Shujaat Bukhari, A Year Later
A professional till the bitter end
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance - Kahlil Gibran
Death is hard. And worse if it is the assassination of a young journalist, a man who was passionate about the profession and who gave his all to working for peace in Kashmir. There are always conspiracy theories floating in Kashmir, part deliberate, part involuntary as this has become the psyche of a peoples in conflict – and journalist and friend Shujaat Bukhari could not escape these even in death. All I know is that his killers have not been traced, the motive for the murder not unearthed, and those who are in charge have not moved a centimetre forward in solving the mystery of this terrible assassination to put speculation to rest. They have not restored confidence in the authorities' ability to deal with assassins and their mentors.
In Shujaat we have lost an excellent journalist. There are not many who are able to grasp the nuance of complicated politics, and also have the language to communicate this to the readers. Perhaps – despite the theories – this was his fault. His ability to communicate, and from what I know his refusal to sell his soul to the highest bidder.
Yes, not everyone liked him. Some felt he was part of the state, others that he was soft towards Pakistan, but then that is the price any journalist today has to pay, especially in Kashmir where the divisions seem to be increasingly cast in stone.
I would meet Shujaat often. And the conversation was always about what could be done to bring peace back to Kashmir. To dilute the polarisation, to bring back humanity, to restore trust and confidence between Jammu and Kashmir. He was always very concerned about that. He never played communal politics, his friends while he was with The Hindu in Delhi were a disparate lot as is the case with all good, professional journalists, although his heart was always in the Valley. He was ambitious, looking ahead, and exuded confidence even in the worst of days at the time. He remained optimistic, believed there was a good future for Kashmir and that it did not rest in separation or with Pakistan.
Hence he worked hard to bridge the gap between Srinagar and Delhi. He refused to brand any section a pariah, and was always open to meeting all and sundry to realise his dream for peace. He was at home in Pakistan’s Kashmir, addressing meetings and attending conferences while trying to persuade the people he met there to give up terrorism, and look at peaceful ways to help resolve the issues. In London or Washington – he loved to travel – his refrain publicly was the same. As it was in Delhi, when he attended meetings with right wing organisations, and a strategic community that openly advocated a tough stance.
For Shujaat this was a challenge, and he had confidence in his ability to make them see reason. Even if others lost their temper, he did not, and would spend time candidly outlining the problems, seeking to convince even the hardliners that peace and dialogue was the only way out.
Shujaat Bukhari started his own newspaper, Rising Kashmir. He did not want to leave The Hindu and tried to straddle both boats, but then ultimately had to make a choice. So he went back to Kashmir and started working full time on Rising Kashmir. He took me around the office, so proud of the premises, and the staff he had handpicked. They all loved him, and the loyalties are evident in that the newspaper is being published still, with the same vision and mission.
Shujaat was a family man to the last. Loved nothing more than being with his lovely wife and the family at large. He did not mix the profession with his private life, as good journalists seldom do. But never bothered to hide his affections and priorities where his family was on top. His return to Kashmir was fraught with tensions. It took a toll on his health. He recovered and such was his will and determination that even when many feared the worst, he returned to his full time commitment: Kashmir.
He was always a good friend. Just a phone call away. And would go out of his way to help to the best of his ability. From booking a hotel, to arranging meetings, to just hosting a dinner, it was Shujaat Bukhari we all went to.
His assassination was tragic. Unbelievable. And even now it is difficult to think of Kashmir without Shujaat Bukhari. I still have his number saved in my contacts, as it carries memories I cherish, and need to hold on to.
Be happy wherever you are Shujaat. There will always be a struggle to continue, a dream to realise, an aspiration to be fulfilled.