Far more than fifty

If measured not by longevity, but by the number of people he impacted, then the scope of Shujaat Bukhari’s existence far exceeds his age!

Athar Parvaiz
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jun 19 2018 12:05AM | Updated Date: Jun 19 2018 12:05AM
Far more than fiftyFile Photo

Some eight months back, Shujaat Bukhari, arguably Kashmir’s most popular journalist who is no more among us, talked to me for around half an hour during an event asking me, among other things, why I had stopped writing for any Srinagar-based newspaper. Despite writing for international and national publications, it is very important for a journalist, he said, to have local presence. 

His advice straightaway cut ice with me as it came from a professional who I knew as someone whose success and prominence had a lot to do with the local contacts he had cultivated while working as a correspondent for years for a local newspaper, Kashmir Times, before launching his own publication, Rising Kashmir, which has now become a popular newspaper in Kashmir with thousands of followers, on social media, from outside Kashmir as well. In between, he had also worked for The Hindu as its Srinagar correspondent for well over a decade. 

Shujaat, as most of the journalists would call him (I, and all his juniors, always added the honorific title, Sahab), was silenced forever in a barbaric attack outside his office in Srinagar’s Press Enclave on Thursday evening by unknown assailants. 

A previous attempt to take away his life in 2006 had failed as the weapon which was aimed at him after abducting him had miraculously stopped functioning right at that moment. Unfortunately, this time around, the assailants made it sure to pump in bullets in his body till they thought they had done their job. 

He became the 19th journalist to fall to the scourge of armed violence in Kashmir since its inception in 1989 and his killing evoked condemnation from all and sundry including the Hurriyat leadership and some militant outfits. Official condemnations also came from Jammu & Kashmir government, New Delhi and Islamabad. All the media associations in Kashmir have condemned the killing terming it as an attack on the entire media fraternity of Kashmir. 

His funeral was attended by thousands of people who gathered at his ancestral village Kreeri, some 45km north of Srinagar, in Baramulla district.  

My first interaction with Shujaat Sahab as journalist was quite brief and it happened when I was just cutting my teeth into journalism. But, that brief interaction had a deep influence on me. 

One evening in early 2004, as my eyes were fixed on the desktop in the newsroom of Kashmir Times with my seniors also busy at their desks, a strapping fellow entered into the newsroom and lounged on a chair with poise before exchanging greetings with my seniors. In the meanwhile, our bureau chief, Zahoor Sahab, introduced me to him saying he has recently joined the organization. After knowing my name, he said that he had found my long-article on Kashmir’s eminent cartoonist, Bashir Ahmad Bashir, very interesting. That was one of my first few articles. “The article was very well written and was very interesting. Keep it up,” he told me. 

That commendation encouraged me a lot and motivated me further to get my journalistic work noticed. Soon, I started visiting him to his office whenever I wished. He was always happy to have people around him. I hardly remember any visit to his office when I didn’t see less than three-four people sipping tea in his office while chatting with him. He would seldom let you go before getting the tea served to you.          

His friend-circle included people with myriad backgrounds – journalists, artists, doctors, lawyers, academics, activists, politicians, bureaucrats, foreign diplomats etc. As his body laid at his home, the crowd of his mourning friends and fans was so huge that close relatives of the family had to profusely make polite requests to mourners, who wanted to catch the last glimpse of his face, to stay away in order to have the funeral prayers strictly as per the time announced earlier.          

As a senior journalist, Shujaat Sahab always treated his fellow journalists with esteem regardless of junior or senior. During press conferences and other events, he would make it a point to interact and exchange pleasantries with his junior fellow journalists. 

At his organization, Rising Kashmir, he was able to groom dozens of journalists many of whom landed up jobs in some of world’s top media companies including Aljazera and TRT apart from earning prestigious international fellowships. Part of their grooming included having sessions with persons of great repute. Whenever a top journalist, intellectual or academician would come to Kashmir, Shujaat Sahab would get him to Rising Kashmir office to interact with his team of young journalists. I also had the privilege of sitting in two of those sessions with renowned historians, Ramchandra Guha and Ayesha Jalal. In his newspaper, he gave space to every shade of opinion.    

If journalism was his profession, social worker was his second name. After the 2014 devastating floods, one of the pictures which kept doing rounds on social media was his photo wherein he could be seen sailing on a boat wearing a life-support jacket as he rescued people and provided aid to those in need of it.    

He was a man of great manners. In December 2015, when I went to enquire about his health at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, he struggled hard to talk while recovering from a stroke. Yet he managed to communicate, with great difficulty though, to introduce me to an attendant and his sister who sat beside his bed reciting Quran and praying for his recovery.     

Kashmir’s journalists, and even the journalists from outside who are familiar with Kashmir, have known Shujaat Sahab as an epitome of success considering the great feats he had achieved in journalism. He was a widely travelled journalist and we would often say it about him that he is a globe-trotter.                     

Shujaat Sahab was a keen observer of politics about Kashmir issue and the Indo-Pak relations and had involved himself as well in peace related activities. He was an eminent moderate voice from Kashmir and the moving spirit behind various conferences in recent years over Kashmir issue. 

In a write-up in the last week of May for his newspaper, he wrote: “In order to get Pakistan on board for a successful SAARC summit, it is imperative to cool down tempers in and on Kashmir. In this backdrop, the next few months will be interesting to watch.” Alas, he is no more to watch those interesting months! However, if his life is measured not by longevity, but by how many people he impacted, then the scope of his existence far exceeded his life of half a century on earth! Rest in peace, Shujaat Sahab!        

 

Athar Parvaiz is a senior Kashmiri journalist. He tweets @AtharParvaiz

 

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