Of Journalism

October 25, 2009

THE OTHER COLUMN: Good-22 DT! —Ejaz Haider

Filed under: Uncategorized — fawadalishah @ 1:08 pm

THE OTHER COLUMN: Good-22 DT! —Ejaz Haider

Aren’t such pieces supposed to be poetic and infused with some degree of sentiment? If you are disappointed I shall beg your forgiveness, dear reader

Saying goodbye is never easy and I am particularly bad at it.

I read military history and strategy at a rather early age, courtesy my father, a fine infantry officer with an appetite for books. Carl von Clausewitz, among other writers, was an obvious choice and his dialectical approach to theorising about war remains my favourite. Clausewitz talks about the exit point (strategy), more forcefully than the entry point. I have often quoted him but outside of analyses exits are never easy. And a situation that touches a personal chord makes it that much more difficult.

Still, one has to exit at some point, getting off the bus at the terminus, so to speak. And this is the time to say adieux to Daily Times, a newspaper that I, with Najam Sethi and Khaled Ahmed, raised and reared with the affection of a parent.

I remember the call from NS. This was when The Friday Times’ offices were on the Mall, for some reason now increasingly referred to as Maal Road. NS wanted to know why I was reluctant to join him in a new and exciting venture. I was making money on the side, had a fellowship lined up at the Brookings Institution and, frankly, was too lazy to commit myself to work at a daily paper.

I ended up working 7 days a week from end-September 2001 to wit!

One evening I drove to meet with NS at the DT offices, operating out of a warehouse that has since been converted into a nice building. NS talked me into it, as he usually does into most things, and the bribe was a plate of chikkurh-chholas and much excitement about the challenge of bringing out a new paper. “Partner, we can do this!” said NS. His “partner” opening gambit always works and he knows it. Before long he had roped in Khaled too. It was the beginning of a long but very satisfying haul.

Most people were sceptical. There is no space for another English-language newspaper, they said. Frankly, at that point I can’t think of any encouraging words from any quarter. I would tend to think that we made it work; we managed to bring out a paper that was tightly edited, which didn’t hem and haw about issues — whether readers agreed with us or not — and, since I am leaving, would add that I managed to start quite a few controversies and debates on these pages, the longest running being the “grundnorm” debate in the early years of this paper.

I must also take the credit, or the blame — depending on how one looks at it — for starting the transitionists versus transformationists debate, terms that were lapped up by many people without of course any reference to me, a trait that serves to distinguish us Pakistanis from others in ways that, were one to study the phenomenon, could help solve many a mystery about why we are what we are!

I have loved my stay at DT, not least because I had virtual carte blanche. The editor, Najam Sethi, and the publisher, Salmaan Taseer, now the Punjab governor, never ever interfered with my work to the extent that they never even got to read what I wrote until it was printed the next day. If they had any problems with my writing over the nearly eight years that I have worked at DT, I don’t know about it. That says much about both NS and ST. I thank both of them for giving me the freedom to do what I pleased and I pat myself for having used it to the full!

I am sure you don’t like this goodbye piece. Aren’t such pieces supposed to be poetic and infused with some degree of sentiment? If you are disappointed, I beg your forgiveness, dear reader. More than two years ago, on February 25, 2007, I had decided to stop writing this column and finished the piece with this:

“And pray, how does one bid adieux? Should I make it sound sentimental and thank the readers for having put up with me for three years? Or, argh…say like Rilke that ‘I would like to step out of my [column]/and go walking beneath the enormous sky’. Nah, none of that. Woof bloody woof, I say, and while I am a good dog, or have been so far, I do need to fend for myself.”

At the time the late Khalid Hasan wrote to chide me and said that I did not have the prerogative to make that decision. He thought it was up to the readers to decide whether I should stay on or quit. A similar email I received from Major Kamran Shafi (Retd). I had no option but to bow to them and return to the column. KH is no more, blessed be him wherever he is and where souls like him go when they leave this abode; and Micky is not writing for my pages anymore, having discovered a new dawn! Guess that settles the issue this time!

But I will be remiss if I didn’t mention how this column began. I used to write occasional analyses for DT when NS said to me that I should do something different for the paper. One day I sat back, thought about it and wrote a freewheeling column about the tale of two apologies, one coming from AQ Khan, the other from Justin Timberlake. The common denominator was WMD, weapons of mass destruction in one case and wardrobe malfunction disorder in the other. It was a hit and NS told me to continue it. I did and since then have always lamented that it got more readers than what I like doing best — deadpan analyses. Such are the absurdities of this business!

In any case, dear reader, I loved every moment of my stay at DT and I must thank you for making it work for me. The feedback did much for my vanity and that is my only reason for being in this profession. In some ways it’s like being an officer in the army. Salutes is what you get; to hell with the money!

ps: The caption is owed to the rickshaw-wallah who had 22-22 written on the backsad of the rickshaw and told Chaudhry Qasim Nauman, my colleague, that it meant bye-bye!

Ejaz Haider is op-ed editor of Daily Times, consulting editor of The Friday Times and host of Samaa TV’s programme “Siyasiyat”. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk


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