April Issue 2009

By | People | Profile | Published 11 years ago

One of the stars of Pakistani journalism bowed out on March 26. For nearly four decades, Sabihuddin Ghausi remained not just an integral figure of Karachi’s journalist community, but one of its leading stars. A star that sparkled both as a thorough professional as well as an activist.

Barring the last six or seven weeks of his life — when Ghausi was in and out of hospital following a brain haemorrhage — he remained in the thick of things. Reporting, writing, appearing on television talk shows as an economic and political analyst, running in the elections of the Karachi Press Club (KPC) and the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) — Ghausi had his hands full. He remained active both on the professional and social fronts with the passion and energy of a youngster. Failing eyesight and a host of other health problems, which had caught him in the last couple of years, never dampened his spirits. Like any traditional journalist, he was a true bohemian and lived life in the fast lane.

I first met Ghausi sometime in 1992 at the KPC and was soon admitted to his inner circle. I was still new to the fascinating world of journalism and was struggling to learn the ropes, while Ghausi was a veteran — a frontline reporter at Dawn — whose stories I read as a student. It was indeed, an honour for a newcomer like myself to enjoy his hospitality. He shared not just his forbidden treasure stored in the cardroom locker with generosity, but also his rich professional experiences, anecdotes and lectured the young guns on the dos and don’ts of journalism.

He stressed on the power of facts. Tell your story as simply as possible. A news story based on strong facts does not need the crutches of adjectives and flowery language, remained the crux of his message. And he practiced what he preached — both in his incisive news reports and his articles. His strength was economic reporting, issues such as the distribution of resources among provinces being close to his heart.

I spent countless evenings in his company at the KPC’s smoke-filled cardroom, enjoying oil-soaked French fries, cheese, kebabs, and hard-boiled eggs, which explains a lot about our healthy eating habits. Those were the days when many other old hands were KPC regulars. Sadly, many of them are no longer with us including Altaf Siddiqui, Aleemuddin Pathan, Maqbool Jalees and Mushtaq Memon. Others, including Iqbal Jaffery, Salim Asmi and Abdul Hameed Chapara, have all faded away from the cardroom life. The younger journalists of those times and my contemporaries, including Ovais Subhani, Hasan Jaffery, and Ghulam Hasnain — have all migrated from Pakistan one by one. Ghausi was perhaps the last of the seniors, who often joked about the dwindling number of familiar faces around him.

He often painted a bleak and dismal picture of the state of affairs in Pakistan. His sense of loss of the diappearances of all the values dear to him — from social and individual liberties to freedom of expression, democracy and human rights — was great. Stories by Qurratulain Haider, the poetry of Habib Jalib, tales of his favourite city Mumbai, the tragedy of Bangladesh, military rule and democracy were some of Ghausi’s favourite and recurring topics.

Another of his favourite topics was the defunct daily Sun — his first newspaper job in 1970. According to him, Sunbroke new grounds in Pakistani journalism in those days under the leadership of its editor, Shamim Ahmed. Ghausi also worked for PPI, Business Recorder, Morning News and Muslim before joining the daily Dawn in 1988, with which he remained associated till the last.

This outstanding professional was respected by the entire journalist community for his courage, commitment and credibility.

He was jailed during Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule and lost his job, but he remained committed to his ideals. The last time he went behind bars was in 2007, when journalists protested against the former military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s crackdown on the media. I visited him in the lock-up and was greeted by his trademark smile. He belonged to that old school of journalism who took pride in defiance and were proud to wear their hearts on their sleeve.

Just like his writings, Ghausi was also a bold and an eloquent speaker. KPC’s Ibrahim Jalees Hall is witness to the countless speeches made by him, in which he took top politicians, bureaucrats and his rivals, head-on. In one-on-one encounters, Ghausi was witty and never hesitated in making fun of himself. He had a penchant for asking direct and shocking questions. Like any good reporter, he was sceptical of appearances — a habit which often pitted him even against his own friends, and he suffered the collateral damage of writing and saying what he thought was right.

On a personal level, Ghausi was a caring and sensitive soul. He would worry about the son and widow of a friend, advised juniors like me to take good care of their parents and fretted for hours over the state of the underdogs.

He was among those rare newsmen who indulged in activism without compromising professional responsibilities. He remained among the best of the lot as he rubbed shoulders with the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) giants like Minhaj Barna and Nisar Osmani.

There was a time when Ghausi’s presence alone could ensure the victory of a panel in KPC elections. He could bring hardcore leftists and rightists together and make them work as a team.

Ghausi was elected as president of KPC four times and president of KUJ twice. However, his last few months were hard on him. First, he lost the KPC elections to a junior and then, a month later in Janurary, he also lost the KUJ elections. These defeats were understandable. Many of those who knew him were now no more, and many others had drifted away from the KPC and KUJ’s electoral excitement.

Among many of his images sealed in my memory is that of the KUJ election day when Ghausi, clad in white shalwar kameez, stood at the KPC entrance welcoming voters. Another is that of Ghausi making his victory speech after being elected president in the 1995 KPC elections, in which I was elected his secretary. I owed my one and only win to Ghausi. His last, farewell image is of March 23rd — a few days before his death — in which I asked him to get well soon so that we could again celebrate at KPC, just like the good old days. Ghausi gave a faint smile, shook hands with me and I promised to return the next week. But that was not destined to be.

“A warrior, a good man has returned early. May Allah bless him always,” senior columnist Nusrat Nasarullah, one of Ghausi’s admirers, wrote in an SMS sent to me soon after his death.

Amir Zia is a senior Pakistani journalist, currently working as the Chief Editor of HUM News. He has worked for leading media organisations, including Reuters, AP, Gulf News, The News, Samaa TV and Newsline.