Saeed Khan, was an anarchist to the core and despite being part of an organisation he was always in confrontation with it. He was a journalist of the Hindustan Times, Indore edition, which has now wound up and he believed in staying close to the ground. So much so that he did not own any motorised vehicle and moved around on foot and public transport even though he had an Iphone in his pocket which he used to surf the world at a drop of the hat. I was invited to speak a few words about him in today's commemoration and that is how I landed up on the dais. The commemoration event had been well advertised on FB and Twitter and reading this, the District Collector of Indore too came uninvited and was called up to the dais and that is how we were together there.
The Collector said that in his earlier stint as the Municipal Commissioner in Indore, he had been accosted on many occasions by Saeed who was then diligently pursuing all the misplanning and malimplementation that was manifesting itself in the development of Indore city. He said, that in Saeed, for the first time he met a journalist who did deep research on his stories and would fearlessly flay administrative inefficiency. He also said that normally he is continually invited to chair or take part in various public meetings by organisations and had to refuse them most of the time but this is the first time in his thirteen year career as an administrator that he was attending a meeting like this uninvited simply because he couldn't get over the fact that Saeed was not there anymore and he wanted to share his respect for him.
Saeed's brother, who also is a journalist in Bhopal, set off the reminiscences by going back to their childhood and saying that their father who too had been a journalist had told them that as a journalist one must write simply so that people could understand, truthfully so that the powerful would shake in fear and down to earth so that the concerns of the poor were addressed. Saeed followed this advice to a tee and he lived a life that enabled him to do this, with friends and acquaintances. He was also self effacing and never allowed his name to be published with his reports which always went as from an HT Correspondent. Yet it was easy to recognise his pieces because he had a beautiful humorous style of writing. The humour often was self deprecating but also had sharp satire of those he was critiquing. Given his seniority he was offered promotions which would have taken him to other cities but he refused them because he said he wanted to remain a street reporter in his beloved Indore.
As an anarchist I shun a lot of things including media spotlight. The only times previously I had got covered by the media is when I fell foul of the State doing some organising at the grassroots and went to jail!! Saeed changed all that. He found me out through his researches and then said that he wanted to do stories on the work that we do among the Adivasis. He wouldn't take no for an answer and that is how we became fast friends and I hit the front page of the Hindustan Times and later even other dailies more often!! He then used my contacts to ferret out many other grassroots workers in the region and did stories on their work and thus brought to the mainstream media the struggles of the marginalised which would otherwise never have reached the limelight. However, he was not the follower of any received ideology. He would ask searching questions to all of us at the grassroots and especially question dogma. He was an activist like us but preferred to fight for justice through his journalism.
There was a Palestinian gentleman at the meet who too had been found out by Saeed in many of his travels along the streets of Indore. The gentleman said that in the first meeting Saeed had impressed him with his knowledge of the Palestinian struggle and he even knew more about it than him!! He said that Muslims in India are generally a backward lot and not very knowledgeable about things and in that respect Saeed was an exception in that he knew a lot not only about India but about the world at large. He too spoke about Saeed's Iphone. Whenever there was some argument about a fact, out came the Iphone and Saeed would do a search to get the truth!!
Unfortunately, Saeed was afflicted with cancer and it was detected in the final stages when there was not much that could be done. Nevertheless despite the pain and the huge expenses involved in the treatment, Saeed never lost his desire to live or his sense of humour. Till the very end he was researching for stories that would never see the light of day. On one of my last visits to see him in Gurgaon just a few weeks before his death last year, I was astonished to see the high spirits he was in and while I was feeling the tears welling up within me, I couldn't help but laugh along with him at the many jokes he cracked.
As he lived, so he approached death with a critical mind. His illness was such that it cost quite a few lakhs to treat and he obviously didn't have that kind of money. Citizens, friends, politicians and even the Government came forward to pool money but Saeed initially protested saying that this was unfair but he was overruled. He questioned the absolutely worthless public health system in this country which was not providing care for even basic ailments and so putting a heavy burden on people to pay for costly private health services.
We have lost a true man, who could in the words of the poet Tennyson, verily have said about himself -
"I Can not rest from travel: I will drink