Rashid Saeb Taught Many People How To Pronounce Their Own Names


Nothing escaped the critical gaze of Abdur Rashid Shahid. I am writing Abdur, not the conventional Abdul, for fear of a severe reprimand from the man who couldn’t tolerate a misspelling, crooked sentence or a mispronunciation. He taught many a people how to pronounce their own names. It was Yas-ar not Yasir. It was Me’raj, not Mehraaj. He would make sure that if you would be shamed publicly for a glaring mistake in a sentence. He laughed so loudly upon spotting an error that you wanted to stuff a thick dictionary down your throat and asphyxiate your existence. And if there was something comical about the mistake, he would call the editor-in-chief himself and ask his highness to join the disrobing of the poor reporter. That didn't win him many friends. The congenitally dumb who had egos the size of Himalayas were especially hurt. I once fought with Shahid Saeb, saying that it was his job to edit copies without humiliating people. Public shaming stopped after that, but he wasn't the one to let go of a chance to slyly bring an enthusiastic flier crashing to the ground.

The first question he would pose to any internee was: what are the parts of speech? Many youngsters, having read their Edward Saids and Chomskys and about to embark on higher education at universities in the UK and the USA, would be taken aback by the query. Come on, who cares about the parts of speech! Rashid Shahid did. He had great respect for the reader, a hallmark of any good copy editor, especially in a place where most of the readers of English newspapers were first generation literates. 

It is not hard to rise from depths. He had risen to the top by dint of his sheer talent and struggled hard along the way. During that daunting journey, there had crept in his personality some elements you wished were not there: he stood in awe of two-penny bureaucrats he had mentored, for example. But I realised later that was a sign of humility. He had never forgotten where he came from. That is why he took many professional humiliations in stride.

The fact that he called people he had worked with and sought their forgiveness, while battling for life in the ICU of a Delhi hospital, shows a noble spirit. I hope he forgave us too.


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