Dhaka, Sat, Mar 2019


Mahbubul Alam: gone to God, but in spirit his memory lives on

06 June 2017,Tuesday, 17:16

Sir Frank Peters

Mahbubul Alam was a consummate gentleman and a consummate professional who walked tall among the tallest. Some people are born, make their presence felt, and are never forgotten, while others drift through life as if they were invisible.

Today, Tuesday June 06, is the third anniversary of the death of former Independent editor Mahbubul Alam.

It is difficult for me to get around the fact that it’s now been three years since his passing. It seems like only yesterday his sparkling eyes peered over his gold-framed glasses and he excitedly shared with me some of the changes he had in mind for The Independent.

Some of these have come to pass – much to the benefit of The Independent and its many readers.

Mahbubul bhai was a Jack-of-all-trades and a supreme master of many. He was Editor of The Independent for 18 years and doyen of the Bangladesh newspaper industry. He also worked as minister (press) at the Bangladesh missions in Washington DC and London, and as the Bangladesh Ambassador to Bhutan. His career in journalism surpassed its Golden Anniversary of fifty years and he was also the managing director and the chief editor of state-run news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS).

Editor of The New Nation and the weekly Dialogue were additional feathers in his cap. In 2006, his rare qualities were recognized and he became an adviser to the caretaker government. He also led the Newspaper Owners’ Association of Bangladesh (NOAB) as its president until his death.

When he first told me of his illustrious history, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to say: “All that is quite impressive, but your problem is that you couldn’t hold down a job!”

He spontaneously burst into laughter, wiped tears of joy from his eyes with the restaurant tablecloth, and vowed revenge, but he was too much of a gentleman to execute his treat.

Born in Munshiganj district in 1936, the eminent senior writer began his successful journalism career in the 50’s with the internationally esteemed Associated Press and was deeply entrenched in the profession till his death on June 6, 2014 at the age of 78.

The word ‘respect’ was seemingly coined and gold-gilded in his honour. He enjoyed the respect of all as a person and professional and it’s rumoured that the Great Wall of China and his love for humanity could be seen from the moon.

In the early days, around 1996, our getting together wasn’t a problem. Jumping into a car in Gulshan and meeting with him in his Beximco office or in a café/restaurant in Dhanmondi wasn’t a hassle. The journey only took 20-minutes in good traffic, 25-30 minutes was then considered burdensome! Then someone let loose on to the roads a swarm of ‘drivers’ who had no good driving experience, no road sense, and who thought they were driving Dodgem cars at a fairground. It became a total mess – and still is.

The appalling traffic conditions changed our social lives – and, no doubt, thousands of others. It robbed us of the spontaneity of jumping into our cars and just going to see each other on the spur of the moment. Trips had to be worked out well in advance like army manoeuvres. A one-time 20-minutes pleasant journey became two-hours on the highway to hell and that was just getting there. Then there was the return trip and the time needed there to be considered.

We didn’t allow the monstrous traffic problems to kill our socialising completely, but they certainly changed our attitudes and travel habits.

It grieves me greatly that although Mahbubul and I maintained a friendship spanning some 15-years and shared many anecdotes, teasing, and laughs together, that I knew nothing about his ill health. It was a subject never mentioned in our conversations and I was overseas when he died.

Mahbubul to me was a very quiet and unassuming man. A professional to the core, a mentor of many professionals that are still performing to the highest standards today, a doyen of the Bangladesh newspaper industry, a friend to all and probably the most approachable editor on the planet. Some people are born, make their presence felt, and are never forgotten, while others drift through life as if they were invisible. Mahbubul was a complete gentleman and a consummate professional who walked tall among the tallest. He was a giant among giants, a gentleman among gentlemen, and a pillar of society.

His death is a gigantic loss to the Bangladesh newspaper industry and nation at large. I miss him enormously and only wish that I had thanked him more often for all the advise and support he gave my anti corporal punishment in schools campaign, which he was the first to publicise. I know my admiration for him has been magnified many times over in Bangladesh and across the world.

Unfortunately, we take much for granted in life. We assume the people whom we love and admire will always be around us to love and admire and no immediate action is necessary... until it’s too late. Fortunately, for me, I expressed my gratitude and admiration to him when he was alive. Now I wish I had been more generous and given him due credit more often.

The passing of a good friend is always sad and hard to accept, but the only guarantees we have on earth are death and taxes, and these we must learn to accept and soldier on regardless.

I hope Allah has celebrated Mahbubul’s return home with great love and will embrace him eternally with Godly affection as he so richly deserves.

(Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, a humanitarian, a royal Goodwill Ambassador and a foreign friend of Bangladesh.)


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