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Herald exclusive: Editorial excellence

February 28, 2011

Faiz (fourth from right) with his colleagues, 1947

I first met Faiz Ahmed Faiz in 1951. At the time I was an adviser to Mian Iftikharuddin, a leader of the Communist Party of Pakistan and was working informally at the Urdu daily Imroze associated with the Progressive Papers Limited (PPL). Faiz was heading the newspaper’s editorial board. I was sitting in the Imroze newsroom when Faiz walked in with a cigarette in his hand and asked the man behind the news desk about the tentative lead story. “Kabhi apnay mulk ki khabar bhi lead laga diya karo (sometimes use our own country’s news as the top story too),” he quipped on learning that an international news story was the potential lead, and then left the room. It was quite embarrassing for all of us present there.

Iftikharuddin had established PPL some time in early 1947 and at the time Faiz was looking for a regular job having left the army. He was only 37-years old but was offered the job of editor at the Lahore-based English language daily The Pakistan Times as well as the head of the editorial board of its sister publications, Urdu daily Imroze and literary and political weekly Lail-o-Nahar. As the first editor-in-chief of The Pakistan Times, he wrote on an array of issues from 1947 until his arrest in 1951 in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. During his editorship, the Pakistan Times was declared the best edited newspaper of Asia by Time magazine. It was quite an achievement for a man who had no prior experience as a journalist.

I had joined the Imroze formally in April 1953 but he was still in jail at that time. In 1955, he rejoined PPL after his release from prison and for a few months I also worked closely with him. But after his return to the newspaper he stayed there for barely eight months, leaving when he felt that Mazhar Ali Khan, who was once his lieutenant, had been made editor-in-chief in his absence. He was not comfortable working in the number two slot. It was only because of this reason that he quit the paper although not many know about this.

During his imprisonment, Faiz had carved out a niche for himself in the world of poetry and his popularity as a man of letters had grown manifold. People had started revering him like an icon and a saviour. His poetry had stirred the conscience of all and sundry, so it seemed. So when he rejoined The Pakistan Times, the journalist in him was overshadowed by the poet in him. He penned most of his editorials at night and sometimes minutes before the deadline.

But he would still spend all day thinking about issues and was known for his readiness to help everybody. During his days at the newspaper many sought his help. He was a teacher par excellence and used this trait to guide and mentor his juniors and peers alike.

After the infamous takeover of PPL by General Ayub Khan’s government, individuals as different from each other such as Qudratullah Shahab and Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi came to run the newspaper group. Faiz was approached by many to rejoin PPL but he refused. Once Elahi called me and asked me to convince Faiz to return because The Pakistan Times was rapidly losing circulation. I told him Faiz would not agree but Elahi insisted and asked me to persuade him on the grounds that both he and Faiz came from Jat clans. When I told Faiz about the Jat remark, Faiz simply laughed it off. (As narrated to Samar Mahmood)