Dhaka, Bangladesh
Farewell Waja Siddiq Baluch

Farewell Waja Siddiq Baluch

By Abbas Nasir

THE best of people have elements in their personality or behaviour that are annoying and can anger someone at one point or another with exceptions being very, very rare. Let me share one with you. Starting at Dawn as a sub-editor in the evening shift, as I still attended classes at the university to complete my degree in early 1984 during the daytime, was a daunting experience. Led by editor Ahmad Ali Khan, an upright man who embodied impeccable integrity, professional excellence and independence, Dawn's editorial team represented the best in traditions even though it seemed a bit too hierarchical to a young man who saw himself as something of a rebel. Siddiq Baluch used to tell his friends that he spent four years in prison for a four-month stint as the governor's PR person. When I started to become more familiar with some of the team members, I began to realise that though without fail everyone deferred to the editor for he was like a protective shield and an incredible leader, there were other rebels around too. Siddiq Baluch was one of them. A strikingly handsome man with chiselled features, and a great sense of humour, he was among those who welcomed me at Dawn with such warmth that I started to feel at home rather quickly and I started to see him as a friend and a contemporary. Frankly, it was not till he passed away this week after battling pancreatic cancer with the remarkable courage that was his wont that I realised he'd been in the profession 20 years before we met. His obituary said he was born in 1940. He was way senior to me. It was not my fault though. He was super-fit and so, so young at heart, irreverent and naughty that even in his 60s and 70s he could easily have been mistaken for a man half his age. He had such matchless ability to put you at your ease that you never saw him as anything other than a peer. He wrote a fine copy whether it was front-page political news or he was merely helping his close friend and colleague the delightful Ghulam Ali (Kaka) with a crime story on a crime-busy day, and rarely needed an edit. In fact, his copy was so good it got him into prison, as he told many friends. Some of these anecdotes and stories I was reminded of by writers in various published accounts on his passing. They will pardon me for not crediting each of them for want of space here. He was on assignment for Dawn in Quetta in the early 1970s when the chief minister Sardar Ataullah Mengal suggested that he accompany governor Mir Ghous Baksh Bizenjo on a visit to another town for a public rally. The governor's head of press information department was indisposed and the former was concerned that his address to supporters which carried an important message would not be disseminated. Siddiq offered to write up the story since he had time and knew Mir Bizenjo personally. The next day the speech got wide coverage in the print media across the country and dozens of papers carried it promptly. On return to Quetta, the governor insisted he join him as his press person after resigning from Dawn, reportedly writing Siddiq's resignation himself and sending it off to Dawn. Bizenjo was a revered elder so he could not say no. Some four months later, the Balochistan government was dismissed, the governor (and his PRO among others) and the chief minister were imprisoned by the Z.A. Bhutto government. Siddiq Baluch used to tell his friends that he spent four years in prison for a four-month stint as the governor's PR person. Despite this, his conversations about that period were always filled with laughter and funny incidents rather than bitterness. A founding member of the BSO, he was active in journalism as he was in representative organisations such as the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and remained an important influence in Karachi Press Club affairs. Rights of the journalists and their unity were issues close to his heart. During the days we worked together in Dawn, whether it was the execution of an activist sentenced to death by a military court or the imprisonment of someone for their political beliefs or the release of a long-incarcerated prisoner of conscience, he was on top of the story. Having been born in Lyari and grown up there, having led the life of a political activist, he had immense empathy with those whose human rights were violated or under threat and you could not persuade him to look away when such issues arose. I remember his incredible reporting when Shahnawaz Bhutto's mortal remains were brought to Pakistan after his death in mysterious circumstances in France. He rushed to Larkana to augment Dawn's excellent coverage by M.B. Kalhoro. Siddiq Baluch later moved to Quetta for a professionally very productive period that saw him bringing out an English newspaper, followed by an Urdu stablemate, writing two books on Balochistan and embarking on a third encompassing his monumental journalistic journey of more than half a century. I'd say all his accomplishments tell the story of a determined, professional who was a fine, decent human being and loyal friend as well. But his foremost achievement must remain the inspiration he provided to a generation of Baloch journalists many of whom he personally mentored. His sons appear determined to carry forward his legacy and I wish them luck. I am sure they will not want for mentors and counsel for so many of us in journalism owe Siddiq Baluch a huge debt. His smiling face is forever embedded in my memory. He engendered such love and affection that he was variously addressed (possibly depending on the generation) as 'Mama', 'Lala' and 'Waja'. Fond farewell, my dear friend.

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