Remembering S.M. Ali | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 05, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 05, 2011

82nd Birth Anniversary

Remembering S.M. Ali

SM. Ali, icon of journalism of our country, was born eighty two-years ago on December 5 in a well known literary family of Sylhet. His is an inspiring portrait of a journalist who decided early in life to devote his intellectual and writing gift to serving the nation.
He made his debut in the early fifties as a reporter of the erstwhile premier English daily, The Pakistan Observer, and became known before long for his feature-reportage, "The City We Live In." Later, on his return to Pakistan from England, he served in senior positions in reputed dailies like The Dawn in Karachi and The Pakistan Times in Lahore, where he also served as a part-time teacher in journalism of the Punjab University. In 1962 he moved to Hong Kong with an assignment with the Asia Magazine, which was followed by senior editorial positions with the Bangkok Post, The New Nation (Singapore) and the Hong Kong Standard.
Though S.M. Ali was away from newspaper world for more than a decade since 1975, serving at the Press Foundation of Asia in Hong Kong and Manila and in Unesco as the regional adviser for Asia in Kuala Lampur, his romance with journalism however remained passionately singular. In late eighties, after his stint as editor of The Bangladesh Observer, he launched The Daily Star as its founding editor in 1991. And that was the finest hour, the grand finale of his stellar career in journalism spanning over four decades.
Under his able stewardship, the paper caught the eye of discerning readers in no time, its readership continued to soar along with its innovative accomplishments. Not the straitjacket of party-leaning newspaper The Daily Star remained steadfast to professional ethics of objectivity.
S.M. Ali's novel, Rainbow Over Padma is flushed with patriotic fervour. Humanity is never in doubt in his works. He extols the people as the real heroes of Bangladesh. Beyond the terrifying spectre that haunts every socio-political treatise of a liberation war and also the desperate sociology of the society, the writer in his prescience finds in our down-trodden people a promise of a new Bangladesh where they would be lifted out of the indebtedness and poverty-cycle and live with human dignity. Surely, no one needs a past riddle with humiliation of colonial rule when the future promises a turning of tables.
He wrote with a narrative drive and an ability to capture situations that make us turn the pages with eager anticipation. The cost of excellence in his writing is his personal devotion and the pain taken. The book is a strong addition to the genre of fictional work on our nation's resurgence in the aftermath of a grueling war of independence. The book was published in Dhaka posthumously in 1994. Another book by him, After The Dark Night, was published by the Thompson Press (India) 1974.
The esteem in which he was held as a journalist-writer was evident when the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos addressed him as Dr. Ali when the latter called on him at his presidential palace in Manila. Taken aback, he informed the president that he had not been conferred such degree. In reply, the President said: "If your writings were any measure, you had already earned the degree much earlier than now."
S.M. Ali was always keen to share his professional expertise with the young aspirants who wanted to make a career in journalism. I received a two-page typed letter from him, which was quite a booster to my morale in charting out my future career at a vital cross-road in my life. In it, he, inter-alia, counseled me to cultivate the habit of writing vigorously -- a vital ingredient for a career in journalism. He, however, cautioned me not to nurse any illusion about journalism. "Life in journalism is too hard for most of us. Often it may seem almost unbearable," he wrote. His was indeed a realistic appraisal of the situation prevailing then in our nascent newspaper industry when the profession obviously did not belong to faint hearts. Yet there were young aspirants who took courage to face the challenge. To many, its a thrill apart, the moving urge to join the profession was its unique role to serve the society from a "vantage point."
Evidently we have moved so quickly to the sordidness of the present moment because the traditional deference the pioneering elders once received has almost entirely disappeared. S.M. Ali, beholden to their legacies, wrote excellent pieces in The Daily Star on Altaf Hossain and Abdus Salam, the two outstanding editors of his time, recalling their memorable contribution to journalism, nay to the nation.
S.M. Ali was essentially a kindly and good humoured man who never lost his disarming wit. In his popular column "My World" in The Daily Star S.M. Ali wished that the books he received from writers were put on sale after he was gone. One may, however, fervently hope that those books, if not already sold away, were preserved with care as an epitaph to the hallowed memory of the late lamented editor.
Our tribute in spades.

The writer is a contributor to The Daily Star.

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