16 October 2019

Tribute to former Independent Editor Mahbubul Alam

Former Independent newspaper Editor, Mahbubul Alam -

Thursday, June 06 is the 5th anniversary of the death of Independent newspaper editor and Bangladeshi newspaper doyen, Mahbubul Alam.

Bodies’ die, but spirits are immortal

Sir Frank Peters

It’s men like Mahbubul Alam who give honour and respectability to the nation in which they are born. It’s people like Mahbubul Alam who bring respect, honour and admiration to the press corps.

Usually ethical people achieve this status without any deliberate design or master plan. They, simply, be themselves and act out what their conscience dictates. Their good within, their code of ethics, was omnipresent from the moment their umbilical cord was cut .

Momentarily, remove all the labels of Mahbubul being a consummate professional to the highest degree, a doyen of the noble Bangladeshi newspaper industry and such. First and foremost, he was a gentleman. That in itself, puts him in a distinctive, exclusive and elite class. To be born a gentleman is an accident; to die one is perhaps one of man’s greatest achievements. Wealth, degrees and honours conferred by royalty, governments or universities and suchlike do not make a person a gentleman. A gentleman is self-made and Mahbubul was definitely one.

While I did not know him in his youth, the evidence suggests he was well on his way to achieving this status. Perhaps he was born a gentleman and in a Shakespearian way spent most of his life living out the part in which he was cast. One thing for sure, his performances throughout were faultless.

In my 25-years migration to Bangladesh, I have yet to hear a bad word spoken about Mahbubul and I doubt if I ever will. Every Editor and journalist who knew him (even much more than I) never had anything bad to say about him... not even a hint that might raise an eyebrow or cause a sad sigh.

If you were to take a casual stroll through the newsrooms of most national newspapers in Bangladesh you’ll encounter at least one member of the noble profession who’s worked with him and who remembers him with great admiration and fondness and perhaps has even been touched and blessed by his unique qualities in varying degrees.

Mahbubul scored an enviable list of achievements in his revered name. The veteran award-winning journalist worked as minister (press) at the Bangladesh missions in Washington DC and in London and represented Bangladesh as the Ambassador to Bhutan which, he told me he really loved.

I first met him in 1996 when he was Editor of the esteemed Independent newspaper and a mutual admiration club was established. We tried to maintain regular personal contact via coffees, lunches and dinners: he meeting with me in Gulshan and I catching up with him in Dhanmondi. The shameful and horrific traffic jams that plagued Dhaka at the time, however, rudely interferred in our social plans (and, no doubt, thousands of other people) and brought what were spontaneous well-intended get-togethers to a complete halt.

It’s hard to imagine now, but getting from Gulshan to Dhanmondi was about a 20-30-minute drive then. Travelling from one to the other for a coffee and a friendly chat didn’t warrant even a second thought. When it took two hours to make the same trip – one way – without even considering the time desired there, changed everything. Our one-on-one meetings became less frequent. Traffic jams transformed from being a curse into becoming total nightmares – and still are – but thankfully, that’s about to change.

Mahbubul lead a kaleidoscopic successful career. He began his successful career in journalism in 1957 with the Associated Press. He was one-time editor of the distinguished English-language newspaper The New Nation and the weekly Dialogue. He was the beam of light and inspiration that led the Newspaper Owners’ Association of Bangladesh (NOAB) as its president until his death. He was also a former managing director and Chief Editor of state-run news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). He held the prestigious and coveted position of Editor of the Independent for 18-years, right up to his departure for his celestial arrival.

Mahbubul was also a former caretaker government adviser. A position he respectfully earned, richly deserved, and cherished, not for his own personal benefit, but it gave him the opportunity to make even a more valuable contribution to his beloved homeland.

It’s hard to accept that Thursday, June 6, 2019, marks the fifth anniversary of his death, but it goes to prove that bodies’ die, but spirits are immortal and good memories live on eternally. Mahbubul was 76 when he was called home.

(Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, an award-winning writer, royal goodwill ambassador, humanitarian, and a foreign friend of Bangladesh.)


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