship.
A TV show made me think of him. The discussion on the domestic violence bill was predictably heated among those calling for equality and protection to women on one side and those who believe male ascendancy somehow enjoys divine sanction on the other. Mufti Naeemi, a leading cleric belonging to an influential religious institution in the country, who was one of the panelists, accused the women participants of trying to roll out what he called the US agenda and came up with this gem.
“Your NGOs are always advocating the cause of the downtrodden women. I’d advise your husband to take a second wife from among one of those poor women, so you can show her how great a life she can have and lift her out of her misery.”
All the three men on the show started to laugh. The women appeared dumbfounded at the ‘joke’ but soon regained their composure to fight back. As I watched this spectacle, emptiness, despair started to fill me.
Kudos to the fighters who battle such biases, such attitudes, with so much verve in a land filled with so much intolerance. I thought of Murtaza and his resolute words from our first meeting so many years ago. And who wouldn’t smile when thinking of that lovely man.
My Blackberry pinged and brought me back to reality and a devastating reality it was. A Tweet was waiting for me. In just a few of the 140 characters, a friend, Amir Raz, was breaking the heart-breaking news that my colleague Murtaza was no more.
And what a colleague he was. Over the four and a half years we worked together, he never said no to work no matter how daunting the task. When as editor of magazines, he was asked to collapse several magazines into one, purely for reasons of viability, he was vocal in his opposition.
And though the eventual decision went against his view, he was a committed professional in implementing it, inspiring his team to give its best. Till the change bedded down, a lot of flak came his way and he took it on the chin rather philosophically. “Hard times mean tough decisions. We are all professionals and need to get on with it.” Never once did anyone hear him suggest it may not have been his own decision. This was again an example of why a polite, pleasant demeanour should never be mistaken for weakness.
Each of his readers would know of his single-minded pursuit of justice in our blighted land. He was tireless as he was fearless whether he was advocating women’s right to equality or lamenting how shabbily we treat our minorities or lambasting the evils of extremism or just simply listing the virtues of representative rule.
Yes, he was a gutsy journalist, a loved leader, a prolific author, a writer committed to peace, a keen editor, a wonderful human being, a generous friend, an accomplished chef, a really fun guy but most of all he was a passionate man. It was this passion that marked his life work.
Away from the public persona he was a deeply passionate family man too. He celebrated his writer-wife’s successes like few men would. It was impossible not to see they were equal partners in life who shared so much. When he talked of her, he talked as one would about one’s best friend.
If one merely heard him talk about his daughters, it wouldn’t be difficult to see the extraordinarily doting father he was. For one filled with so much love for the world, would it be surprising that he loved his wife and daughters almost insanely, that they were the centre of his universe?
We had the privilege of seeing Murtaza with his wife and their three daughters in their own home and of sharing laughter with them. He exchanged messages with my wife when she lost her father and Murtaza his father-in-law recently.
“Sincere thanks for your sentiments. Yes, we’ve been there and seen it, you and I, almost together. But we live savouring the glory our children bring us by doing well (Alia does you proud with her achievements and so will Elena), as do us our Maya, Priya & Dina. Thank you.”
Shahrezad and the girls will have to dig deep, so deep.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn | firstname.lastname@example.org