A gentleman in journalism

Glimpses of Farhad Zaidi, who embodied integrity and grace

A gentleman in journalism

When death terminates a close relationship, spanning a lifetime, it takes a while for you to internalise its meaning and emotional consequences.

Farhad Zaidi, Pakistan’s distinguished media person, passed away in Karachi on Friday, March 11, just over a month after his 91st birthday. He is being remembered nationwide as a professional journalist and broadcaster of great merit. He also stood out for his human qualities. He was a perfect gentleman in a profession that often inspires a brash and contentious frame of mind.

We were friends for almost 57 years. Though we were in the same profession, we were never in the same office. But we were mostly together in the living of our lives, so to say. And that attachment is bound to inform this attempt to present some glimpses of a man who embodied integrity and grace.

By way of a backdrop, it is to be noted that his career was launched in the 1950s in Lahore with stints in Urdu dailies Imroze, Nawa-i-Waqt and Mashriq. A fateful shift in his life came in the middle ’60s when he relocated to Karachi to oversee the publication of the first comprehensive Urdu weekly for women, the Akhbar-i-Khawateen, which was a landmark event in Pakistan’s journalism.

It so happened that the magazine’s editor, also transferred from Lahore, was a bright young woman journalist Mussarat Jabeen. She was – and is – Khanum to us. This was when I became friends with both of them, thanks to my previous friendship with Farhad Zaidi’s younger brother Irshad Zaidi, the brilliant cartoonist. Sadly, Irshad is seriously unwell and is bed-ridden in Lahore.

Anyhow, those days of our extended youth, Farhad Zaidi and Khanum having become life partners, were for us the days of wine and roses, to take liberty with what the poet said. And unlike the poet’s lament, those days were fairly long. Eventually, Sadiqa joined that circle of friends, and we were married in May 1972, fifty years ago.

Among my mementoes are photographs of our wedding. Farhad Zaidi, looking handsome from all angles, is there with a small number of friends, including the late Obaidullah Beg. Our first new car, Fiat 600, was actually owned by the Zaidis – and I paid for it in instalments that I could afford. I should not lapse into these details because there is such a bundle to unload. We could not really paint the town red but in our own way, we had the time of our life. Those were happy times.

On the way, Farhad Zaidi achieved many distinctions. He became editor of daily Hurriyet. He temporarily shifted to Islamabad to join the management of The Muslim and was twice elected president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS). Years later, in the 1990s, he headed Pakistan Television and this would be the high point in his career.

If for nothing else, Farhad Zaidi should be remembered for his poem Shareef Aadmi. Worthy of being included in an anthology of great Urdu poems, it expresses the agony of the shareef aadmi who is not willing to die for a worthy cause but is also not tempted to share the spoils by siding with the oppressors.

However, I see his real achievement in the life that he led. There were difficult times when both of them did not have a job. The dignity and forbearance with which they carried on is the true measure of Farhad Zaidi and his family. There has been ample research on how a happy life and meaningful existence is built not on the foundation of wealth, power or fame but on relationships and trust, on love and fidelity. The truth of these findings has been certified by social and psychic conditions that prevailed during the pandemic.

I am a witness to how Farhad Zaidi and Khanum nurtured their nuclear family over these long years of change and upheaval. Both their sons, Hasan and Ali Faisal, are the persons they are because of how they were brought up and the values they have inherited. This is how close-knit families build their defences against the insanity that surrounds us.

If for nothing else, Farhad Zaidi should be remembered for his poem Shareef Aadmi. Worthy of being included in an anthology of great Urdu poems, it expresses the agony of the shareef aadmi who is not willing to die for a cause but is also not tempted to share the spoils by siding with the oppressors.

In passing, I need to mention how Farhad Zaidi and I jointly decided to court arrest in the protest for freedom of the press in May 1978, during Zia’s time, after a military court in Lahore sentenced four journalists to flogging – and three of them were actually flogged. I do not have sufficient space here to go into details. We flew to Lahore to court arrest on separate days and were in jail for around two weeks until all the journalists and press workers were released. One point: our wives were relieved by our decision and felt proud of what we were doing.

Finally, our two families were bound together in the annual ritual of writing areeza on the occasion of Shab-i-Barat. Incidentally, Farhad Zaidi died exactly a week before the arreza night. Let me borrow Hasan Zaidi’s words to explain what this means. This is what he wrote in his tweets two years ago:

“A Shab Baraa’t In Lockdown Story: So obv we couldn’t go to throw our areezas into the sea, as my family has been doing without fail since my parents moved to Karachi in the 1960s. It used to be done from Netty Jetty (along with thousands of others) but ever since Port Grand...>...came up and the Netty Jetty bridge was cordoned off for common folk, we used to sneak on to the Beach Luxury pier to do the needful. Almost always accompanied by old family friends Mr Ghazi Salahuddin, Sadiqa Salahuddin and whichever kids were around. This would always be...>...preceded by a niaz at our house and then writing out the areezas with saffron ink and stuffing them into small wads of dough (sort of bait for the fish that would swallow them and in mythological theory then make their way to Khwaja Khizr who would get them across to God)...>

...Long ago, we’d figured out that doing all this among the throngs on Netty Jetty was really difficult, thus the decision to prep the areezas beforehand. In any case, this time bec of the lockdown neither could the Salahuddins make it to our house...throw the areezas, even from Beach Luxury. So my mother came up with a novel way of doing it. After the niaz, we wrote out our areezas as usual with saffron ink. Then we dipped the areezas in bowls of water. The ink washed off into the water, which we then proceeded...>...to pour into the plants in our garden. My mother chose the raat ki rani to water, I watered the chambeli, while my father’s areeza water was used on the cheekoo tree and the motia. In such a way, a Karachi tradition was kept alive in spite of the lockdown.”

And now, of course, someone will not be there on our areeza or any other night.

The author is a senior columnist with The News International. He may be reached at ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

A gentleman in journalism