OBITUARY: Senior journalist Talat Aslam passes away in Karachi

Published May 26, 2022
Celebrating his birthday on May 16 (left to right) Riaz Aslam (Dabbu), Talat Aslam (Tito), Imran Aslam (Tippu) and Nasser Aslam (Ditto).
Celebrating his birthday on May 16 (left to right) Riaz Aslam (Dabbu), Talat Aslam (Tito), Imran Aslam (Tippu) and Nasser Aslam (Ditto).

KARACHI: The journalists’ community woke up on Wednesday morning to the devastating news that Talat Saleem Aslam, aka Tito, was no more. He was 67.

It was a great shock for all those who had been lucky enough to work with the creative, witty, simple, humble, caring but thorough professional journalist and editor that he was.

Suffering from kidney failure for some years now, Tito was undergoing regular dialysis, which had left him weak physically but in no way mentally.

He was buried at the DHA Phase-8 graveyard in the presence of a large number of his relatives, friends and admirers .

He was senior editor of the English language newspaper The News International since 2003 till the time of his passing.

PM Shehbaz Sharif, Minister Sherry Rehman, journalists, politicians and rights activists express their condolences

Before that he was assistant editor and in charge of the in-house magazines at Dawn newspaper, which saw him returning to Haroon House after a brief stint at laying the foundations of Geo. He had joined the Jang Group’s upcoming channel after leaving the editorship of the monthly Herald.

Herald was his first job, where he moved on to become Editor. He joined the Herald soon after completing his education from UCL and coming to Pakistan. At the monthly, he worked with a great team of brave and gutsy journalists known to take the government by the horns. But he had a vast understanding of a variety of subjects and was also into entertainment, music, films, literature and good food.

He had very good taste in everything and where he could write a serious editorial, he could also pen film reviews, music reviews or food reviews. He was also an advocate of human rights and media freedom. It was this ability to discuss any subject and his open mindedness and witty takes on issues that later also earned him a sizeable presence on social media. His Twitter handle @titojourno has 101,000 followers.

Coming from a reasonably large family of five siblings, Tito’s own number was third. His eldest brother is named Riaz Aslam, lovingly given the nickname Dabbu by their father; then there is Imran Aslam, another very well-known and fine journalist, nicknamed by their father as Tippu; then came Tito also given the name by their father; followed by Nasser Aslam who goes by the nickname of Ditto. The four brothers are followed by the youngest, their only sister Ayesha Aslam.

The family didn’t move to Pakistan around the time of Partition. They lived in the South Indian city of Madras then. The two older Aslam children were also born there. But when they did move, they moved to East Pakistan. Tito was born there in Chittagong and so was his brother Nasser or Ditto, younger by two years.

From East Pakistan the family then moved to Lahore for one year followed by going to Abu Dhabi. That was where Tito did his O-Levels and A-Levels privately before leaving for England for higher studies along with his younger brother in 1973. He studied Anthropology at University College London while his younger brother finished his schooling.

All the siblings have remained very close throughout but Tito and Ditto share a special bond and deep respect for each other from that time when they were studying in England. Then Tito came back to Pakistan but Ditto remained there. Tito would often travel to England to see him. In fact, he was holidaying there in 2016 when he fell very ill. “He was in hospital for 10 days where we also received the diagnosis that both his kidneys had failed. I brought him back home and stayed here with him to take care of him,” said the younger brother.

At work there would never be a dull moment with Tito around. Just like his father had a special nickname for all his family members, Tito had a nickname for all his friends and colleagues. Every situation had another scenario in his mind and sharing it with colleagues would bring out giggles, chortles and chuckles. But he was the best of teachers, too. Being very smart and a great observer, you never had to go to him and ask for help about any problem that you were facing in your work. He would just explain things to you in passing, in the easygoing and most natural of ways, without talking down to you. And that’s how he helped you with your copy editing, your writing. He opened your mind with fresh ideas.

Best friend film-maker and editor Hasan Zaidi said that he first met Tito in 1992/93 before he himself came to join Herald. “I was doing some work there then when I first met him but after I joined the magazine we quickly became the best of friends,” he said.

“He was very intelligent and had a wide range of interests and knowledge. He was also very very funny. We enjoyed making puns. We used to hang out quite a bit looking for food late at night. We knew all the small shops what their specialty was. We knew that the greatest chana daal was in Sultanabad, for anda paratha we could go to Kala Pul, for ribs there was Kharadar, and Al Asif Square for Afghan food. We had done so much experiments with food places that we had thought to come up with a book on alternative eating spots in Karachi ... but never happened,” he said, adding that he was a “Sufi and derwesh at heart. He was not into power and money and he actively stayed away from these things. He had integrity.”

Zaidi also remembered how good he was in terms of editing and bringing in perspectives that you wouldn’t easily think of. We left Herald together and were hired by Geo before its launch. Imran Aslam was heading the channel, Tito was the new editor and myself the deputy news editor. But even after that when he came back to Dawn and we were not working together he was the one I would be exchanging notes with about films, music, politics, etc.,” he shared.

And he was also the most caring of human beings. This scribe had the good fortune of accompanying him on her first international travel after several years of his having left Dawn. And after realising this, he taught me everything one needs to know such as knowing your gate at the airport and not wandering off too far from there, tap water being perfectly okay for drinking in London, etc. And I was already indebted to him as he influenced the Dawn editor 21 years ago to give a trainee with no former experience a job. He never told me this himself. I only learned about it from someone else later.

His death has triggered an outpouring of grief from fellow journalists, politicians and human rights activists.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also hailed the late journalist for his “services to press freedom and for raising awareness about the rights of minorities and women”.

Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, who had worked with him at Herald, said that it felt like her heart would “burst with grief upon hearing that old friend, veteran journalist @titojourno just passed away. He was the kindest, funniest, wittiest, warmest soul in the whole world.”

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2022

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