By Zubeida Mustafa
IT is never easy to write obituaries. The challenge increases when the person you are writing about is one you have had a long association with. This chapter in my life with Dawn closed today when M.A. Majid, who was a teacher, mentor and a friend of over three decades, said goodbye. We who worked with him were left with old memories of days by-gone. Another stalwart has departed – that is the thought that struck me immediately when I heard the news.
For over three decades we not only worked under the same roof. We also broke bread together. There were a few of us – Majid Sahib, Fazal Imam Sahib, Ghayurul Islam Sahib, Akhter Payami Sahib, M.H. Askari Sahib and I – who shared our meals and jokes to fuel our energies and our spirits for the remaining hours of the day which were more tiring and demanding. That is how newspapers function – the pace of work picks up as the day wears out.
This was also a time for us to exchange views on the issues of the day. The discussions were heated. Majid Sahib was the one who stood up for traditions and was very wary of change. Even new technology was too much of a challenge for him. But being an epitome of courtesy and politeness he was never loud in putting us down. The unconventional among us got impatient. But when lunch ended and we returned to our desks all disagreements had melted away.
He was a storehouse of knowledge and full of anecdotes about the old-timers he had known so well. Since I was the new-comer to the charmed world of newspaper journalism this was a learning experience for me. His mentor had been his uncle, Altaf Husain, the editor of Dawn from 1945 till 1965. When I was writing the history of the paper, it was Majid Sahib who briefed me in such detail about the evolution of this paper. I think no one else knew as much about Dawn as he did.
I often urged him to put all the information he had on paper, but he always seemed to be too busy to gather his thoughts and write. The day-to-day writing he did – be it editing work or writing editorials – kept him too occupied for other writing. What he wrote, notably the editorials he did on the most important political questions, were carefully crafted and profoundly thought out. It was a pleasure reading them and I learnt so much from them. A self-effacing man, he preferred to work quietly. But that did not mean that he was in any way insignificant. He actually exerted a lot of influence on his colleagues without announcing it. Many came to him for job-related advice.
It was his loyalty – whether to the institution he worked for – or to his friends that I will always remember. Given his professional standing, he had many job offers. But for him Dawn was the paper to be in once he was there. .
On every occasion, be it a death or an illness in the family or some other crisis, I always remember Majid Sahib with Razia Bhabhi, his greatest supporter, would turn up to enquire if anything was needed. Though he was a man of few words, his gesture would speak loud and clear. Even something like a robbery in the house – that is now such a common occurrence though no less traumatic – brought the Majids to my home to offer help and support.
He, along with the editor Ahmad Ali Khan, made Dawn like a family for us. I always appreciated this gesture because I knew how busy Majid Sahib always was. He was sitting late in office — at times he was around till ten in the night because the perfectionism in him was at work and he would not leave until each and every i was dotted and every t crossed. Then too when he went home he carried with him a briefcase full of papers to work on as he burnt the midnight oil. His capacity to work was phenomenal.
Now the time to rest is here Majid Sahib. But you will always be fresh in our thoughts.