Iconic journalist Zafar Mirza is no more

Updated December 03, 2019

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Zafar Iqbal Mirza
Zafar Iqbal Mirza

LAHORE: Iconic journalist Zafar Iqbal Mirza — popularly known as ZIM based on his initials or by his pen name Lahori — breathed his last in the early hours of Monday morning after a pneumonia attack that came at the back of his long persisting lungs’ complications. He was 83.

Mr Mirza was laid to rest later in the day. He left behind his wife and a son to mourn his death. His Soyem will be held at his residence after Zuhr prayers on Tuesday.

According to his son, Iqbal Mirza, Mr Mirza was taken to a hospital on Sunday morning after a pneumonia attack where doctors’ investigation revealed that one of his lungs had completely stopped working. He was given some emergency treatment which failed to revive him and he breathed his last at around 2am.

An illustrious son of Lahore, Mr Mirza was born on Aug 9, 1936, in the Mochi Darwaza area of the Walled City. The only son in an educated household headed by a police officer father and a doting mother, he acquired his own set of ‘royal’ rules that were to govern his life. He went to the Government College and began his journalistic career in the early 1960s.

Mr Mirza served the profession for four decades. It was only problems with his spinal cord that confined him by and large to the bed in the early 2000s. Even then he would battle excruciating pain to pen a column on one of his favourite topics. He was passionate about the city, about the game of cricket and often prepared the inhabitants of ‘his’ Model Town with mild reprimands over offences that would seem serious to many others.

Mr Mirza started his journalistic career from The Civil and Military Gazette and after it he worked for Pakistan Times. He became editor of The Muslim in 1981, but it was more an aberration. The stint with The Muslim required him to live in Islamabad while his heart had always been in Lahore. Shortly he returned to his first love and joined Dawn in 1983 in the company of many incorrigible pursuers of journalism that was pro-people.

Quite remarkably Mr Mirza could be heard applauding friends taking their fights for the supremacy of people’s rights outside the realm of journalism. He retained the old aura of a newspaper man through so many momentous events and disasters taking place around him.

While at Dawn, he was a very important member of the team that brought out paper from Lahore and headed the Lahore bureau of the newspaper after two most respected trade union leaders and journalists, Nisar Osmani and I.H. Rashid. Not any less awe-inspiring was his stint with the Viewpoint, a left-wing weekly under the editorship of Mazhar Ali Khan, which was a thorn in the flesh of authorities at that time. The magazine brought together quite a galaxy of the Lahore-based progressive journalists.

Mr Mirza stood his ground amongst them — with the nonchalance of Wasim Raja — to strike an analogy between him and a true character from his favourite game. He also worked with The Punjab Times and Punjab Punch, which was edited by Hussian Naqi, a lifelong friend of him.

To Mr Naqi, Mr Mirza’s most solid contribution to the profession was his commitment to truth and professional ethics he inspired. “Remarks by an Indian editor summed up ZIM’s (Mr Mirza) contribution to subcontinent’s journalism. He said the Indian journalists had learnt writing between the lines from ZIM, which they then practised during the emergency in their country in the 1970s,” Mr Naqi said, paying his tribute to his comrade.

“ZIM was very clever with his lines during the most-dreaded martial law of (Gen) Ziaul Haq and he always achieved his purpose with his between the lines style.”

Mr Naqi recalled that Mr Mirza excelled while studying at the Central Model School and later at the Government College. He excelled in his chosen profession, rising from working in the reference section of Pakistan Times to the coveted posts of editing national papers.

Khaled Ahmed, a scholar-journalist, describes Mr Mirza as a brave man, saying: “He challenged the order, which was never easy to do through his editorials in Pakistan Times, despite being a government paper, and later in his columns in Dawn.”

“Though he compromised his potential by opting for editing rather than writing very early on, he caught up very quickly when he started writing and became one of the most effective journalists of his time. His influence and effectiveness grew further when he joined The Muslim in early 1980s.”

I.A. Rehman, journalist and old-time friend of Mr Mirza, was all praise for the man. He said it was impossible to put Mr Mirza’s contribution into words. “He was a courageous man who held the torch of truth high often at great risk,” Mr Rehman said, going on to highlight the all-rounder that Mr Mirza was. “His work in the area of sports journalism was as significant as his contribution to journalism about political and social issues. He said what he felt and said it without fear and favour. He also trained a whole lot of journalists, who have, and will keep his legacy alive.”

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2019