Remembering Tawfiq bhai

Dr. Nizamuddin Ahmed

We was upstairs in his room. Rather uncanny, but somehow you could feel his presence.

He would not come down to your room. You hoped for that.

You believed, as Managing Editor he must have a lot on his desk. But, we all knew, above all, sport was on his mind.

Come he would for sure.
The DS Sport room in the Dhanmandi days was separate and exclusive. It was usually agog with frenzied activity at around 7:00 pm. Mustazir rummaging through thousands of higgledy-piggledy photographs to find one of a Badda footballer who scored a hattick five years ago. Al-Amin shouting on the phone to get the latest cricket scores from Chittagong. Lenin Gani and Rabeed Imam discussing at the top of their voice a possible caption for an agency photograph just come in. Hassan Masood explaining to all what he saw on his way back from the stadium, loudly too. Simon clicking away on his keyboard as he simultaneously translated a Bangla press release. Almer reading aloud his intro to an item he picked up on the net.

Tawfiq Aziz Khan

As he entered the room we switched from clamour to almost silence. His very presence changed everything. He was harmless, but he made us go on the defensive.

'How much did Australia score at close of play?' We knew it was coming.

Silence; no one tried to move. Our page that morning carried the Aussie score as 257/4.

'Two more wickets fell, both to Wasim Akram,' he had a smirk on his clean shaven face.

Someone tried to explain that it happened after our deadline.

'Don't tell me about deadline. When did you file your last local report? 20 minutes after Steve Waugh's dismissal.'

More silence.
'What a delivery!' he broke it. It was his privilege.
That was ample signal for us. The two-way communication (or lack of it) was akin to playing contract bridge.

Someone found a voice. 'Tawfiq Bhai! Nowadays the canteen upstairs is making real good aloo puree'.

'Call the chyara. I will not have any. Feeling a bit tired. You lot go ahead'.

End of the day's play.
Tomorrow would be another day, another near lapse, another country, another score. But what never changed between the man and us was the man; a former sports correspondent himself, a radio-TV football and cricket commentator, ever so immaculately dressed, as if ready for a media presentation or an interview any time.

Tawfiq bhai spared us not the rod for our shortcomings but was paternally generous with his love, laced with reprimand and topped with genuine guidance. Although his charge included everyone at the newspaper reporting, editing, feature, magazine, marketing, business, administration he somehow managed to make us believe that he was part of our team, that DS Sport was his own.

His eager and routine involvement bugged us to some extent. We reckoned ourselves independent, foolishly though. His participation was often considered as interference in a domain he parted with when taking over the Dainik Bangla admin in the 80s. Or was it earlier? But who was going to tell him all that? Moreover, he was always to the point and up to date with his facts and figures. No argument, there. It was as if he did his homework or did some research to catch us on the wrong foot. He almost always played on an empty field with the referee on his side.

Tawfiq was a true gentleman, a connoisseur of the finer things in life, a man with an eye for quality and a nose for news. He was a pretty no-nonsense man. He attained the art of appreciating beauty, be it in an off drive, a corner kick or a volley down the middle of the court. Off the field, he mastered the delicate balance between lauding a beautiful actress without sounding offensive.

He had this thing about Wimbledon, the French Open... He had made those trips so many times. In those days, the mid 90s, tours by sports journalists were not as frequent. He would come back to tell us his observation, which became our learning. If he saw we were losing interest in his narrative, like the expert presenter he was, he would drop in a line or two that caught our imagination say, for instance, the new design of Steffi Graf's attire and he would be on his way with the more scholastic matters. He always had the final say. That was why he was our boss.

It was not long after the office shifted to its present premises that Tawfiq Bhai fell ill. No sooner had we realised he was seriously ill, he left us. Just like that.

He left us too soon, almost without notice. Did he break the rules? As managing editor, he would surely have required of us a month's notice before parting with DS, but not him. He was the boss.

It then dawns on us that the man did not really part with the newspaper he helped to build. He could not. His lessons guide us to the day; I always write the unit numbers in words. Tawfiq Bhai taught me that. A reminiscence of his quiet but firm rebukes stops us from being sluggish. The sport desk tries to catch the latest score.

Tawfiq Bhai is upstairs in his room. The feeling lives on, so does the man.

The author is former advisory Sports Editor, The Daily Star.

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