When Haroon Rashid, editor of Mumbai-based Urdu newspaper Inquilab, passed away on March 4, 2000, there were condolence messages from people from all walks of life. Right from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then prime minister, to the not so well-known social workers in the interiors of Maharashtra.
However, there was a letter in Urdu written by a veteran Bollywood actor that really got me interested. And mind you it was not a mere two line condolence, but a proper letter in chaste Urdu. I am not sitting in moral judgment, but I had never thought that the actor in question would prefer or would be comfortable to write a condolence in Urdu.
It was perhaps the charisma of Haroon Rashid, that the actor thought it would be apt to share his thoughts with the family in Urdu. It was the same charisma through which Haroon Rashid had managed to bring about a great awakening among Muslims by making them realise the importance of education. An editor would any day prefer to rub shoulders with the high and mighty, and concentrate on networking rather than focusing his energies on making education popular among his brethren.
His mission: Education
However, Haroon Rashid was a man with a mission. A firm believer in Sir Syed Ahmed's policy of getting Muslims educated, he used to travel the length and breadth of Maharashtra exhorting the virtues of books and pens. He used to place special emphasis on the education of girls and delivered several lectures stressing its importance. He used to give prominent display to news items pertaining to educational achievements of Muslims. His columns and writings were very popular among the masses and he never used to miss a chance to laud the achievements of Indian Muslims in any field.
It is to the credit of Inquilab and Haroon Rashid that Muslims in Maharashtra got drawn to education in a big way. Students from Urdu-medium schools now regularly feature in the merit list and are going for higher education. He used to be in regular touch with school principals, activists and educationists and discuss ways and measures to get more Muslim children into schools.
During SSC (class X) and HSC (class XII) results he used to take the seat numbers of students in the small locality at Charni Road, Mumbai where he stayed. As newspaper offices used to get board results in the morning, he would know how the boys and girls had fared. Later, he used to come with boxes of sweets and personally give them to those who were successful. That was the only time when most of the youngsters would like to come in touch with him, for it was much better to stay away than to answer his queries on school and studies.
The boys, including this blogger, used to be careful to ensure that he doesn't catch them playing or just hanging around indulging in plain teen speak. I remember getting caught once. While I was busy trying to locate the rubber ball (a gully cricket match was on) all my friends had disappeared seeing him entering the compound and I found myself coming face-to-face with him. "Kya Ho raha hain?" (What's happening). "Ji, kuch nahin, padhai ki aaj maine," (Nothing. But I studied today), I answered. "To sab bhaag kyun gaye?" (Why have they all disappeared), he asked before he went away.
As a young boy, I enjoyed reading the columns of M V Kamath and Lajpat Rai in Mid Day, a tabloid based in Mumbai. I used to religiously cut the clippings, as both these writers would try to cut each other through their writings. Once, when I had an opportunity to meet Haroon naana (as I used to address him) I asked him why would M V Kamath and Lajpat Rai write the way they did. He gave a small smile, and after that I was witness to a barrage of opinions and reflections from him over the next few years, as I started meeting him almost every day at his house.
His personality: stylish, smart, sophisticated
Haroon Rashid had a towering personality and did not suffer fools gladly. Widely travelled and well read, he had a passion for collecting watches. He had hundreds of books in his personal library. As a child, I remember trying to locate books through their titles stacked on the bookshelves. They were so many that after every few days I used to forget which part of the bookshelves they were kept on. Sadly, he lost his collection when his house was burned down in the 1993 Mumbai riots.
Haroon Rashid also became immensely popular due to his oratory skills as much as his writings. He was stylish, smart, sophisticated and knew how to keep his reader and audience engaged. Whether you understood Urdu or not, if you listened to him he would leave you spellbound. He was a much sought after speaker and would get the audiences enthralled by his fiery speeches.
He did his schooling from Anjuman Islam High School, Bombay and went to Aligarh Muslim University for further studies. When he came back to Bombay, he preferred to be called Haroon Rashid instead of Haroon Ismail Khan, his birth name. He was inspired by the famous Caliph and also thought Haroon Rashid was trendy. His major break was Urdu Blitz where he used to write on sports and later rose to become its editor. After Blitz, he joined Inquilab, where with his passion for journalism he took it to greater heights.
During the Kargil war, there were all kinds of patriotic songs played everywhere. I had accompanied him to Pune for a family event, and suddenly he decided to fax an editorial to Bombay. "This is not the time to play just any plain patriotic songs. Instead, there are several songs that talk about our strength and military might, which would raise the confidence of our forces and the common man," he announced. He explained to me that it was a time to take on the enemy and hence the songs on the radio should be in sync with the quest for victory. He was a workaholic, and would rush back to office after coming home in the event of major news.
As a young boy his advice was invaluable to me. He told me each person should make his own destiny and there are no shortcuts in life. Just as he had made for himself.
Haroon Rashid was born in district Ghazipur of Uttar Pradesh. At a function to honour him after his death in Mumbai a prominent politician remarked: "Ghazipur is famous for its opium factory. After meeting Haroon Rashid one has the same nasha (intoxication) as opium."
Ten years after he passed away, I am still in a trance.