By Sheikh Qayoom
Maqbool Sahil, writer, poet, scholar, journalist, broadcaster, and orator. That is how the tragic death of this man in search of his roots was described as. His death on 20 March came as a shock to all those who knew him, had read his books or heard him speak at functions and private gatherings. It is very rare for the common man not directly in contact with someone to comment passionately and affectionately on somebody’s death.
The circumstances under which Maqbool finally reached his ‘Sahil’ regenerated the public awareness about the uncertainty of human life. Not that anybody ever believed that there is anything certain about death, but when someone full of life, smiling, laughing and always ready to help, falls like the hero of a Greek tragedy without leaving any scope for doctors, attendants, well-wishers and sympathisers, that death leaves a trail of tremor.
When Maqbool Sahil died, some of his friends and others in the media fraternity started posting on social networking sites how ephemeral life is. Some said if Maqbool’s time has come, ours would not be very far.
To that extent, Maqbool who believed in making his feelings and sentiments public, sent across a strong message about what life is all about through his sudden death.
I have known him personally for over 25 years. He started his career with Azaan newspaper as a calligrapher. He later joined the daily Aftab. He went out of the Valley for some time and on his return joined Tahir Mohiuddin’s Chattan. He was assigned investigative stories beat by his editor and in fact he was one of the first local reporters who did what we call investigative journalism for the vernacular press.
Late George Joseph and his wife, Aasha Khosa liked the simple, soft spoken and humble Maqbool so much that he finally became a member of their family. How fondly and with what compassion and affection Aasha Khosa commented on his death proves that the couple treated Maqbool as a son and younger brother.
On his part, Maqbool would never tire while speaking of Aashaji and the support she gave him during all his good and mostly bad days.
It was during his over three years of incarceration that he completed manuscripts of seven books out of which only three have been published so far.
The innate goodness of this simple village lad was proven when he wrote about those who interrogated him in detention. He did not have a single word of hatred or complaint against his interrogators. In his jail diary Shabistan-e-Wajood, he even names his interrogators, but he refrains from making an unpleasant comment on the methods they would have used to interrogate him.
Among the fraternity, a special mention must be made of Shujaat Bukhari who owned, helped and stood by him after his release to rehabilitate Maqbool Sahil in his profession.
It is second nature to people to disown anyone who is stricken with misfortune and hardship. Maqbool Sahil was no exception as a victim of this callousness of human nature. Most of the people who used his energy and flair for news hunting said after Maqbool was arrested in September 2004 that they hardly knew him and had no knowledge about his background and loyalty. Not many among us stood up to say that Maqbool Sahil was a man of impeccable identity as a journalist. That he could have rubbed shoulders with people of different ideologies and assertions was only natural to his nature as a news hound.
Great of him that he never spoke ill of those who disowned him after his arrest. He would describe every second person he met in the fraternity as a teacher from whom he had learnt and whom he owned gratitude.
Once only, in his unexpected sad mood, he told me that the world is an arena where one discovers the true nature of people around him after many years. I pulled him out by saying that Christ had cured ten lepers, but only one stopped to thank him. He smiled and agreed that none of us should expect more gratitude than Christ.
When I saw his picture put out immediately after his death on the social media, he seemed sleeping blissfully. Not every human being has the fortune of dying a death that puts little burden on family and friends by way of long illness, nursing and tendering. He died with the same self-respect that he had during his life. He was a weight on nobody.
His remembrance and tribute have been universal in Kashmir, but what we actually need to prove our gratitude is to ensure that his family is supported morally and through other possible means so that his death does not stand out as an example of what our society and fraternity does to good people. Maqbool Sahil has left behind his wife, five sons, a daughter and a handicapped brother. There are so many families who lost their breadwinners due to one or the other tragedy during the last 30 years of conflict in Kashmir. Let us, at least, prove that we as the media fraternity would not allow this one family to slip into oblivion and deprivation after the mourning and tribute write-ups and articles are written and forgotten.
—Sheikh Qayoom is Kashmir Bureau Chief, Indo-Asian News Service (IANS)
The piece appeared in Kashmir Narrator’s April issue. To subscribe to Narrator’s print edition, mail here: [email protected]