Back in 2015, when as a university student I went to join Rising Kashmir, I had my apprehensions. Even as I spoke to its editor-in-chief Shujaat Bukhari, I was not expecting him to hire me given the fact that I was a rookie in the male-dominated newsroom.
But, he gave me a chance and I was never exploited like most interns across the globe would be.
He asked me to join the office. And within a few days, on December 11, he was hospitalised after suffering from brain haemorrhage. The news shook the office. We were hoping he would survive.
Being a fighter, he did survive, like he had survived scores of attacks on his life and near death experiences.
The ever-smiling editor recovered faster than we had anticipated. Soon, he was back in the office where we welcomed him with flowers and he reciprocated with a huge smile.
His presence in office meant more discipline and of course, joy.
I remember writing a story about how a maid had tried to murder an old couple. After reading the story, he was all praises for me. “If you work like this,” he told me, “there’s no stopping. In fact, we may… we may…”
“We may give you a salary hike,” I broke in, and everyone burst in a loud laughter.
After my first story got published, I realised he would not leave any story unread — no matter how trivial, big. He would be particular about the details, spellings and designations of persons mentioned in the stories. Shujaat Sir would momentarily get angry at us—reporters—and expect us not to repeat the errors.
The editor would be happy to see equal number of male and female reporters in the newsroom. He would not act as a hurdle in the way, if anyone would have wanted to grow.
The fallen was someone who definitely had love and respect for the art and culture of Kashmir. He decided to dedicate a page of the newspaper for the same. Such stories would hold good weightage to him.
Apart from staying available 24*7 on WhatsApp and email, he would meet all the reporters by the end of the day. Discussing story ideas and story done by each reporter would be the main theme of the meetings.
We would be scared of the meetings somehow. It meant accountability and would push us to work harder. By the end of the meetings, he would smile and sarcastically say: “But you guys don’t work.”
He was always open to feedback. I remember mailing him frequently about system failures or any issue in the office. He would respond and take action. As a person, he would tolerate personal issues of people, but not lies.
Unfortunately, I never got to personally meet him after Eid in July 2016.
That was the time when Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani was killed and everything came to a halt in Kashmir. He tried to send the office vehicle to my place so I could attend the office. I couldn’t. I was trying to send updates from home. He understood my condition.
In Rising Kashmir’s WhatsApp group, he once mentioned something about my updates. I mailed him clarifications.
“I understand,” he responded quickly. “It was on a lighter note.”
I would be anxious, but he would understand.
One fine day, I heard some staff members had been fired from the job including my editor. Shujaat Sir never asked me to discontinue. But, I stood back on my own.
After a huge gap, I joined Free Press Kashmir where I work along with other former RK colleague Mir Basit Hussain. We would talk about him and how he would work. I was planning on meeting him after Eid.
A day before Eid, I was coming back home on my two-wheeler. I was thirsty. Extremely thirsty. On my way back, my helmet fell off. I don’t usually think like this, but it felt like it was a bad omen.
As I soon resumed riding, I received a call. The friend enquired if Shujaat Bukhari had died?
I couldn’t believe it. I stopped and could feel goosebumps all over my arms. I called my colleague.
“Yes, he has been shot at…”
“He will survive, right?” I asked, in that fraction of second.
“He has been hit multiple times. It’s less likely that he would survive.”
By the time I reached home, my thirst had died—so had my first mentor in the journalism.