Saleem Asmi’s contribution to journalism lauded
KARACHI: Friends and colleagues expressed their profound admiration for former editor of Dawn Saleem Asmi at an event held to honour him and to launch a book — a collection of his selected articles, interviews and reviews — at the Karachi Press Club on Saturday.
The compiler of the book, S. M. Shahid, talked about how difficult it was for him to persuade Mr Asmi that a book carrying his selected articles, interviews and art reviews be published. Mr Asmi resisted the idea for long but after a series of arguments and counter-arguments, the former editor gave in. Once he was able to gather the material for publication, Mr Asmi had a look at it and edited it. He said Mr Asmi was a brave, innovative and trustworthy journalist.
Assistant editor of Dawn Mohammad Ali Siddiqui said he saw Mr Asmi work in two capacities — news editor and editor. He argued that it was important for a deskman to be a good analyst of the news; he should be able to give the correct headline.
To support the observation and to shower praise on Mr Asmi’s ability as a good deskman, he narrated an incident when in 1997 the PML-N won the elections in the country. Mr Asmi could have given any headline, however, the one that he chose was ‘PPP wiped out in Sindh and Punjab’. He cited another case: when Maulana Yousuf Ludhianvi was killed in Karachi and the violence that ensued caused trouble in the city, the headline that Mr Asmi came up with was ‘Mob paralyses Karachi’. This showed the former editor knew the essence of the news.
Zubeida Mustafa endorsed Mr Siddiqui’s claim and told the audience that when Bilawal Bhutto was born, Mr Asmi (who for a brief period worked as city editor) asked her to do a story on the hospital where Benazir Bhutto had delivered the baby. She wrote a brief story on the history of the Lady Dufferin Hospital which no other newspaper carried. She praised Mr Asmi for conceptualising a magazine like Books & Authors and said that she enjoyed working for the magazine.
She rounded off her speech by saying that he was a veritable book lover.
Columnist Jawed Naqvi spoke about Mr Asmi’s love of music. He said when he was in Dubai his home used to be the jalsa ghar, where they would listen to and share their passion for music. He informed the gathering that it was Mr Asmi who made him write for Dawn and stated that today in India there was not a single editor who could match the ability and skill of Mr Asmi or Aziz Siddiqi.
He said renowned scholar Noam Chomsky had also mentioned somewhere that Pakistani journalism was far more vibrant than India’s.
Art critic Marjorie Husain lauded the book that had been launched and said once she started going through, it she read it right till the end.
Speaking on Mr Asmi’s artistic acumen, she mentioned two of his articles — one on miniaturist Haji Sharief and the other on Ahmed Pervaiz. She said not many critics could write about the tragic life of Ahmed Pervaiz the way Mr Asmi did. She added that Mr Asmi was an icon and a source of inspiration for her.
I. A. Rehman, who presided over the event, said he had a 50-year-old association with Mr Asmi. He iterated that the former editor of Dawn had varied interests –– art, poetry, music etc –– which was why no interview of or article on any politician could be found in the book.
Dawn Editor Zaffar Abbas recalled the time when he worked with the Khaleej Times as a correspondent and interacted with Mr Asmi for the first time.
A life-time achievement award was also given to Mr Asmi by president of the Karachi Press Club Tahir Hasan Khan.
Saleem Asmi thanked the organisers for putting up a good show and thanked all the speakers, particularly Marjorie Husain and Mohammad Ali Siddiqui, for saying nice words about him.
The programme was conducted by Babar Ayaz.