Those who are reading this piece should know that I’m writing it out of guilt as much as I’m writing out of love. Guilt, because I had wanted to know about ailing Fayza Haq only twice in the last 15 years. And love, because I’m indebted to her for teaching me so many humane aspects of human life.
On a wintry morning in 1991, I was sitting in the chamber of Mahfuz Anam, the then executive editor of the just-published Daily Star. I went there to seek a journalistic position in the newspaper. He called Fayza Apa in his office and asked her to interview me.
Her first question was about educational background. And when she knew that I had studied English literature, she bombarded me with a flurry of questions from Shakespeare to TS Eliot to Hemingway. As I was a fresh graduate, I was fortunate to have answered her questions perfectly. Then, she looked at the executive editor and said: “Mahfuz, he’ll do.” She didn’t wait for his reply, but looked at me and said: “Come on kid; let’s get to work.”
I looked at Mahfuz Bhai waiting to see his reaction. He said: “You heard the lady! Please go with her; she’ll tell you what to do.” She went out of Mahfuz Bhai’s chamber and took me to her desk and showed me the chair to sit.
She was in the middle of making up the features page, which she wanted to complete first. Before taking me upstairs in the page make-up room, she introduced me with several of her colleagues in the editorial and features department. After that, we went upstairs where I, for the first time in my life, witnessed how a newspaper page is made ready for printing. It was quite an experience.
When her page was completed, she spent about an hour with me, talking about various aspects of writing. Despite being a student of literature, I didn’t have any experience or knowledge of writing at that time. My keenness was at its highest level. In the process of telling me about the art of writing, she was also telling me about her experience as professional. I discovered with awe that she was a very learned person with great knowledge on languages, art, and culture.
She offered me lunch and after lunch, she asked me to go home and come back to the Sonargaon Hotel in the evening -- to a jazz concert by a French team. She was still addressing me as a kid, which I liked very much.
I went to the venue on time and saw her already sitting at a table. She asked me to listen to the music and take notes for a feature story she wanted me to write. I humbly told her that I didn’t understand anything about jazz. There was a shred of annoyance on her face, but she wasn’t upset.
“Okay, sit quietly and just listen.” During the show, we didn’t speak, and I sat there all through, watching her engrossed in the melody.
This piece is my confession about my own stupid forgetfulness about a person who taught me about the profession, as well as life
It was about 9:30pm when the show was over. She said she would write about that evening’s jazz. She then asked me to go home. However, before that, she gave me a mini-tape recorder and ordered me to go to an art gallery next day where sculptor Mrinal Haq was hosting an exhibition of his works. My assignment was, first, to interview the sculptor, and then come to the office.
That was my first day in office as well as a journalist.
From the next day, Madan Shahu became my reporting boss, but I kept on working with Fayza Apa. As a young and eager journalist, I was quite impressed by the various aspects of her character. She had many awesome qualities as a human being. It’s not possible to describe all in this limited space.
To my mind, she valued friendship like people value religion. I wasn’t the only one Fayza Apa was close to; all my contemporaries in The Daily Star had her affection all along. I will perhaps talk about it another day.
This piece is my confession about my own stupid forgetfulness about a person who taught me about the profession, as well as life, in many ways.
Fayza Apa was a very knowledgeable person, and she never kept the knowledge bottled up within herself, but believed in sharing them with others.
Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.