Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Haroon Rasheed 'Alig', a Journalist par excellence: Remembering the weekly Blitz newspaper in Urdu

Photo courtesy Syed Ahmad Quadri

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

In the early 1980s, when I was 7-8 year old kid, the only newspaper column I eagerly awaited was Haroon Rashid Alig's 'Khel Khiladi' in Urdu Blitz.

That was the most popular weekly sports column in any Urdu newspaper then. In those days Urdu papers were even more drab and had no cartoons or other interesting stuff that could attract kids like me. 
Apart from Shama group's magazine for children, 'Khilauna', Blitz was probably the only weekly Urdu paper I used to read in those days, particularly, the sports section.
His column was not limited to the usual cricket, hockey and the boxing stuff only [in those days Urdu papers used to have regular features on Muhammad Ali, who was always referred as Muhammad Ali Kilay because of his original name Cassius Clay]. Perhaps this kilay made it sound more masculine. [Front page of old Blitz edition, courtesy Mr Syed Ahmad Quadri]

Remembering Haroon Rasheed [On his birth anniversary: July 31]

Either it was Wilson John, Prakash Padukone or Chess legend Manuel Aaron, I got familiar with the names of these players through Blitz. 
Of course, the focus of column was slightly more on Muslim players and coverage of events like hockey player Zafar Iqbal's marriage or cricketer Syed Kirmani acting in a movie. 
But it got me interested in Urdu newspapers. I remember many strange stories too that I read in Blitz. When many Indian cricket players were not too tall and appeared weak compared to other teams, a new generation of cricketers came. 
Reports on them, the debate over difference in inches, who's taller, & follow-up stories too, for example--Shastri is an inch taller to the Azhar. Russi Karanjia's Blitz was a successful paper then and it's readership was not limited to Muslims. It was widely read. The paper had English, Hindi and Marathi editions too.
By late 80s, the changing political situation in the country, brought a transformation in journalism also. Big groups like Shama were closing and the tabloids which sprang up fast, thrived on sensationalism and the mosque-temple issue. But for Haroon Rasheed, journalism was about constructive stories and not sensationalism.

He was a strong believer in composite culture. For a humanist like him, the riots of 1992-1993 came as a personal shock. His house was attacked and set afire. His library that had thousands of precious books was destroyed. That shattered him.

On a visit to Delhi press club, he broke down recalling the horrors. He told them how his daughter had emerged as a topper in Marathi but the Shiv Sena goons vandalised his house and his personal library was charred.

After the riots, he asked tough questions to Sudhakar Rao Naik about the riots, his government's tacit complicity and the role of Congress-men and police who had sided with rioters. It was in the light of this interview that the Justice Srikrishna Commission had quizzed Naik about his personal equations with Bal Thackeray.

In 1995, Haroon Rashid joined Inquilab as Editor. He started writing the special editorial on the magazine's front page on Sunday. The focus was always on education and constructive stories. These editorials played a significant role in spreading educational awareness amongst Muslims in Maharashtra in the mid-90s and later. 
And when Urdu medium students topped in Maharashtra, nobody was more delighted than him.
Journalist Masoom Moradabadi says that Harun Rasheed created an awakening and a mood across the state with his writings in Inquilab. An alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, he always used Alig as a suffix and it became a part of his identity. He was born in 1942 and passed away on March 4, 2000 just at the age of 58. As per his wishes, he was buried in his native Ghazipur [Uttar Pradesh].