Goodbye Mirza Khurram Baig
By Sheher Bano
Karachi (TP) April 30, 2021: Mir Khurram Baig, dearly called KB by his friends and colleagues, passed away. He lost his battle against COVID 19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.. The news of his death came as a bombshell, when Saman Ali, a friend and former colleague of The News, now living abroad, sent me a message on WhatsApp.
“A warrior lost his battle?…the statement seemed contradicting to me. How a staunch fighter can lose a battle…I simply took it as a rumour, because only a day ago, there was a news about the death of Afia Siddiqui. I started calling my contacts and mutual friends but every one confirmed the news in a state a shock.
Death is inevitable, no one can escape it, but knowing Khurram Baig and his zest for fitness, bodybuilding, healthy diet, and then this COVID-19 fight, where we are told that only those survive who have good immunity. Who else can have the best health and immunity than a body builder and a health conscious person like KB.
But the inevitable had occurred. We are all helpless when it comes to the will of Allah Almighty. His death also rang an alarming bell that COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate anyone. Poor and rich, healthy and ill, weak and strong. kings and shepherds, geniuses and simpletons, are all equal before Coronavirus.
The FB posts and comments on KB’s death by journalist fraternity shows his popularity among people. Senior journalist Kamal Siddiqi, who had a long association with KB remembers him “as a gentle soul with lots of passion for journalism. Always smiling and a good leader of his team. Did some great work at Express Tribune. A gentleman journalist.”
KB was my colleague at The News but even after he left the organisation we were in contact on a regular basis.
He joined The News when Humma Ahmad was the executive editor of The News. She saw talent in him and elevated him to the post of City Editor. And the ambitious person as he was he proved his mettle and soon gained popularity among his colleagues, specially reporters, with his smiling and friendly nature, which made him dear to everyone. But his main forte was business, so he kept writing on topics of his choice.
While he was undertaking his professional responsibilities at The News’ city pages on the 5th floor , his visit to the famous 4th floor of Al-Rahman was inevitable. Mostly dominated by females, this is an editorial floor, where editor of The News sits and everyone has to visit it in any case.
Later, KB started sitting on the 4th floor. Since he possessed very pleasing personality with polite conversataion, sophisticated mannerism and he knew how to talk to women, he soon developed his fan following among female colleagues on the 4th floor. Daily discussions on various topics, meetings, parties, he was part of every event occuring at the floor.
He was a fun loving and a friendly person who never missed rejoicing a joyful moment or turn a mundane grim environment into a jubilant one with his light conversation. He possessed a body builder’s physique and had little resembalence to then famous cartoon character Johny Bravo, some of our junior colleagues one day drew the sketch of the famous character on a paper and pasted on his computer. He came, looked at the sketch and with a hearty laugh took the paper and said he would keep this drawing with him.
One could hardly assess if he ever dispproved anything as he never indulged in any confrontation with anyone, never responded with a bad mood, tone or foul language. Well versed with the art of conversation, he always used decent words to address others, male or female, young or old, paid respect and in return always received respect.The only thing which he distasted was unclean spaces around him, and he would immediately make sure that his desk, computer and surroundings were cleaned properly. But for this too, he never behaved arrogantly with the support staff who did the job.
But it was not only fun factor which made his personality so popular, his writings, specially in business and financial affairs, his analyses and work ethics as a section head were matchless. Without being bossy to his sub-ordinates he knew how to get best out of them, while working with them like friends.
He possessed a restless nature, which never let him work at one place for a long time despite the fact that the positions he held in any organisation could be a dream for anyone. While he was leaving The News, I had some discussion with him, as I was also upset due to low salary issue in the office and wanted to switch. I asked his opinion about my decision to switch while showing my reservation about strict time scehedule followed in other organisations while in The News we had some relaxation which I needed at that time as my kids were very young. He simply said: “Sheher Bano Sahiba, no employer will keep you as a bonded labour. If you do your work properly, then you can get time relaxation anywhere in any organisation. And you are such a senior hard working journalist, I don’t think any employer can mess up with you.”
He was a daring person so he left his lucrative job at The News for a better option in The Express Tribune. I couldn’t dare to take such a bold step, till yet. KB took such bold decisions many times in his life. He worked in almost all the major english newspapers and TV channels. The News, Dawn, Tribune, Financial Post, all with prominent positions and significant work. It seemed as if he was so sure that whenever he will leave a job, he will definitely get a rewarding job somewhere else. This was his confidence in his abilities.
When he joined Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) for a project, I warned him about the strict time schedule followed there. I meant it was not like a newspaper or magazine where he was mostly working. But again he said with a confidence: “I can turn things in my favour,” and right he was. After finishing that project he came out with a happy face, with a post on FB that he has said goodbye to PPF. He had also worked as media consultant and content strategist. He had a nearly four-year-long association as Business Editor at Qineqt, an international organisation that helps businesses determine strategy based on data
His concern for journalists safety and civil rights was obvious from his fb posts. The last post on his wall on April 19, 2021, at 9.59 pm where he shared Saifur Rehman Siddiqui’s post on a country wide strike call by Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan is self explanatory. A similar FB status by him on our dual standards of calling us Muslims and doing against tenets of Islam, shows that he distasted hypocrisy. Though he was not an apparently religious person, but his religious understanding and the concept of Ishq-i-Rasool (SAW) was the one which every sane non-political Muslim will agree to. His last comment, “jhoot boleyn hum, rishwat lein aur dein hum, ramzan mein munafa khori karein hum, aam guftugo mein galiyan dein hum, lekin us se Rasool PBUH ki toheen nahi hoti? Ashiqe rasool bannay ke liye poora zaicha e hayat badalna parta hai. Itna asaan nahi ke shoor machanay air tor phor karnay se ghussa dikhanay se ke ji inko bari takleef hui hai. (We tell lies, take and give bribery hoard in Ramazan, use abusive language and never think that this way we are disrespecting our Holy Prophet (PBUH). To become a true lover of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), one has to change the entire life pattern. It’s not an easy thing. Making noise, doing destruction, showing anger and then saying that you love the Holy Prophet PBUH) is pointless.)
When COVD19 started wreaking havoc in Pakistan I would have long and detailed discussion on FB with KB on immunity among the among people of the country and how people can remain safe while taking the virus seriously. He would make his points clear no matter how many times he had to respond.
He would keep himself abreast of the activities of the journalists union. As a member of the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ), he would regularly come to vote in our election and his arrival was always welcomed by people who would surround him. With a constant smile on his face he would respond to everyone as he knew his popularity among people.
“Ab kis post per lar rahee hian”, he would through a smile and a comment on me and will say, “bhai vote tu ap hee ka hai”.
But anger was also part of his personality. In one of his posts he also claimed to be “the life size version of Wolverine” and to which he again claimed “I am more stubborn and definitely more vengeful.” In one of his nametests game by fb, he posted his personality as: “Mirza is a rare and complex kind of man, but he is amazing in every single way. He cares deeply for the people around him and he always puts his loved ones first. He would move mountains for his friends and family, but his kindness should never be mistaken for weakness. Mirza’s heart is big, but there is no space for backstabbers and fakes. He learned the hard way to avoid those kinds of people. He isn’t angry often, when he is-RUN.”
In one of his posts, he challenged wrong interpretation of the history, when he revealed the pain his family had to go through when Pakistan lost its eastern wing. In response to a post on the hanging of Z A Bhutto, he showed his anger by saying:
“Freed 90,000 POWs? Ask my family who was there whether we see him as our saviour. We see him as the reason we were there. It was he who refused to accept that the Awami League had the democratic right to be allowed to the chance to form a government because of its majority. That is what led to the war, and the split of a country and why my family, including myself then became prisoners of war. Freed us? He imprisoned us! Please, do not insult me, my family and the other 90,000 who were there by saying he freed us. Besides, only we, who were there, have the right to decide who saved us. No one else! If you were not there, did not fight in the war, did not become a POW, do not presume that you have the right to call him our saviour.”
These can be his independent views but as a thorough journalist he wanted to bring facts to the fore. Like all of us he dreamt a Pakistan where every citizen enjoys freedom, liberty, right to association, good life, health and education.
He loved sports, expensive cars, body building, films, cartoons etc but gym and body building remained his passion till end. He would pay visits to KPC for Gym like a ritual. In response to people’s question about his love for gym and work out, he posted on his fb,
“A lot of people, friends and family both ask me why I still push myself so hard in the gym, still lifting as heavy as my body will allow me to, and then some. Refusing to accept that I am growing old, that the onset of age is a battle I simply cannot win. I know my body will slow down, is slowing down. So why fight it? Why do I continue to work out through pain? There are days when each movement brings grimaces to my face, but I still do it. When bending over is a struggle and getting back up even more so. But I do it. Every day. And through injuries, aching joints and sore muscles. Knees, shoulders, wrists, you name it. There is no joint of mine that does not hurt, but I will not stop pushing my body right up to the brink, and then some, challenging myself to see if I can do one more rep, maybe add some more weight. Add more exercises to my routine. So, why do I continue to do it? I don’t know. But for me the more important question is, why not? I will stop, when…I…stop….Weight training until I die. That is a promise.”
And he fulfilled his promise. He fought bravely with his last enemy COVID 19, without the fear of losing the fight. COVID19 took this brave “Wolverine”, “Johny Bravo”, “Superman” “Batman” lover from us. Rest in peace KB. I am sure right up there you will be discussing serious issues confronting mother earth and seeking some solution to rid the world of all menaces, specially the COVID 19, which took you away from us.
Mirza Khurram Beg, a journalist, a fine human being and a very friendly person has left a legacy. He has also sent us a warning that in these pandemic times inevitable can happen. While we are still mocking the virus, his death reminds us to remain safe and work for a better and safe world ahead. If we don’t act now, we will be wiped out of the face of the Earth. Spanish flue still makes the dreadful part of the pandemic history. Deepest condolence to his family, especially his wife and three sons. We will sorely miss you KB and also your intelligence, wit, and pleasing conversation and eye-opening thought-provoking posts/comments on FB.