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December 3, 2019

ZIM: ‘Last Man in’ is gone


December 3, 2019

“I belong to a vanishing tribe and I think I will leave no successors", wrote ZIM (1936-2019) the last surviving editor of the bygone era. And how true was this 'Lahori'. Yesterday, "he escaped from the tedium of a world you cannot change, nor accept", wrote Jugnu Mohsin about him a long time ago.

Who was he? "An ingrate and an Uzbek", as his mother used to debunk her nonchalant child and what was he? "Immersed in the liberal tradition to love a person without loving his (Left) views", he once said about his most respected Editor Mazhar Ali Khan. He lived along with left-oriented intellectuals and journalists and stood fast for all good human causes while staying on the sidelines and under the shadows of too big stalwarts. His passion for brevity as a sub-editor even persuaded him to abbreviate his own name- from Zafar Iqbal Mirza into ZIM. The 'Last Man in' is the collection of his 94 articles he chose from a plethora of columns that he wrote for Dawn for twenty years with the pen name of 'Lahori' that he truly was.

ZIM was not, perhaps, a man one could fit into any ideological category, nor can one attribute great accomplishments to his otherwise a most credible professional career of 42 years. He was what he truly was: untidy in appearance, but meticulous in his craft of editing and writing. Perhaps, he was the last journalist who worked with The Civil and Military Gazette, which was once banned and discontinued. His second last inning was with The Pakistan Times, one of the great papers of the Progressive Newspapers Ltd, where he worked in various capacities between 1962 and 1979 when he sought a premature retirement due to prevailing McCarthyism of General Sahibzada Sher Ali Khan, who was Gen Ziaul Haq's information henchman. In between, during Mr Bhutto's people's government, he joined hands with the rabble-rouser Hussain Naqi to produce the Punjab Punch-a fiercely critical weekly. For sometimes, in his love for the passion of his friend eminent Punjabi writer Najam Syed and adventurous Hussain Naqi, he helped to realize the dream of a Punjabi daily newspaper, 'Sajjan', to only find out that the Punjabis weren't interested in their mother tongue on this side of the divide.

On the persuasion of his friend A. T. Chaudhri, he joined The Muslim and later became its editor (1979-82). Those were the worst days of martial law and cutthroat censorship. Defying the scissor of censorship, he used to fill the empty spaces with the pictures of film actresses, including the empty editorial columns. That was a very novel way of refusing to coalesce in. Since he found Islamabad quite boring, he came back to Lahore and joined left wing Viewpoint weekly, where he had had the taste of vocation, but with a melancholy found out that his wonderful work went "unrecognized and unrewarded". For a living, he started the longest inning of his career by joining Dawn as an assistant editor in 1983 and retired as its resident editor in 2000.

When I regularly joined journalism as a professional journalist, I met the man at Viewpoint who eventually became my teacher. Initially I used to right longer and complex sentences and he always reprimanded me and used to turn the Hegelian stuff into small and smart pieces. While meticulously editing he never changed the content or tenor and tone of the write-ups and the stories. The time we spent with him at Viewpoint was of both learning the ethos of professional journalism and enjoying the late evenings with him with classical music and feel-good drinks. He was a kind of Sufi who loved people, cricket, music and above all literature. In his death, we have lost a man who was more than an angel. We will all miss you ZIM in our sad and happy hours! Cheerup in the heavens!

(ZIM's Reference will take place on Friday at 04 pm at SAFMA Secretariat, 177-A, Shadman-2, Lahore)

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