Tribute paid to journalists Idrees Bakhtiar, Anil Datta

July 21, 2019

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FORMER senator and federal minister Javed Jabbar speaks at the reference.
—White Star
FORMER senator and federal minister Javed Jabbar speaks at the reference. —White Star

KARACHI: Friends and fellow journalists paid rich tribute to Idrees Bakhtiar and Anil Datta while sharing fond personal memories of the two senior journalists, who passed away recently, during a condolence reference organised by the Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ), Institute of Business Management (IBA), here on Friday.

“They were not proprietors or owners of any media house nor were they editors or rich or wealthy people but they were good listeners, something which was reflective of their characters,” said former senator and federal minister Javed Jabbar.

Speaking about both the journalists separately, he said that he could feel the quality of true character accompanied by humility and fair-mindedness in Idrees Bakhtiar. For Anil Datta, he said, he gave away a perception of loneliness, a sensitive soul who would give attention to detail. “Together they were the core of what Pakistani journalism is and should be,” he added.

Abrar Bakhtiar, Idrees Sahib’s brother, said that when his parents came to Pakistan from India after Partition they had only one child, Idrees, as they first settled at Pakistan Chowk in Karachi before moving to Hyderabad. “He was only two years old at the time. Then when our father raised his voice against Ayub’s Martial Law, he was arrested. Bhaijaan then took on the responsibility of our home and all of us, his young siblings in his absence. He was a shade-giving tree, who brought us up and who also took care of his own family. He taught us everything, such as how to talk, what to wear and how to carry ourselves in public,” he said.

“He liked books, a hobby which he transferred to all of us. He was liberal and open-minded, sincere and honest. He was also a very punctual man,” Abrar Bakhtiar said.

“We met as colleagues and ended up as friends,” said senior journalist Qaiser Mahmood, who narrated how he was himself just a cub reporter when Idrees Sahib worked with Jasarat. “After a while I thought I should teach myself English in order to be able to contribute to English publications as a freelancer. Idrees Sahib by then was working for Star. When I wrote a report and took it to him, he edited it with care and pretty much rewrote it. But it made the newspaper lead,” he shared.

About Anil Datta, he said he also got the impression that he was lonely. “He would approach you for little things such as a request to check his phone, which seemed like looking for an excuse to talk to someone,” he said.

Journalist and reporter Ziaur Rehman said that he was his colleague [Anil Datta’s] of the past four years at The News and he found him to be polite but distant. “He was also a very hardworking reporter despite his meagre salary. He had great command over English and was very ethical in his work. He would call up people to conform the spelling of their names,” he said. “But he wasn’t too fond of technology. He hated computers. Then someone sent him an android phone, which he was trying to get used to. When he could work it he would think that maybe the CIA had hacked his phone. Our newsroom is a sad place now without him,” he said.

Young Dawn reporter Naeem Sahoutara said that he had the fortune of interaction with both towering figures. “Idrees Sahib trained me in radio journalism. He would also read my stories and provide feedback,” he said.

“Anil Datta was from my community. About him we used to say that he was the right person born in the wrong place. Different events in his life changed him into an introvert.”

Journalist and secretary of the Karachi Press Club (KPC) Arman Sabir said that as Anil Datta spent most of his time at the club; he was approached a couple of days before his passing by the club staff when he first felt unwell there. “We rushed him to NICVD but after running some tests on him there the doctors said that he didn’t have a heart problem before discharging him. But he was in distress again at the club after two days and was rushed to the hospital again by colleagues there. On the way he asked one of them if this was his endgame. He was pronounced dead by the time they reached the hospital,” he said, adding that at his funeral there were no family members present as his brothers lived in the US but the entire church was full of his KPC family.

About Idrees Bakhtiar, he said that he was lucky to have a long association with him. “Incidentally, he was also at a KPC programme when he felt unwell. We took him to a hospital in his own car, which he wanted to drive himself, but we urged him to take the passenger seat as someone else drove. The doctors in the ER said that he probably had a blocked artery but it was not a heart attack. He felt better the next day, but his condition worsened the day after and it just went downhill from there,” he said.

Journalist and KPC president Imtiaz Khan Faran said that both Idrees Bakhtiar and Anil Datta may not have suffered heart attacks but they were sent to their grave after “hurt attacks”.

CEJ-IBA’s director Kamal Siddiqi said there are so many things that people don’t known about so many journalists. “As a teacher I feel that there are so many lessons that you don’t find in books. Therefore, we have this tradition of celebrating our journalists and listening to people talk about them helps us learn about them too,” he concluded.

The programme was moderated by senior journalist and trainer Afia Salam.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019