A common saying among serial lovers boasts first love is the hardest to forget. Situation at The News’s Lahore edition wasn’t dramatically dissimilar for many of us who were starting off our journeys into journalistic realm — a profession not favoured at the time by graduates with foreign degrees. Fewer still would like to end up in the newsrooms — the heartless hub in the news gathering chain.
So addictive was the atmosphere that soon we were spending more hours in the office than at home. We were one big family. It wasn’t unnatural that some of us found our life partners in the office. Fustina Mirza and I were the first ones at The News to tie the knot. Rauf Sheikh was so happy as if it was his brother or sister getting married. So royally did he carry himself in our wedding ceremony that our relatives got confused as to who is this “relative” that they did not know.
I remember the day when Rauf joined us from a competitor newspaper. For those who started their careers at The News International, Rauf was an outsider as he arrived a few weeks later than the so-called original team. He was loud, he was big and bold but absolute fun to be around. Hilarious to the core. He gelled so quickly with the rest of us that we felt sad on his day off. He knew his job and had the family pedigree to back his skill. Independent English language press in Lahore was still in infancy and had a few celebrities. Rauf was John Wayne of Lahore newsrooms.
In the office, he was ready to do all chores — from holding a shift to editing copy, from overseeing the page-making to actually taking over the page-making process if he felt the page makers were not up to speed. And sometimes he would get into trouble the next day in the editor’s meeting for being “reckless” by asking the page makers to finish a story by inserting a full stop even if the sentence was still running.
“Shappak kar deo; chapp kay theek ho jaey ga!” (Just kill it. It would make sense once published) would be his retort to a bewildered subeditor.
All was not fleeting well in the initial days. The News was Pakistan’s first English language newspaper with multiple editions. Tensions rose early between the editor at Lahore edition and the management and the situation came to a head. The editor was fired. But to the managment’s woes, almost all of the newsroom and majority of the reporters walked out with the ousted editor. Rauf, to my memory, was off on that day and was spared the dilemma. He joined the office the next day and helped the management restore some order to an otherwise tricky time.
Following months, the management tried different tactics to keep the paper printing. Rauf proved that he was a workhorse — not interested in office politics beyond a point. The News newsroom experienced ups and down but Rauf remained a constant. He mentored those who joined and tried to help those who left.
I was relocated to London in 1993 and then left the paper. But whenever I visited Lahore over the years, a trip to The News offices was a must. Rauf was ever warm and welcoming. He would insist I join him over home-cooked dinner. I could hardly refuse his offers.
He was not well for the last few years or at least that is what I felt. Diabetes and other factors had taken a toll. He was withering and grey. Diseased he looked but his charm never faded. His funny bones remained brimming with Lahori calcium of pun and fun.
And since he has returned to his Creator, I am sure all of us who have had the joy of having him as a comrade, as a colleague would remember him as family as long as our own stories are not complete in this life. After all sub kuch chapp kay theek ho jaey ga.