He was not a boss, but a good friend
February 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Over the past two decades, I had the privilege of working under many editors, but two of these occupy a very special place in my heart - Late Behram Contractor, founder-editor of Afternoon Despatch & Courier (Mumbai), popularlyknown as 'Busybee' and Late Essa Al Zedjali, founder editor of  Times of Oman (Muscat). Both of these editors were not just outstanding journalists but institutions in journalism.

But, the reason why they occupy a special place in my heart is because they were both down-to-earth personalities with achievements that touched the skies! Both were simple, humble, brimming with politeness, and gifted with a good sense of humour as well as a passion for satire.  Both had popular columns that enlightened, entertained and educated people for years on end. And with their demise, the void they left behind could never be filled.

As a working journalist, I noticed , that both these editors had a similar style of dealing with the journalists working under them. They could fully understand the pressures and compulsions under which journalists work and would give them space to breathe, yet  be firm when it came to delivering on quality and reliability. For them, deadlines were sacred and nothing was impossible, if you put your heart and soul in your work!

I recall my several personal encounters with Sheikh Essa in his cabin over the past seven years. He always beckoned me in with a warm smile and directly came to the subject each time. He would hand out an assignment without one feeling it was an assignment.  And he always made sure that one fully grasped his brief before leaving. He also threw in tips on how to go about the task, what questions need to be asked,  what facts need emphasis and what need to be ignored. And, above all, he often gave directions on how to get there.

Those who worked with Sheikh Essa know very well about his sense of humour and the way he would pepper conversations with wisecracks, anecdotes, jokes, as well as share personal experiences, all directed towards realising the success of the task handed out.  He never dictated terms, rather, let his message seep in gradually but clearly.  And, he never ever forgot anything that he had sought to be done. Employees, therefore, never shrugged away any of his requests, rather did it with a sense of diligence and willingness.

He always called me 'Robert' and  I never figured out why. Neither did I ever feel compelled to correct him. Perhaps, I liked that nickname, when it came from a personality as illustrious as him. I liked to imagine that he had likened  me with Robert Fisk, a multiple award-winning journalist in the Middle East, or Robert Wright, an award-winning American journalist, both of his time. That nickname, too, remains in my heart, one to be cherished forever.

Now, that a year has passed by, what better tributes can one pay to a great journalist than continuing his good work in whatever measure that one can. And in doing so, one will always remember Sheikh Essa, not as a boss but as a good friend!

A photographer for a national magazine was assigned to get photos of a great forest fire. Smoke at the scene was too thick to get any good shots, so he frantically called his home office to hire a plane.
"It will be waiting for you at the airport!" he was assured by his editor. As soon as he got to the small, rural airport, sure enough, a plane was warming up near the runway. He jumped in with his equipment and yelled, "Let's go! Let's go!" The pilot swung the plane into the wind and soon they were in the air.
"Fly over the north side of the fire," said the photographer, "and make three or four low level passes."
"Why?" asked the pilot.
"Because I'm going to take pictures! I'm a photographer, and photographers take pictures!" said the photographer with great exasperation.
After a long pause the pilot said, "You mean you're not the instructor?"

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