The 104th birth anniversary of Abdus Salam, Editor, Bangladesh Observer (formally Pakistan Observer) was observed recently at the National Press Club. The speakers paid rich tribute to the late editor for his outstanding contribution to our English journalism then in its adolescent phase. Worryingly, if media treatment is any indication, he may fade away from public memory before long. That surely would be greatly unsettling in terms of historicity. The occasion, to mention, provided a useful perspective on the legacy that he had left behind, and also the challenges he faced in discharging his obligations during his long professional career.
Abdus Salam, formally a member of the pre-Partition Audit and Accounts Service joined Pakistan Observer as its editor after a stint of a teaching job at the Jagannath College. He transformed the paper as one of the most influential daily in the south-east region. The paper emerged as the flagship of our English dailies, its circulation soared much higher than its peers. He was ably served by a host of brilliant journalists like S M Ali (who later became the founder-editor of The Daily Star), ABM Musa, Enayetullah Khan, Ataus Samad and Abdul Matin, amongst others. I count myself lucky to have started early enough my journalistic career under an editor of his caliber.
Abdus Salam wore his intelligence lightly. In his simple, casual dressing disguised a high intellect in his writings. He would never waste words or lose the thread of arguments in flowery language. He would straight go to the heart of the matter. The beauty of his writing was that he could explain issues that would not lend to readers so easily in a language intelligible to average readers. To his job, he brought a sharp, probing intelligence, elegant prose talents that made him one of the finest journalists of his generation. He was a voracious reader, contemplative and modest whose idealism and gentle sense of humour left a lasting impression. He was a cool operator but this masked his passionate hatred against any injustice or inequity. He never hesitated to take up his pen to oppose any discrimination against the people of the former East Pakistan by the Pakistani rulers for which he had to suffer imprisonment. He was a canny politician who knew the pulse of his people.
SM Ali, the founder editor of The Daily Star rated Abdus Salam as one of the top three editors of the former Pakistan along with Altaf Hossain and ZA Suleri and wrote separate pieces on them.
Abdus Salam's contribution to our journalism, and founding of the National Press Club along with co-editors Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, Zahur Hossain Chowdhury and Mujibur Rahman was consequential. The national club of the journalist community would only be discharging their long-awaited obligations to this distinguished editor if they dedicate the conference hall of the National Press Club to his memory. To rename Topkhana road in front of the National Press Club after him would certainly be a most laudable gesture on behalf of the authorities which had been suggested at the anniversary meeting. Beyond his family circle, the civil society surely owes a responsibility to remember the legendary editor who served the society, nay the nation at a critical juncture of our history with a commitment which he never compromised.
Let us not be pedestrian in our outlook.
The writer is a contributor to The Daily Star.
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