The passing of a truly decent man in Bangladesh journalism

by Anwar A Khan

“Death diminishes me,
                          because I am involved in mankind” – Poet John Donne

Good, kind, decent, insightful: these are the adjectives most frequently can be used to describe Shah Alamgir, a veteran newsman of Bangladesh who suddenly passed away on 28 February 2019 at the age of 62. He was measured, reassuring, organised and efficient. For all his achievements, I, being like his elder brother and friend, admire him most.

More than four decades ago, Shah Alamgir and Mozammel Haque (former DGM, BKB), both are classmates and friends of the Bengali Department of Dhaka University became resident students of Sergeant Zohurul Hoque Hall, Dhaka and took abode in Room No. 327 with me. I was then a student of Master’s class. They just admitted into the DU as first year B.A. Honours class. They were then serious student leaders of Chhatra Union (Matia Group). As their elder brother, I always received highest regards from Alamgir unto his death. Mozammel has always been more advance in showing respect to me. Yesterday morning, Mozammel broke this very sad news to me over phone and he was about to weep to tell me many things about him. He was completely broken down while communicating this sad news to me. I was then too busy otherwise, but I could not bear this unendurable death news of my younger brother like Alamgir. Once upon a time, while I was a student, somebody told me not to be filled with melancholy in the morning time, but the whole day of mine passed away with deep mentation about Alamgir.

Grief is a deeply physical as well as psychological trauma. In the aftermath, we experience shock and often deep anxiety and guilt, as the part of the brain that copes with our readiness for fighting goes into overdrive: our brain releases a higher-than-usual level of cortisone, which also lowers our immune systems (hence all the stories of people "dying of grief"). An over-stimulated nervous system wreaks havoc on our ability to understand and react to the world. So grief can seem endless, formless, and painful; physically as well as mental debilitating. I was so shocked that I am not feeling well as yet.

He was born in Brahmanbaria district, but due to his father's job, he spent a large part of his life in greater Mymensingh. I hail from Kishoreganj District (Kishoreganj town which was once a part of greater Mymensingh District).  If I look back, I always found him in beamish face, exhibiting courtesy, politeness and benignancy. If I made a phone call to him, he made several phone calls to enquire about my well-being showing extraordinary respectfulness.

After Bangabandhu Mujib’s brutal murder in 1975, both Alamgir and Mozamme could clearly fathom that Bangladesh would lose its glorious spirits that we achieved through our Liberation War in 1971. Along with other Chharta Union activists risking their life, they in disguise pasted protested words on the walls of the DU campus and elsewhere of the country to raise voice against the killer military regime days after days in the darkness of the nights. They toured the whole country to organise students and people against this dark episode of our history to bring back the values for which Bangladesh was fought and attained in 1971. Those days were so struggling for them under the barbarous military rule, but they all carried forward their mission ceaselessly. I am a witness of their struggles which they went on taking all hardships with diligence.

In country’s journalism arena, Shah Alamgir walked through with all his powerfulness, but without any proud-fullness. His journalism career started from his student life. He started his journalism through joining the first child-teen weekly Kishore Bangla. He worked as co-editor here from 1980 to 1984. Then he worked Dainik Janata, Banglar Bani, Daily Azad and Daily Sangbad. He was involved with the Prothom Alo from 1 November 1998 to September 2001, he served as joint editor. Then he started working on television media. After that he worked Channel I as Chief News Editor, Ekushey Television as Head of News, Jamuna Television as Director (News), and Macharanga Television as Head of the news. Along with journalism Alamgir served as president and general secretary of Dhaka Union of Journalists. He is also the President of Children's Welfare Council and Children's National Institutes Chader Hat. He was a member of the Board of Directors of Bangladesh Shishu Academy.  Prior to joining Press Institute of Bangladesh in 2013 as its Director General, he served as the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Editor of the Asian Television.

He was laurelled with awards like Poet Abu Jafar Obaidullah literature award, 2006,     Chandraboti gold medal, 2005, Rotary Dhaka South vocational excellence award, 2004,         Cumilla Youth Samity award, 2004 and Rotary International Life Achievement award, 2016 because of his commendable chores.

When I did office at a large private business house at Sena Kalyan Bhaban, Motijheel Area, Dhaka during the time of 19991 to 1999, he frequently came to see me there. We discussed on many things including the country’s politics. Since he was a newsman and did politics whole-heartedly, he expressed his opinions freely based on strong logic and truth. I used to enjoy his conversations with deep attention.

When Alamgir was with Macharanga Television as its Head of the news, on my way back to Mohakhali office after seeing-off a foreign friend of mine at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Dhaka, I suddenly visited Macharanga Television office. Once he came to know my presence at their premises, he immediately came down and received me with all his warmth, took me to his chamber, offered me with coffee and biscuits with all his hospitality. He was so happy to see me at his office that I can’t now express in appropriate words. We passed about two hours’ time together and discussed on many important topics. When I was leaving him, he invited me to go his house at Uttara, Dhaka.

When Mozammel was Deputy General Manager of Bangladesh Krishi Bank at Banani Branch office, he invited Alamgir and me to have a lunch with him at a nearby Chinese restaurant. We took lunch together, nostalgia engulfed us remembering those days of yore that we passed in the Dhaka University campus, its library premises, Sergeant Zohurul Hoque Hall, its canteen, dining hall, TV room, Suhrawardy Uddan, Bangla Academy, New Market and in many more places. I raised the question of moral degradation of some key leaders of Chhatra Union who once had high morality in politics, under whose leadership they did politics. They were aware of those leaders’ abasement and expressed their strong resentment against their not adhering to ethical or moral principles.

Shah Alamgir was a man of high moral principles all along in life. So is Mozammel Hoque.

Outstanding scholar Prof Dr. Ahmed Sharif was the Chairperson of the Bengali Department and Dean of Arts Faculty during our last part of the Dhaka University and he was canonized as ‘the nation’s conscience.’ We revere him like anything because of his high morality, scholarly knowledge, courage and patriotism for the country. Alamgir had tutorial class with him, but he was a whole time student politician. So, he could no appear at two tutorial classes with him in time. His B.A. Honours examination was almost knocking at the door, but without those two tutorial examinations, he would not be able to sit for the examinations. Sharif Sir was very angry with him because of that reason. Sharif Sir always wanted to see that a boy or a man should be very courageous like a lion. Alamgir knew this attribute of Sir. So, he entered into the chamber of Sir and asked for taking his remaining examinations. Dr. Sharif became very furious upon him, but he liked Alamgir’s spirit of boldness and finally allowed him to sit for those examinations. Later on, he shared this experience with us. Today Sharif Sir is not alive. Alamgir has left this mundane world. Where shall we keep our pains stored now?

Being the DG of Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB), Alamgir invited me politely to go his place on many occasions. I nodded. I went there several times. Every time, he received me very cordially as his elder brother. When I am writing this piece, my eyes were welling up every moment because of his humility, caring attitude and respectfulness towards me.

He was an avid reader of all articles of mine which appeared in the English newspapers of both at home and abroad. He used to make comments against those articles which are of thought-provoking. I shall now miss his ever smiling face, phone calls, comments, invitations and many more things. 

He used to come to the TV talk-shows. I used to listen to him attentively. He was a very good debater, but he did never use any abrasive words. He politely engaged in the debate of TV talk-shows, but his logic was highly praiseworthy. I spoke to him over phone every time whenever I found him in the TV talk-shows. He was very happy with my words. After joining PIB, he could not attend at any TV talk-shows and he had tremendous sorrows for it.

PM Sheikh Hasina picked up a right person for heading PIB like an institution. He did many commendable initiatives for PIB for its better image and functioning. Shah Alamgir was a decent persona in Bangladesh’s journalism. Honourable President Abdul Hamid has aptly said, “His (Shah Alamgir) death is an irreparable loss to the journalism of Bangladesh. His ideal and ethics will remain exemplary for the journalists."

Fellow journalists were shocked and saddened by the surprise news.  Most recalled him as both a talented colleague and a generous mentor, with many citing his acts of friendship and support for fellow newsmen. He is hailed as one of the best journalists of his generation — "the best of the breed."  Rarely does a journalist die and the world is different, but without Alamgir we will know less, and settle for less nuanced, less human truth.  I am personally devastated by the loss of this brilliant, kind, inspiring man. Knowing him meant learning from the best.

Shah Alamgir was the gold standard of journalism in Bangladesh because of language skills, hard work, compassion and toughness. I can't believe it. Alamgir is gone. His courage, intelligence, grace, fluency and determination to tell us the truth... unequalled. One of his friends Mujibur Rahman, a veteran freedom fighter of our glorious Liberation War of 1971, told me in his remembrance that "he found humanity amid the rubble, compassion in the tableau of violence” in the persona of Alamgir.

We had a lot of intimate talks during the last four decades or so. Dear Alamgir, my younger brother, do you hear me? We are mournful here for you. Please accept my fond affection. The echoes of his name have travelled the canyons of the world of Bangladesh and back, to await him in a silent grave. But the throb of our hearts will forever beat out a refrain in his memory. He was a person not easy to forget. And now he is gone. We have lost a star, a man big in stature, intellect and heart.

 We pray for eternal peace of the departed soul of Alamgir and express sympathy for his bereaved family members. To finish-off today, we wish to read out a few lines of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay:
“Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.”

-The End –

The writer is a senior citizen of Bangladesh, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

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