“This is the editor logging out…”

Published January 24, 2014
Taken from the casual photo archives of Dawn.com, Musadiq Sanwal is in of his favourite poses; arm on his back, at ease, and either posing a question or listening to the other. The other in this case not visible was me going on and on about something as he patiently listens to what I have to say.
Taken from the casual photo archives of Dawn.com, Musadiq Sanwal is in of his favourite poses; arm on his back, at ease, and either posing a question or listening to the other. The other in this case not visible was me going on and on about something as he patiently listens to what I have to say.

“I do many, many things. I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but, above all, I am a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.” Musadiq did not say this. Neither did he ever claim to be a man from any one of those professions. However, back in September of 2009 when I first came to Musadiq Sanwal for an interview to be employed at Dawn.com – after he heard everything I had to say, including why I came to him and what I wanted from him, he went on to describe himself, the multi-faceted man he was, and indirectly, a moustached Musadiq said what a moustached Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd said (quoted above).

He took me under his wing knowing me to be a hopelessly inquisitive man, seeking answers on a quest to try out novel things each time as monotony led me astray from a path upwards. Soon enough, I discovered that my relationship with Musadiq was not going to be a normal one and that he would have a profound influence on shaping my personality.

Not at all new to the communications industry but definitely new in particular to journalism – along with pursuing my graduate degree in Mass Communications from a local university, my depth of knowledge and skill through the introduction of new media journalism by becoming an apprentice of Musadiq Sanwal became limitless. He seemed to take particular interest in moulding my talent and curiosity with conventional multimedia and applying it to the digital world. I could call him a visionary as he argued against all odds contradicting everything anyone in the field of journalism had to say about the digital platform as he was. One of his main goals for any young aspirant whose ambitions were not too late to change was to open his or her eyes to the future and methodology of providing any form of information to the masses.

One peek into his room in the office would tell you what kind of a life he led and what this hopelessly inquisitive man was about; whether it was his love for art, photography, the Urdu language, poetry, music, theatre, literature, film, design, philosophy, politics, history, technology, and of course, journalism itself. And it did not stop there. One would think, this sort of a man wouldn’t have a single moment for personal matters, but he brought up a loving family.

He was about originality rather than reproduction. I clearly remember just a few months into my regular duties of news production at Dawn.com, which meant taking in vast amounts of information and selecting what’s best for the website, he came up to me and said: “I think you’ve learnt enough, it’s time to move on to specialisation and creative productivity. Come let’s talk about what you and I want to do next.” He never liked stagnancy and wasting time, whether his own or of anyone under him.

On one of my first few assignments, I didn’t have access to a camera (a DSLR as they call it), and of course he had one at his house. Without any hesitation, he said I could come and pick it up and take it wherever I wanted to, provided I made productive use of it. It just so happened that for the first time I got a glimpse of his then home-based music studio too, as I went to borrow the camera.

As I explored the city with photo and video cameras in hand, and with the final products running on Dawn.com, he made sure he went through my work each time either before or after it was published to guide me for the next one. I also had a tendency of asking the whys, or at times even arguing how what I wanted to prove was right. This was actually one of the highlights of our relationship – healthy positive and negative talk; it was because of this that each understood the other more.

I also had the honour of being an audience to Musadiq’s mesmerising vocals and instrumental talent on the tabla and harmonium for the first time when a senior colleague and I were invited by him for an evening at Khaled Ahmed’s house, who too had a passion for music and who had known Musadiq for long. I will never forget that evening. It was then that I saw Musadiq sitting on the floor with the others, including the late Murtaza Razvi – a senior journalist at Dawn and one of Musadiq’s closest friends – and doing the honours for our ears. It was as if this ensemble had forgotten there was anything else in the world to think or worry about and it was just them and the music. Of course, from that day onwards I went to enjoy his company and music at his studio or home every time I felt the need to forget everything and be a part of his world.

His excitement for multimedia gifts to the people who cherish Dawn.com all over the world led him to create a studio within our office where we both produced project upon project with the help of the rest of the multimedia and editorial team. He missed the days when the organisation began several years ago and produced countless specials such as audio-visual slideshows, web documentaries and even audio story telling. When he showed me all that he had produced as an editor with his team, I undertook the task of spending as much time as possible within this newly built office space and made it my second home. Although we had many arguments and disagreements on how work should be produced, I never said no to anything coming from him as I just had to try out his idea at least once each time to see what I had learnt from that experience and what conclusion we both came upon once an idea had evolved.

At times when he saw I was beginning to lax again, he would ask me what I wanted to do now and next, keeping me motivated on the path upwards. Whether it was journalism, music, theatre and film production, he always kept me involved.

Two years later, I left for nearly a year on a different search. This happened despite him not wanting to let me go and for some reason I felt the same way even after I had made my decision. Although I had left to embark on something permanent, surely each day I missed the father and family of Dawn.com. I returned in less than a year with Musadiq saying to me, “The people here including me love you too much for who you are. Welcome back!”

Like always, this time too I had a plan on paper, something was different though. By now, I had learnt the ways of management, strategy, planning and business for not only Dawn.com but also other ventures. So I animatedly impressed him with my gusto as I wanted to apply my knowledge.

Since the December of 2012, him and I were sort of bound together but all the work we used to do together was unfortunately disturbed again when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and couldn’t be as regular and steadfast as he had wanted. He had plans and dreams, a number of them huge. Since recent months we had both been trying to have serious conversations about trying to improve a number of things on the website but it was as if a higher force had a plan of its own.

I lost a dear cousin who died of a heart attack throwing me into a state of absolute absence of mind for a long time. I stayed away from Musadiq but visited him in between and said, “Boss, I am really confused and have no idea what any of this means. But most of all I am really worried about you. Like my cousin, you have a wife and young kids too and many others whom you don’t want to leave behind.” He took time out from his busy day and spoke to me like a father, explaining to me many, many things including how best he thought I could deal with it. And then he pulled off yet another Musadiq Sanwal on me by saying, “Hasaan, I’m more worried about you than I am about myself or any other thing. Take as much time as you want on your own and whenever you return you will pick me up in the morning everyday, we ride together, work in office together and then drop me back home too. Like this, for as long as possible, you will know everything I know and I will know everything you know.”

This never happened. Maybe because it just wasn’t supposed to work out in that way as well as it would have been harder for me to let go of this loss. When I did return, he had grown tired and was ill frequently and although he tried his best not to show it but I could foresee the worst while praying and hoping for the best. Again, a few times we tried to meet up but it didn’t happen, most recently being some time just before his last surgery for the removal of his tumour.

A day before his last day in the Dawn.com office space, he came up to me and asked, “Since you are the trouble shooter, what all do you want to prioritise and discuss?” I replied with a smile, “10,000 things Musadiq! Good luck for tomorrow, forget the 10,000, we’ll talk about them when you get back.”

When I lost my cousin, Musadiq told me, “Don’t stop talking to him.”

So Musadiq, I want to ask you for one final request, to be you at least for a moment, for the audience of Dawn.com, and mostly in the words of Edward R. Murrow, give this one final message to them by applying it to the world wide web:

"To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. This is the editor logging out … Good night and good luck!”

Hasaan Haider is an apprentice of Musadiq Sanwal’s Dawn.com’s school of thought.

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