Raja Asghar loses his final fight
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By Anwar Mansuri | 2/14/2016 12:00:00 AM
WE, the colleagues of Raja Asghar, counted him as a fighter for great causes. Alas, he lost his battle against an extremely aggressive cancer of the pancreas on Saturday morning.

`A perfect journalist and a lovely and lively person is gone,` lamented a colleague.

The big crowd that turned up at his funeral in his isolated, ancestral Dhan Kacheli village near Muzaffarabad the same day, manifested the love and respect he earned during his long career in journalism.

His love for life was renectedin the orchard and flower beds he cultivated in his village, in the antiques and memorabilia he collected that turned his house in Islamabad into a little museum and decorated residences of those he gifted them to. Raja sahib understood the religious texts better than most of us as he had studied in a madressah and would recite from classic Urdu and Persian poetry too.

Few know how charitable he was to the poor in his village and the extended families of his siblings that he had to sustain or support.

A handsome and graceful Kashmiri, a flock of white hair gave him such a distinguished look that a friend mistook him for a diplomat on a stroll while he was walle ing to the old parliament building one day in 1975. In those good old days, diplomats could and did take walks and even offered a lift to `pedestrian reporters`.

Raja sahib started his journalistic career with the daily Khyber Mail in Peshawar in the late 1950s. A clash with the martial law regime was inevitable for the young journalist with principles. Soon he was arrested for an inside report critical of Field Marshal Ayub Khan and was tortured to disclose his source. However, even `cold baths` given to him in the dead of winter in the Kabul River near Attock could not break his spirit.

Eventually, support from the Pakistan Federal Unionof Journalists and public pressure won him his freedom and steeled his fighting spirit to lead trade unions in the news agencies PPI (then known as PPA), and the government-run APP.

In the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Reuters news agency hired the talented Raja Asghar and he left APP in the early 1980s.

His colleague in APP, Chaudhry Iftikhar Ali, now long-settled in New York, said: `A gentleman-journalist is perhaps the best description extremely polite in his dealings but a toughreporter,never bowing to pressures.

At his retirement party from Reuters in 2002, Bureau Chief Simon Denyer noted that, among other things, Raja sahib would be missed for his `longest phone hello in the world` Raja sahib would always answer calls with a sweet, long `hellooooo`.

For almost 15 years, Raja Asghar had been covering the parliament for Dawn. A journalist wedded to facts, he not only laboured hard to be objective and balanced in his reporting but was also a perfectionist. Often he would seek for hours the literal English translation of the Urdu or vernacular idioms used by his subjects in their speech in the parliament.

After all, he was `a prolific user of dictionary and Keesing`s there was no Google then in his effort to picl< the right word and background material for his copy,` from his APP days, according to Chaudhry Iftikhar.

May Allah rest him in peace, and give us the courage to battle today`s chaos.