Amanullah Kabir Bhai has passed away at 71+ years. By our society’s measure, it’s a reasonably long life. We ourselves, his juniors, will be reaching that age in a few years. But even as I write these words I know I shall never be as ‘senior’ as him, the Murubbi he was to many of us. It was natural to him, to groom, mentor and help others grow as everyone faced an increasingly difficult world of media and politics.
Kabir Bhai also did but with a growing sense of unease. It was a world he never thought he would see when his journey with resistance, struggle and hope began. He thought the stars would shine brighter but with the years the clouds have not thinned no matter how bravely he fought on.
There are a few amongst us who are more exclusively into professional duties and some who are more activists than professionals. Kabir Bhai was a rarity, a person who ably combined both, that made him an illustrious professional and an ardent champion of workers rights in media. He was in a space which few can claim.
THE RED HERITAGE
My fellow travelling with Kabir Bhai goes back all the way to the 70s when we saw the violent politics, the beleaguered human rights situations, our feeble resistance and ultimately violent regime changes, one after another. His own political roots were on the Left that was close to Maulana Bhashani’s red politics, which failed creating the frustration that festers in many. Yet Kabir Bhai didn’t lose himself in chasing money or power and in the process lose his own morality. In his own space, he became a leader and served his constituency with a dedication that few did or will.
That was partly personal but also historical because Kabir Bhai came from the heydays of the anti-Pakistan and anti-imperialism movement. To many like him, the two enemies were the same for they represented the common oppressor. In choosing them all to fight in the same battle, no matter if they held different flags, he defined his time and age. The struggles of the Left opportunists didn’t bother him. As a media worker he was close to the ground. No matter what he did or said, he always heard the footsteps of the people far more loudly than the arguments around tea cup filled Press Club tables. That is why the struggle never left him.
I remember my earliest encounter with Kabir Bhai in Bichitra office when we were raising money for a cancer stricken impoverished Leftist. It would be impossible for anyone today to think that a top notch Leftist could be poor when they lead fancy lives off ill-gotten gains. We had tall taken responsibility for raising Tk 200 each. I was lucky as a well off friend gave me Tk 150 and I got the rest from others.
Kabir Bhai raised the most and was getting congratulated and he was smiling. Later, he gently told me, “You did well. You are still a student. I just donated my salary.” I don’t think we will see such people anymore, certainly not from media or politics.
As BNP regimes arrived, Kabir Bhai also gained more opportunities but he was never known as an activist but as a professional. We worked together in different places but I was more fleet footed, more on the run while his soul belonged totally to media, its socio-political space and rights of those who belonged to that world.
During the anti-Ershad movement, Kabir Bhai, like many others had found his just cause as it was a joint movement where erstwhile enemies –AL and BNP- could become allies. In this struggle, all of them joined in because it was a dream-come-true movement, never mind if it was going to change anything fundamentally or not.
THE STREETS AND THE STUDIO
He was happiest in that period, having finally overthrown official government power that was struck by the feet pounding clout of the street. There was never to be another movement like this again. Many years after 1971, the streets had spoken again. And he with his ancient friends and allies was there as a participant and a witness.
His later days were marked by a more visible presence on TV talk shows and a rapidly declining health. The curse of his life was tobacco and even a week before his first attack, I chided him for that as we exited a TV studio. Extremely popular among producers and anchors because of his polite nature, impeccable reputation and logical response in the age of blind partisan positions, he was always on call. He worried more about his family and less about himself but time was short. A lifetime of neglect finally caught up with him and now we shall not meet him again.
Sure Kabir Bhai, you could be smarter in many health habits, done more in making life economically secure and even comfortable. But what you could not do was surpass yourself in honesty, integrity and dedication to your profession and its cause. To include all in that embrace where the responsibility to inform accurately is a call you answered every time.
Goodbye Kabir Bhai.