Mostafa Kamal Majumder
The sad demise of eminent journalist Zaglul Ahmed Chowdhury on Saturday night has come as a shock to all not only because of the suddenness with which the end came to the glorious career of a gentleman in the profession of journalism but also for the callousness of motor vehicles operators that led to the accident causing his death.
A passenger bus that he rode on his way to Kawranbazar did not allow his normal disembarkation and instead of coming to a halt was still speeding as the veteran journalist was stepping down the footboard. Chowdhury lost balance under impact of force of the speed as he disembarked and fell on the road. He was declared dead by doctors when he was taken from there to a city hospital.
A large mark of injury on the left side of his forehead was clearly visible as his mortal remains were viewed by his freinds and admirers at the National Press Club after the namaj-e-janaza on late Monday (Dec 1) afternoon. He looked like in a peaceful sleep.
The ever smiling Zaglul Ahmed Chowdhury was a decent man who could mix with people gracefully rising above differences of opinion. He held his own viewpoint on issues and things but this did not debar him from having friendly exchange of opinions with people holding opposite views.
A journalist working with the Bangadesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), official news agency, for about 35 years, Chowdhury started concentrating on writing columns after his return from an assignment in New Delhi where he worked as BSS correspondent. He told this author of the guidance he received from Shahidul Huq former editor of The Bangladesh Times who was also posted there as Press Counsellor in the Bangladesh Embassy since the early eighties.
Chowdhury and I covered many reporting assignments together and attended many briefing meetings and diplomatic functions. As members of the Overseas Correspondents Association of Bangladesh (OCAB) we had a number of opportunities to share views and know each other. He said his interactions with Shahidul Huq had profound influence on his writings before he established himself as a columnist concentrating mainly on South Asian and international issues.
Chowdhury used to share memories of his glorious time spent with Editor Shahidul Huq who was very close to me too as a guide and teacher. Renowned Journalist Hasan Sayeed, the former bureau chief of Associated Press (AP) in Bangladesh, had once described Shahidul Huq as being miles ahead of others in English journalism in Dhaka in terms of simple and lucid writing. He used to write simple, but had the rare ability to hit people hard by using inoffensive language. His editing was superb, and hardly there were marks of striking off sentences or paragraphs. He used to add to delete a few words remarkably improving write-ups of even junior reporters.
Some colleagues in English journalism in the past used to have a love for the use of strong not very common words to communicate messages. They used to term simple writings as ‘jaundiced’. Respected Hasan Syeed himself was a great writer of lucid prose. Fazle Rashid Yousuf Jamal Ahad, the great Ataus Samad, Bangladesh representative of the BBC for a long time, former editor of The Independent, Mahbubul Alam and Abdur Rahim, former executive editor of The Bangladesh Observer (Now editor of The Envoy), had the same qualities. My former chief reporter and editor Alamgir Mohiuddin , now editor of Naya Diganta, and eminent journalist Mozammel Huq of BSS were also known for their simple but powerful reports. Zaglul Ahmed Chowdhury belonged to this genre of journalists, unassuming, yet resourceful, commanding respects of others.
Chowdhury and this author had an opportunity to spend about 48 hours together during a reporting assignment to the hill district of Khagrachhari way back in 1994. There was some progress in the settlement of the problem of refugees of the hill districts. After successful negotiations hundreds of displaced families of the hill districts started coming back to their homes. Government officials aided by representatives of hill people received them near the Indo-Bangladesh border, assisted and supervised their resettlement.
On the day of our trip to Khagrachhari, Chowdhury and we found to our utter surprise that microbuses of the Press Information Department had left the National Press Club premise about half an hour before the scheduled time because, club peons reported, those were full by then. We two decided to go by ourselves and took a bus from Saidabad. As we reached Khagrachhari late in the evening we saw the media team led by then senior information officer Iftakhar Hossain, who became Principal Information Officer during the tenure of the last caretaker government in 2007. Iftekhar Hossain arranged for our stay in a beautiful two-bedded room at the Forest Office rest house.
We had a lot of intimate talks that night in the rest house. Chowdhury was a late riser from bed. I woke up before sunrise amid sweet twittering of birds of many species. I recorded about ten minutes of the memorable singing of the birds in chorus but different notes. When Chowdhury woke up I switched on my tape recorder without telling him. After a few moments he exclaimed, ‘where are all these birds?’
After his return from New Delhi Zaglul Ahmed Chowdhury used to drive a small four-seat car to different assignments and give lift to other journalist friends. He had no hesitation to take lift when he did not have his car with him. On fateful Saturday evening he took a bus reportedly as his driver did not come to work.
A man at 69 is not expected to be fast enough to absorb the force of coming down from a speeding bus that its helper might have had asked him to do, as has been the practice in almost all passenger buses in the City of Dhaka. The conductors and helpers have all the time on earth to call passengers at bus stops and overload their vehicles, but not even five seconds to allow a passenger to get down comfortably at his/her destination.
The accident has physically separated Zaglul Ahmed Chowdhury from his colleagues and friends, but the emotional links he established during his long career would never be severed. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
(The writer is the editor of GreenWatch Dhaka)