I am sad to the core of my heart at the passing away of IA Rehman. He was not only a journalist but a teacher and mentor for me. Mr Rehman and Mahmood Aslam Siddiqui were the men from whom I can say I learnt the art of sub-editing.
I joined The Pakistan Times in June 1987 as a cub reporter. I was working on the sports desk when Mr Rehman was appointed chief editor after Benazir Bhutto became prime minister in December 1988. After assuming his duties, he came to the newsroom to meet the staff. When I was introduced to him as the son of the late Mr A R Gilani, who worked with the newspaper for more than 27 years, he shook hands with me and said you are my nephew. And he continued to treat me like that till he remained chief editor.
He was fond of games also. Whenever he visited the newsroom, he came to the sports desk and asked about various sports events.
In 1990, the Ashes series was being held in England. One night, Mr Rehman came to the newsroom and expressed his anger that I had missed the Ashes story. In those days, The Pakistan Times was a 12-page newspaper, and pages 10 and 11 were for sports news. I asked him if he had seen page 11. He said he had seen the whole newspaper. I took the newspaper, opened page 11 and the story was the lead on the page. It was not prominent because on both sides of the page there were advertisements. He instantly apologised to me and said he wondered how he could not have seen the story. I humbly said that sometimes one could overlook and it’s okay. But whenever he visited the newsroom till August 1990 when he resigned, he apologised to me saying, “I’m sorry, I could not see the story.”
The same year, the Pakistan cricket team visited the West Indies and our sports editor Abdul Hayee Bhatti was there to cover the series. He used to send dispatches through telex. Sometimes, there were jumbled up pieces due to distortion in telephone lines. One day, Mr Bhatti sent a dispatch that was jumbled up, and I had to edit that despite being the junior most sub-editor—there was no senior on the desk. The piece was published, but with a lot of errors.
When I reached the office the next day, Mr Rehman’s peon was waiting for me. He saw me in the corridor and told me that the chief has sent for me. I went to his room and he was busy with something. He gestured for me to sit down. When he finished his work, he turned to me and asked how I was and how’s my work was going. I was frightened but he did not mention anything, and he offered me a cup of tea.
As we were having tea, he pulled some papers from his table drawer and put them in front of me. He asked me who subbed that; I replied, I did. Then he uttered a sentence that is etched in my memory. He said this is the art of subbing you have to learn. “When in doubt, cut it out,” he said and then gave me tips of sub-editing.
I adore Mr Rehman for many reasons. It is none of my concern what people say about him. He was a man of principle. When in the Benazir Bhutto government was dismissed in August 1990, Mr Rehman and Aziz Siddiqui, who was editor and appointed along with him by Ms Bhutto, came to the office, did their work, left their resignation on the table, and informed the peons to tell the office clerk.
Many years later I met him in his Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) office and asked him why he resigned. His short reply was: “Aap ke asool aur ideals bhi koi cheez hotay hain” [One’s principles and ideals are something worth following.]
Mr Rehman was one of those breed of men who are becoming extinct. The void he left behind cannot be filled.