IT CAME as a shock in the evening on Wednesday. I came to know the night before that AHM Moazzem Hossain, the founder editor of the Financial Express newspaper, where I had worked from November 1993 to June 1998 with a break of four months or so in 1995, had been ill. A friend of mine, three years senior to me who was also a colleague of mine at the Financial Express and at the Daily Star, gave a posting on his Facebook wall wishing Moazzem bhai an early recovery.
I first heard of him when I joined the Daily Star in May 1993. I heard that he, working as economic editor, had left the newspaper by then. After I had worked with the Daily Star for a few months, I left the newspaper, for discommoding issues that typically happen to entry-level journalists, to join the Financial Express in November. The newspaper came out on the 10th of the month.
In the initial stages of the newspaper, when the night shift then would begin at 8:00pm rolling into 9:00pm, I whiled away more often more in office, trying to learn the trade. I worked with almost every section, beginning with sports, gradually shuttling around home, central, business, international and even the production and retouching section, where, when the compositors or layout people went out for refreshment, I sometimes laid out the columns on MS Word and cut the columns of news off tracing papers for pasting on a transparent plastic sheet for plates to be readied for print.
But I came in everyday contact with the editor when I was to fill in a position on the editorial desk, for someone leaving the desk for a month or so. I was to oversee the editorial page which was to select and edit articles, editorials included. He had always allowed us to decide which pieces to go in print and which ones to go into the bin, or to be spiked in news-speak. On the days when he needed to write the editorials, he wrote it down, gave it to me and left the office to return, almost every day, about 10:00pm. He would then call in the print of the editorial page in white and go through his editorial.
The editorial slot on the page could have about 700 words and he would sometimes write up to 900 words. Faced with a request to cut down 200 words, he would often say, ‘Strike them out. Don’t bother about it.’ But he bothered about it, keeping to himself, adding any portion of text that he thought necessary but I struck out. Neither he nor I had ever any issue about this. On no next day, he ever asked me why I had struck out this or that sentence although he was quick to make it a point, on the border of becoming a fuss, about typos and mistakes that would creep in in headlines or stories on other pages and he was know for this.
One morning, he walked in and pointed to anyone walking in to a mistake that a headline of a back-page report had. ‘China’ was printed as ‘Chain’. As the news editor, Md Akhtarul Haque, who had also been a colleague of mine during the initial years of New Age, walked in shortly after the noon, he pointed out the typo and asked how it had happened. Akhtar bhai told him that the word was initially written as ‘China’, but because of prolonged production time, which was the norm that time, the ‘a’ became bored and started walking forward and when the newspaper went to the printers, the letter found a place after ‘Ch’. A hearty laughter, with some baffled faces, was let loose on others standing around.
After I had left the Financial Express in June 1995 for the Independent, again over a discommoding issue that I had made known beforehand, he was a bit surprised as he had not thought that I could leave the newspaper over the issue. He kept my resignation letter pending acceptance for a few weeks and asked me to get back. But when in October that year, I resigned from the Independent, along with three others working on the weekend supplement, over the content of an issue, he called me 15 minutes after we had firmed up our resigning from the Independent. He asked all four of us to join the Financial Express. Three of us did; one of us went to the Daily Star.
I went back to the editorial section, where I had worked till June 1998, having to manage the editorial page and gradually taking over one of the two pages of the weekend supplement that dealt with general features. I had to edit and lay out the first supplement of the Financial Express on India’s republic day in January 1994, for an additional payment, and my job there ended with another supplement on computer and software, which I edited and laid out, but was published on July 16, 1998 after I had left the newspaper.
In all these years, I had seen him coming to office, then housed in the Shipping Corporation building in the Dainik Bangla crossing, at noon and leaving before evening. He would return at 10:00pm and leave the office after reading his editorial laid out for the next day. He would write on slips of papers, usually made of what was left of newspaper roll, which would then be composed and sent to him for correction and to the proofreading section for the correction to be incorporated before the writing was left us, at the editorial section which had the privilege to use computers first, for editing on computer screen.
I had not met him perhaps after 2000. I had always wanted to meet him. I even visited the Financial Express office twice, on its new location in the Tropicana Tower on the Topkhana Road, in the past few years but, unfortunately, he was not there.
He was my second editor and I would love to remember him as the most accessible of the editors that I have so far worked with. After he had left the Daily Star, he could set rolling financial journalism in an exclusive manner at a time when it was difficult to manage and he had successfully led the newspaper for about 25 years. He could create a niche market and cater to the demand for financial news, especially for business houses. He had the preparations for the hard work ahead.
After he completed his higher studies in economics from the University of Dhaka, he took up a job of a research officer with a bank in Pakistan and then with Pakistan’s finance ministry. He then took up journalism, beginning as a reporter with the Bangladesh Observer. He also worked with the New Nation, the private news service United News of Bangladesh, the Dhaka Courier and lastly, as economic editor, with the Daily Star before founding the Financial Express. From the early 1970s to the early 1990s, he also wrote analysis for the weekly Holiday under the pen name of Hossain Khasru.
He would take on board anyone willing to work and, thus, gave a number of people the scope for work as journalists with the newspaper in whatever capacity possible. His prime focus was to get the work done by his colleagues, which might have put people at pains, as he had put in hard efforts in managing the newspaper, by himself writing and editing and making policy decision, and the newspaper rolled on.
Abu Jar M Akkas is deputy editor at New Age.