KARACHI: “Death ends a life, not a relationship” so it has been said. And we at Dawn, who worked with Maisoon Hussein for over two decades, feel her relationship with the paper will never cease. She herself would not want it to. When she was diagnosed with cancer by her doctor last year in March, Maisoon not only battled the affliction courageously, she also continued her association with the paper she had come to love in the over two decades of her professional life.
In the last few months, her illness notwithstanding, Maisoon lived a full life and, since she was not burdened with the routines of everyday work, she wrote more and after greater investigation and study. Some of her best pieces of writings, which created an impact, were on the conditions in prisons. She wrote four investigative pieces last year, visiting prisons as far apart as in Landhi and the Karachi Central Jail where she met various officials to write about the problems of the inmates and the judicial procedures, which often created avoidable problems. And all this when that dreaded disease was consuming her on the inside.
There were projects she readily agreed to take up. They were in some ways related to human rights, women, children and the minorities and so were of special interest to her.
One can describe Maisoon’s writings as models of good journalism. They created a powerful impact because there was absolutely no sensationalism in them — for Maisoon it would be too unkind to cash in on someone else’s misery to write a gripping story — but she always reached the heart of the matter to explain to the readers the significance of the issue at hand.
Once a doctor who had done a survey and prepared a report on violence against women asked me who the best person would be to write about it. I suggested Maisoon’s name but warned her not to be in too much of a hurry to see it in print. Maisoon took her time to study the report, interview the author and then write a piece with compassion and insight. It was one of the best pieces written on the subject in the paper.
I remember, we visited together the women’s shelter set up with the assistance of Amnesty to see how it was working. Maisoon was to write about it. But for her, one visit was not enough. It was her wont to get answers to all her questions before she put pen to paper. No superficial and shoddy reporting would do for her. Hence she went again and again and talked to different people before she wrote her story, which won wide acclaim. But it also brought her some harsh words from certain quarters, which she was too polite to even talk about, let alone protest against.
That was just like Maisoon — quiet, kind and never discourteous. But when it came to being fairminded she stood firm as a rock. While looking after the Letters column — her last assignment — she would go conscientiously through the massive pile of letters which land in our office every day. Not one was discarded without a reason. “How can I do that,” she would say.
Forever helpful, she did not make a public display of her charity. She was so uncomplaining that we, who would lose patience so soon, marvelled at her. Small wonder, she fitted so well the role of ‘Nishat Apa’ for the Children’s Dawn which she edited for ten years. While she went about doing her professional duties in a silent, unassuming manner, the humanist in her was always active. She was collecting donations and goods for prison inmates and others, who needed help.
But behind that gentle exterior there was a woman of steel. She would stand by her convictions and refuse to be browbeaten into something she did not believe in or felt it went against her integrity. She refused to let her illness get her down. She visited China with a friend and wrote about it and attended the lecture by Dr Ghada Karmi, the Palestinian activist, last month although the steep decline in her health had begun. When some of us visited her last week, she looked frail but was as warm and loving as ever. She seemed determined to fight off her disease. But there comes a time when one has to call it a day. So adieu, dear friend and colleague. — Zubeida Mustafa