Friday August 12, 2022

An icon of Pakistani journalism

January 25, 2022

Half a century ago, I yearned to see the person in-person who used to arrange the printing of the newspaper that is delivered at our home daily. In that paper, along with all the news from around the world (with which I had no interest in my childhood), he would also manage to print my favourite comic series of Tarzan, I was so crazy about.

But who had an idea that one day my luck will bring me to that very newspaper group and I will be able to meet that person who was dearly called Mir Sahib by everyone, and my association with that organization will span over three decades.

Who was Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman? There can be thousands of answers to this question. Today, while 29 years have passed since he left this world, the number of people who can fully answer this question are decreasing. That whole generation is disappearing gradually who could give satisfactory answer to this question. These include Mir Sahib’s dear friends, his old companions and, the hardworking journalists who worked day and night with him to make Jang the greatest newspaper of all time.

When I go down memory lane, I realise that he was one of those 10 to 15 people who were a blessing of Allah for Pakistan. He was the one who paved new paths for others, conquered new horizons, and never got discouraged while taking this arduous journey. Never for a moment he removed his focus from his destination and what path he had to follow to reach there.

I got affiliated with the Jang group’s largely circulated weekly Urdu magazine “Akhbar-e-Jehan”, forty-one years ago. I was just a junior worker from among dozens of sub-editors working all across Pakistan, about whom Mir Kahlil-ur-Rahman did not know. My boss was Mir Javed Rahman with whom I developed a lifelong relationship later on. For the newcomers like me, the only information about Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman would come from the seniors of the Jang newsroom like Humayun Aziz, Zafar Rizvi, Younus Riyaz, etc because Mir Sahib used to remain in constant contact with the newsroom people late at night. My only connection with him was whenever I saw him in the office I would pay salam to him to which he always responded.

After many years, I got convinced that there is no possibility of direct contact with Mir Sahib. Only at the time of Eid, he used to come to say Eid Mubarak to everyone in every room and that’s the only occasion to have a casual meeting with him.

Then one day the situation suddenly changed. We were informed that Mir Sahib wanted to meet the entire editorial staff of Akhbar-e-Jahan. This was a unique and thrilling news for all of us. Our editor-in-chief Mir Javed Rahman told us that the purpose behind conducting this meeting was that Nawa-i-Waqt group, another big newspaper of the time, was all set to launch their weekly Urdu magazine named “Family” and it was expected that within two to three weeks this new magazine would come as a competitor to Akhbar-e-Jahan.

This may sound ridiculous today that at that time before the meeting, my confidence was on cloud nine. There were many reasons for this. I was young and young people are always full of enthusiasm to overcome any difficulty coming their way. It was also the fact that in a very short span of time I had become a part of the editorial team of Akhbar-e-Jehan. But the most important thing was that before coming to the Jang group I had worked with Nawa-i-waqt for one year, which meant I was quite familiar with their system. Some friends from Nawa-i-Waqt had already told me about the people whose services were hired for the preparation and launching of the “Family Magazine” and how the initial work was being carried out.

On the meeting day, under the leadership of Mir Javed Rahman, we entered Mir Sahib’s room on the second floor of the Jang building and settled down on sofas and chairs, wherever we found a seat. The meeting began. Mir Sahib started the conversation. He mentioned the new competition in the magazine market. He warned all of us to be careful and stressed on bringing further improvement in Akhbar-e-Jehan. He spoke for about fifteen minutes. During his conversation, there was pin drop silence in the room.

When Mir Sahib finished his conversation, there was time to ask questions and also give suggestions. People from the editorial team suggested to start some new columns in the magazine. On my turn, like an inexperienced young person, I confidently said, “I don’t think that this new magazine will be able to compete with us. According to my information, they are preparing such a magazine which will target women readers only. Secondly, their initial team also appears quite weak to me”. I also mentioned the names of their team members which many people didn’t know at that time.

As I was finishing my conversation I realised that Mir Sahib was watching me in disapproval. The whole room was in stark silence. Mir Sahib leaned forward a little, pointed the small pencil in his hand towards me and said, “Always remember, never consider your opponent weak”. After this, he turned his position towards his son Mir Javed Rahman and said aggressively, “it is your responsibility to improve the quality of Akhbar-e-Jehan. Just pay attention to it. Experiment with new ideas. Improve the printing and come early in the morning in the office”. He scolded him for good amount of time. Mir Javed Rahman sat in complete respect and kept on repeating, “Yes Daddy, Yes Daddy.”

When I came out of the room with everyone, my head was bowed in utter embarrassment. The meeting was ruined due to my inexperienced and careless opinion which made Mir Sahib angry. That day I realised as to how Mir Sahib wanted to see his workers. Always ready, alert and prepared to meet every challenge.

After that day, I tried to mould myself in the same mould which Mir Sahib had created for himself. I don’t know whether I succeeded in that effort or not. However, after a few years, I was someone who was able to control and operate that giant product called Akhbar-e-Jehan. Maybe because I wanted to emerge successful in Mir Sahib’s eye.

With the passage of time, the virtues of Mir Sahib also started to reveal on me. He was the owner of the biggest newspaper and weekly magazine of Pakistan but first and foremost he always considered himself a journalist. Unlike other newspaper owners, he was always ready to work as an active reporter. The term “breaking news” has become a joke these days, but Mir Sahib many times broke big news like a professional and alert journalist. There are various examples which can be quoted, for example, breaking the news of the demise of the prime minister of India Lal Bahadur Shastri just after the Tashkent Agreement and the news of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s hanging.

Generally, financial comfort alienates people from the problems of others. But Mir Sahib always remained worried about the people around him, especially his workers. Paying salaries to the workers on the first day of each month was always his priority. When I joined the Jang group I came to know that people here are given six bonuses every year and each bonus was equal to one basic salary. Similarly, there was also the system of contributory provident fund in place in the organization. That means whatever amount is deducted from your salary as provident fund, the same amount is paid by the organization and this money is credited to your account which you get at the time of retirement or resignation from the organization. Likewise, complete medical coverage for the family including worker’s widow mother, was also provided by the organization.

Today, a leader is the one who makes tall claims. On the contrary, Mir Sahib was a very different leader. He silently did great things which actually make the glory of a leader. Seeing the increasing circulation of his newspaper he purchased extremely expensive but latest and fast speed American made Goss printing press. The big newspapers from across the world were printed on this printing press at that time. This was the first big move of its kind in Pakistan as well as in an Urdu newspaper.

Similarly, he decided to be the first to adopt Noori Nastaleeq machine writing which proved to be the beginning of the biggest revolution in Urdu journalism. Initially, it was said that this experiment would fail because readers’ eyes are familiar with handwritten calligraphy and people will never accept this mechanical writing. But then the whole world saw that the work started by Jang was adopted by the entire world gradually.

Mir Sahib was a simple man. He also taught his children to follow traditions. He trained them to stay in touch with their workers and share their joys and sorrows as well. These little things are very important to the workers. I remember the day around twenty-two years ago when I was devastated by the death of my mother. I used to live in a small house in Federal B Area and suddenly I saw Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman among the people who came to condole my mother’s death. He sat with me on the floor rug and spoke consoling words to give solace to me. This was the special training and discipline of the Mir family.

Mir Sahib was the head of an empire that he had created himself. To provide a solid foundation to this empire which included different editions of Jang newspaper from Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Quetta, weekly magazine Akhbar-e-Jehan, Daily News, Jang London, Mir Sahib continued to impart newspaper management training to his children. He would not only supervise the news content but also kept an eye on printing, circulation, advertisement, classified advertisement and field force of hawkers.

Free press has always been a great challenge in Pakistan. From the government’s censor policies to advertising controls, from the pressure of political parties to government press advices, the press has to face innumerable difficulties. Mir Sahib emerged successful against these tough challenges many times. Long ago, he had learnt to strike a balance between compromising to a certain extent and then sticking to his guns. This balance is essential for the survival and credibility of a newspaper.

After establishing the biggest media empire in Pakistan and earning the title of Mir-e-Sahafat, and after living his life to the fullest, when he left this world, thousands of people gathered at the graveyard of Tariq Road to bid farewell to their leader, with heavy hearts and teary eyes. It was the greatest tribute to the greatest man of Pakistani journalism.