A Lonely Journey?
One day, our editor Mahfuz Anam called me and said, “Rafi, you seem quite elusive. Nobody knows when you come into the office and when you leave. But as the editor, I think I have the right know about these things.” I, however, have always thought of myself as “carefully careless”. I feel very constrained when too many rules and regulations are imposed upon me. I try to break free. I then said to him, “you will be surprised when you hear this, but I am afraid to come to The Daily Star.” Naturally he seemed surprised and asked me why that was so. I replied that I was a person of Bengali in an English newspaper. I felt like a fish out of water in an environment where everyone was so proficient in English while I wasn't. But he assured me that there was nothing to be afraid of; I could come The Daily Star and work as I pleased.
I worked for a couple of years, but then I suddenly disappeared. After that I freelanced for a while and one day in a social event I met The Daily Star editor again. He told me that he wanted me back in The Daily Star again. In the period in the middle I had taken a course in Development Journalism on an ICCR scholarship from the Indian High Commission. I enjoyed it so much that I decided that I should stick to working in only on development journalism. A developing country like Bangladesh needs it badly. I told the editor that I didn't want to do mainstream journalism but rather wanted to focus on the development of Bangladesh. I pitched him the idea for “Star Insight”. He agreed and he gave me much freedom with the publication. I traveled 36 districts to assess the conditions of the country and to see what Insight could do. I formed 36 “The Daily Star Reader's Clubs” in the 36 districts. I found out that Daily Star had good credibility. Most people did not read English but they were still very keen on learning the language. I started wondering how that bridge could be created. From that was born Star Insight's goal to create that bridge. These people that I had met in my travels were Insight's intended readership.
Much of my research work had been done, but my new concern was finding someone to edit the writing. Ever since the birth of the idea, Nawsheba Sharafee had given me full support and her name will always be associated with Insight. She likes to keep a low profile but she has helped me out whenever I have needed help. She suggested the name of Prof. Shaheen Kabir and that she would be perfectly suited to the job. I had not been personally acquainted with her before. One day I showed up at her place and asked her whether she would be the Advisory Editor for Insight. At first she was a little taken aback by the sudden offer. She thought for a while, and then she suddenly agreed. That's how Insight started. Shaheen Kabir even visited some districts with me; she conducted some English language workshops. We were getting a really positive responds.
Shaheen Kabir was unable to continue with us for too long, although she is still with us as part of the family. Suddenly I was in kind of a crisis again. The thing with Insight was, and I won't tone this down, the quality of English in the writings was terrible. Many of our contributors had never written in English before in their lives. Editing their work was a very tough job that people were reluctant to commit to. As usual, the editor helped me out by getting Abak Hussain to accept the job. At first I was a tad bit worried, but after a few days my worries were gone. We were cooperating very well. Our work had become much smoother than before. Now I feel that I can travel the districts more leaving much of the office work up to him.
This year we will put more emphasis on ten districts and try to successfully run the Reader's Clubs there. The approach is to concentrate on a small number of districts first, then move on to a new group. Our goal is, by the end of the next two years, to cover all 64 districts. Illustrators and cartoonists like Arif, Sadat and Sumon have contributed for us from the beginning. Insight's illustrations and cartoons are a part of its richness and it would not have been possible without these talented contributors. Zahedual Naim Zakaria has also been a big help by contributing as well as translating articles for us regularly. We also have to mention our graphic designer Sagor, who was there in the begining and Shoyeb, who took over and did a great job.
So, even after this “family”, why still this loneliness? Firstly, the decision to come out with this magazine was controversial. People had questions about whether there was a readership. Some thought it was a bit rustic. Even after all the criticisms, we have enjoyed some popularity. We are getting more and more responses. This gives us hope. We have realized there is still much to be done no matter what other folks say. I reflect on Rabindranath's famous line “Jodi tor daak shune keu na ashe, tobe ekta cholo re”.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007