Death, like a news story, follows a deadline. And Izhar Wani, whom a friend aptly referred to as ‘Antony Shadid of Kashmir’, met it on past Wednesday, exactly like he’d meet the story deadlines every now and then. Inna Lillahi Wainna Illahi Rajaoon. What has essentially made ‘Izhar Bhai’s’ death as most shocking is his age, his little children he left behind, and of course, his humility that earned him an acclaim on Facebook immediately after he passed away: “A gentleman of the tribe.” That is the reason why his death is so big a loss in the contemporary societal scenario where humility is something that seems to have gone haywire for quite a long time now.
Izhar Bhai was not an ordinary person. I met him a little before I saw him in 2007, when I would be a student of mass communication and journalism in the University of Kashmir. My classmates, who knew Izhar Bhai much before, would often speak about him: his humility, his passion for journalism, his interest in the development of Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the University, his desire to have the MERC students as interns at the AFP office and much more. I wouldn’t believe much, because I hadn’t seen much. But in the summer of that year, I happened to meet him. ‘Izhar Bhai’ was indeed Izhar Bhai: a young man who would greet you as you’d enter his small office outside the Kothibagh Higher Secondary School in Lal Chowk. His bearded face, coupled with a distinct smile, would say it all: that how low Izhar Bhai would go on the radar of humility. His getting up from the chair, to greet anyone who would enter the office and offer a cup of tea, would take you to a different world of possibilities: that you can achieve AFP or more only with this humility and passion.
Unlike most of the journalists around, for whom sources are ‘protected’ by law and order, Izhar Bhai exhibited an open heart of sorts. He shared his sources with young students. His documents. His books and even the ‘breaking news’ stuff before the interns. He would show them how to write news stories. How to make sources. How to present stories. And of course, how to become professional journalists. That is the reason why most the friends around, who had a close association with this man, say that in him we have lost the ‘Antony Shadid of Kashmir’: someone infusing young minds with the desire for professional journalism. That is why Washington-based Shaun Tandon, Izhar’s colleague in AFP on Facebook, wrote that “R.I.P. Izhar. I’ll always remember the utmost professionalism of your work.” That is why his another colleague wrote: “…Thank you for being so encouraging and supportive to an AFP newcomer. We lost you too early my friend.” And that is why the AFP’s Asia Pacific Director Eric Wishart wrote that “Izhar’s untimely death has robbed India and AFP of a great correspondent. He showed tremendous courage in covering an extremely complex and dangerous conflict for so many years, and showed the same courage in his fight against cancer. He was a devout Muslim and proud father.”
Izhar Bhai battled cancer for a couple of years now. But that would seldom deter him from giving up. He would demonstrate a bravery of sorts: “I am fine now”, he told us at the Reuters Office, “And I would be soon back after a routine check-up in Mumbai.” But never knew his return would mean the end of him, only a few months later. Never knew he would leave us so early. Never knew, he would render journalism orphaned for many of youngsters who required him and his support and guidance.
But, like the news story, Izhar Bhai met the deadline. May his soul rest in peace and May Allah grant him place in Jannah.
Tailpiece: For someone like me, who has had a small-time association with active journalism in Kashmir, Izhar Bhai would continue to be the future of Kashmir journalism. And there are reasons to it. He has already sown the seeds of professional journalism in many young minds, which shall bear their fruits soon. Very soon.
[Faheem Aslam is Public Relations Officer, Convocation Complex, University of Kashmir]