An icon of courageous journalism
by Roushan Zaman
AZM Enayetullah Khan was popularly referred to as Mintu by his peers and friends; but to his younger colleagues and admirers, he was Mintu Bhai.
It was Holiday, the weekly, through which this scribe came to know the founder of the once prestigious and outspoken ‘news or views’ weekly—whatever the elite readership of those days in the pre-independence late 1960s, and in particular in the years immediately after the independence of Bangladesh—called it. In our college and university days, in late ‘60s and early ‘70s, we often used to buy a copy of Holiday, though much by way of a fashion to flaunt our interest in progressive intellectual thinking, but of course, sometimes, we read some of the articles or commentaries it printed to enrich our young, fledgling mind with ideas and improve our vocabulary in English language. But let me admit, we sometimes found it difficult to grasp the editor’s style of tough language English, his complex sentences, often using words or expressions that sounded unintelligible to young novice readers like me.
But the more I read him, specially in the post-independence days as a student in the university when I was coming to pick up some maturity of mind, the more I understood his style of weaving the words into his own kind of prose full of witticism and bites. Though one might not always agree with what he wrote, he always had a point that he would vigorously and forcefully try to drive home. As a journalist, he vigorously wielded his pen against the establishment—both during the pre-independence era against the Pakistan-dominated establishment and later after the independence, against the all-powerful regime of the Awami League government, which one of my journalist friends, Afsan Chowdhury, termed as Holiday’s ‘finest’ moments as it played ‘David with the Awami League’s Goliath’ with considerable success (In a prologue to Khan’s ‘A Testament of Time’). His writings were mostly opinionated, and in fact he was a pioneer in the opinion-making journalism in Bangladesh. Whether people, including this scribe, always agreed or not to what he wrote, everybody—except the political quarters who were the butt of his critical writings, and the so-called ‘courtier press’—admired him as a courageous columnist and editor.
Much later, when I myself joined the profession of journalism, I saw him closely and got to know him in our small world of journalism. I saw Enayetullah Khan, the tall handsome figure, more closely at the Press Club which he frequented most of the days early in the morning after dropping his children at school. After my night shift at BSS, where I used to work as a junior sub-editor, I often came to the Press Club for my breakfast. That often gave me a chance to bump into Mintu Bhai. There, he would be surrounded by the seniors discussing political happenings or the latest gossips of the day having their rounds, or anything about men and materials. Young reporters or sub-editors like us maintained a little distance, fearing we didn’t match his and other seniors’ stature. But we usually kept open our ear to get to know what they were discussing over their rounds of tea and hot dalpuris.
But we soon realised Mintu Bhai never had any generation gap with the young scribes and found that we were always welcome to join the table with him. The young people at the Press Club always liked him because he was easy to get along with. His one favorite addiction was smoking; he was a chain-smoker who always put his packet on the table from which any smoker—young or old—could freely help himself. And when his packet was finished, he would help himself from others without hesitation.
Mintu Bhai always had an easy, cheerful demeanour that attracted all to his table or he would join any table at the Press Club, and in Dhaka Club as well that he loved to frequent. In the after hours, when he was not working at his office, he loved to go to parties; if I may put it like saying ‘he was an indefatigable partygoer’. There would be hardly any diplomatic party in Dhaka where this tall handsome ‘panjabiwalla’ was ever missing. At these parties and the exclusive dinners at the salons in the city’s diplomatic area he was an omnipresent icon surrounded by inquisitive foreigners and local elite eager to discuss politics, economy or any hot issues of the day. Visiting foreign journalists were sure to track him down for a briefing on the Bangladesh scenario; and he was so frequently quoted in the foreign press. He was probably one of the best-known Bangladeshi journalists abroad. And he was a wonderfully generous host as well. On a number of occasions when this scribe arranged a meeting between Mintu Bhai and a visiting journalist from any foreign news agency or newspaper—for which I used to work as a stringer—he would invite the visitor for a dinner or a drink at his home or at Dhaka Club.
Professionally, Enayetullah Khan was a 100% ‘hands-on-editor’, not the kind of non-writing ‘owner-editors’ lending their names to the printer’s line. Writing was a sort of passion for him. And he pursued the profession of journalism with a passion too. He was never a rich man and often borrowed money from his friends to pay the staff at his newspaper. But he had many other riches; he was rich in his mind and his heart, in his ideas and thought. He was never jealous, he was never backbiting against people in their absence—which is a common trait in this land. But he was always straightforward and upright.
This writer had the opportunity to see Mintu Bhai closely, first as a young reporter covering him when he was an adviser or a minister in the government of President Ziaur Rahman, in the late 1970s. But much later, in late-90s, he had hired this writer to work as executive editor of Holiday. It was a great experience working with him being the editor. He was an affectionate employer, avuncular and always protective. Those who had worked with him know he would be the first one to arrive at the office—around 9 o’clock in the morning—when the cleaner has not even cleaned the ashtray on his table filled with cigarette butts. And interestingly, many of us and his readers did not know that he used to write his pieces with a ball-point pen, all words in all caps. Once he told this scribe that he never felt easy with the typewriter and that he could never become a computer-savvy. (May be because he always smoked one after another when he would be writing). He always took special efforts in editing any copy with his ball-point which no editor today would do. When he has done with his own piece in all caps, he would hand over the copy for typing and ask any of his deputies to check it; but he would make sure to proof-read the copy when he came back to office later in the day or on the next day. And he was great in giving witty and catchy headlines to stories.
Holiday with Enayetullah Khan as its editor was a highly stimulating weekly, dealing with substantive issues and putting across biting viewpoints which often earned the wrath of the establishment. Though mostly political, it usually upheld progressive and liberal values affecting the society. For this, perhaps, Mintu Bhai was always a bete noire of the vested interest and conservative political quarters.
Enayetullah Khan always dreamt to bring out a daily, which he did in the later years of his life. New Age that you are reading now is his last great achievement. Unfortunately, though, he passed away quite prematurely—just a couple of years after launching New Age. But nonetheless, the show goes on and New Age has been alive and professionally sustainable for the last about ten years—thanks to his pallbearers who are now living to keep it going.
The writer is Associate Editor of New Age