Ever since my acquaintances flattered me suggesting I should join a newspaper, the worms of journalism began wriggling inside my head pretty compellingly. They were more than sure that I exercised a good control on English language and my nifty looks were the most fitting thing the job of a journalist required.
One day, nonchalantly I entered into the premises of Kashmir Observer, after a brief six-month stint at a lesser known English weekly. Someone who later turned out to be the editor of the newspaper greeted me with a smile I could immediately sense was false. He showed me into a small room to see the executive editor as to whether I was qualified for the job or not.
Engrossed in some editing business, the man paid little attention to the emotions of an aspiring journalist sitting just next to him. After fifteen odd minutes, the bespectacled man sporting a dazzling white beard raised his head giving me a scare of my life. I hated him instantly. So what brings you here, was the crudest ever thing the old man hurled at me. I can write a little and want to join the newspaper to be a journalist, I said with every bit of my confidence betraying me. It surprised the man as I could see his eyes popping out of the orbits and almost falling on the table. So you want to be a journalist, he scorned. Angreeze Wangreeze Chhue Kenh Tagaan (Do you know some English?), he said in a typical north-westerly Kashmiri accent as if he himself had been a student of Sir William Shakespeare. My hatred towards the man doubled and I thought of leaving the room thinking journalism was not my cup of tea.
Come from tomorrow and report to me directly, he commanded. I cried to myself: Yes, Im a journalist.
I expressed a false gratitude and asked him his name. Mei Chhe Wanan Rasheed Shahid (Im known as Rashid Shahid.), he was as brute as ever.
Sadly, Rashid Shahid is no more. He died two years ago on this day following a prolonged illness. I had recently come back from the Middle East after spending two years working as sub-editor at Saudi Gazette and I came to know about his death a month later.
Back to Kashmir Observer, I turned up on time the next afternoon and showed myself up before the man I thought was a crackpot. Rashid Shahid gave me a write-up to work on. In a matter of few minutes I handed a news item. Tse ha chhuk theek lekhaan, tse karakh kenh (You write well and youll go a long way.), he spoke in his village accent much to my delight. I was engaged as a reporter.
Many foreigners visited Kashmir Observer with a desire to work as part-timers and one such visitor was Kathleen McCaull, a British who later worked for BBC and Al-Jazeera.
The entry of this young girl sent my worms into a frenzy. I wasnt the only one interested in her without any ulterior motives though. Guess what? Mr Shahid would ask me many times in a day. Ho Farooqa ye Katheleen koor kaeteu chhe az, nanee chhene (Hey Farooq, wheres this Kathleen girl today, shes nowhere to be seen.), hed enquire of me. For the first time, I looked into his old eyes penetratingly as if he had trespassed my jurisdiction. I wouldnt say he was a characterless old man. He was religious to the core, honest and a man of integrity too. Casting a doubt on his integrity would be an utter sin but as they say in Kashmir: Baede asheq gov mohre mushq (Old men are drawn to women like one is drawn to gold), I could see a worm or two wriggle in his head too.
Shahid would call me home and wed chat about a host of issues and that didnt exclude Katheleen encouraging me to dig into his recesses. Id discuss many issues mostly of trivial nature with him and this, to a great deal, helped reveal the man a little more openly. Money to him was what Mumtaz was to Shahjehan and he would go to any extent to realize the last penny people owed to him.
Certain things Rasheed adopted as his lifestyle made him a laughing stock among the ones who knew him. For instance, he would keep a manual record of all the calls he made from his cellphone, registering in his diary the time and duration of each call, and at the end of the month hed make a rough calculation to check whether the bill raised matched in amount with his calculation.
Following his departure from Kashmir Observer, Rasheed got an offer from Greater Kashmir to join as Executive Editor and I guess it was for the third time hed been called in to work there. He immediately pounced upon the opportunity. As if he had received several doses of testosterone, Rasheeds body language had undergone a sea change. He was harsher in his outlook and ruthless in his approach as if he owned the newspaper himself. Ive a job for you, he said with a meaningful smile. Why dont come over to my office tomorrow.
The next day, I visited his office and to my great surprise I was offered the job of a subeditor. I know youll do me proud, Rasheed said. Youll really enjoy working here.
Rasheeds offer was more enticing and my salivary glands had already anticipated the juice. I joined Greater Kashmir as subeditor. I had been like a free bird working according to my whims and fancies, and subediting was something I hated the most. I did an utterly bad job much to the disliking of the reporters there who complained that the scissoring I was doing on their write-ups was too much. This infuriated Rasheed Shahid and it began to send termites into our relationship who by now had chewed a lot of its wood. Moreover, he thought that he had managed to plant a mole among the staff.
I must tell you, Rashid Shahid made quite a spectacle of himself by his behavior among the junior employees whod spare no opportunity to take a dig at him and hed laugh at it as if he didnt listen or see anything.
A foreigner was a regular visitor to the newspaper office and shed stay for long hours in Rasheeds cabin providing more fodder to the gossipmongers that he was attracted to the woman. Shes a good woman and I want her to embrace Islam, Rasheed would tell me with his eyes lit up. Id smile back.
My relationship with him hit at an all time low when I butchered one of the news items written by an elderly reporter and I was served a notice that my services were no longer needed in the newspaper. Rasheed had punched numerous holes in my boat and the Titanic of my journalism had finally hit an ice-berg ready to sink ten days later.
I left Greater Kashmir with a heavy heart blaming the very person who had brought me there. This was the end of our relationship and I never saw him again albeit once. Grudge is something that nags you all the time and it had taken a worse turn by now. I thought of various ways to level the score when all of a sudden a prank struck my mind and I decided to nail down the old buddy. I created a fake account that resembled the foreigner who used to frequent Greater Kashmir and shot the first mail to Rashid Shahid loaded with amorous undertones. It didnt take much time for him to reply back but he never reciprocated similarly. A few conversations after the can of worms opened up and I was in a soup when I was identified as the culprit-in-chief. The matter died on its own but it earned me a life-long grudge of the man who didnt expect it from me and he must have taken it all the way to his grave.
My journalism revived briefly after I was invited to conduct interviews for a newly launched English monthly. I fared well and at times, earned the title Tim Sebastian though I knew that was too lavish a praise. I wouldnt discredit Rasheed Shahids contribution in shaping me as a journalist.
Soon after, I decided to leave India. Within only a couple of months of my stay in Saudi Arabia, I joined Saudi Gazatte as subeditor. My journey as a journalist had come a full circle. I was an international journalist now.
Rasheed Shahid had been sacked from the Greater Kashmir a few months after I was shown the door and I came to know about it when I had come back on a vacation. I met him for one last time at Kashmir Observer. His face turned red and he yelled at me: How could you do it to me? I had no answer and I covered my guilt behind a selfish smile. A somewhat mellowed down old mans eyes lit up when I offered him a content editing job at a publishing house in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I begged his leave and asked for forgiveness for the crimes I had committed against him, though I had no regrets of what I had done to him.
I returned home spending nearly two years in Saudi Arabia. This had squeezed my social circle considerably. I called up an acquaintance to enquire about Rasheed Shahid and what he told me shook the earth beneath my feet: Rasheed Shahid passed away two months ago, he said. I was dumbstruck, couldnt believe him and hung up. How could it happen, he spoke to me just a few months back and he was hale and hearty then, I murmured to myself.
Rasheed Shahid was in fact dead. He had suffered a renal failure and had been hospitalized briefly.
Of human nature, its said: Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody but Rasheed Shahid was a man of integrity, religious to the core and a character as lively as a man should be. The ones who knew him might have forgotten him but he lives in the hearts of those for whom he mattered the most. I miss him.
Farooq Shah is member of the staff at Kashmir Observer.
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