February issue 2010
Voice of Reason
Inquilab was a barrister-at-law, but he never practised law; he only observed it in letter and spirit — as a law-abiding citizen. Under no circumstances would he surrender his right to say what he believed to be the honest truth — supported, of course, by credible evidence.
A pacifist, he would unflinchingly stand up for his beliefs, unafraid of the costs he might have to pay, personally and professionally. I have vivid memories of him at an editors’ moot, cross-examining General Zia-ul-Haq for reneging on his solemn pledge to hold general elections within 90 days of his coup under the so-called Operation Fairplay. He didn’t flinch before the dictator.
And understandably so: he was the son of a doyen of Pakistani journalism, Fakhre Matri. Inquilab verily worshipped his father. I had known the elder Matri mainly through his friendship with my elder brother, Osman Siddiqui. He belonged to the first generation of professional journalists in Pakistan.
I remember Fakhre Matri for his good looks, his ever-smiling face, his resonant voice and, of course, his light-hearted banter. He would invariably be the focus of attention, whether at a high-powered press conference or in the midst of an informal social gathering.
Inquilab Matri did not have his father’s rare command over Urdu, English and his native Gujarati. However, he had twice the vocal resonance and depth of his father. Yes, he did tend to grope for words, or rather the precise word he’d want to use at that precise moment to convey his anguish at a certain problem. His natural modesty or, perhaps, his shyness would generally stand in the way of his intent and its articulation. But speak his mind he did, on points he felt strongly about. And his words were often lost in the tenor of his voice.
My friendship with Inquilab began after my retirement from the army in 1973, when I became the editor-publisher of Defence Journal, a monthly digest of geo-strategic affairs.
The edge Inquilab had over me as the owner-editor of The Leader (an eveninger in English) and the daily Millat(a daily in Gujarati) was blunted by the fullness of my years. He was at least 15 years my junior in age.
Along with Inquilab and Mahmoodul Aziz — we made a light-hearted trio at the CPNE meetings hammering out CPNE resolutions on Aziz’s portable ageing typewriter. And we had the formidables — the late Ahmed Ali Khan of Dawn, Mohammad Ahmad Zuberi of Business Recorder, the late Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman of the Jang Group and The Nation’s Majid Nizami — calling the shots.
During my own two consecutive terms as the CPNE secretary-general (1985-86-87), both Inquilab and Mahmoodul Aziz had been a source of immense support to me. But for their constant support, it would not have been smooth sailing for the organisation under General Zia’s hand-tooled theocracy.
His professional interests aside, Inquilab was also a family man. He doted on his German-born wife, and was extremely proud of his only child, Shimaila, who followed in his footsteps, became a journalist and is currently editor of Inquilab’s Urdu newsmagazine, Notebook.
In fact the last time he contacted me was to ask me to review Tariq Ali’s book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power for the first issue for Notebook, which I promptly did.
Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see his Urdu publication prosper and grow from strength to strength. Farewell, dear friend and colleague, you will be much missed.