Mujeebur Rehman, one of Pakistan’s senior most photojournalists, who passed away at the age of 68, was a rare breed who worked only for one organisation all through his professional life.
Born in Agra on June 3, 1947, he was a babe in the arms of his mother when his parents moved to Pakistan. His father was a school teacher, who pursued the same profession on migrating to Pakistan. Mujeeb, as he was commonly called, was the second in a family of five sons and four daughters. He joined the Dawn Media Group in 1967 and about the same time he graduated in Arts from Islamia College.
He was lucky to have joined the photographers’ pool, which was headed by Mirza Nusrat Begum and had senior photo journalists like Hasan Bozai and M.M. Ikramullah. Those were the days when photographers got on-the-job training and the seniors were there to guide the new kids on the block. But then when you talk of seniors, not all of them were helpful. So, by and large it meant learning by trial and error.
Mujeeb qualified for the term photojournalist during the days when he was working for daily Hurriyat which was acquired by the Dawn Group, when he often penned the story accompanying his photographs. He was much more at ease in writing in Urdu than in English.
Those were the days when digital photography was still a long way to come.
Film and paper to print images were given in limited quantities by the management, so the press photographer could not afford to be shutter-happy. Every photographer had to learn to process and print images in the dark room. They were mostly black-and-white pictures. Only magazines and magazine sections could use colour pictures because the exposed films were sent to colour labs and took anything from a day to three days to get the prints or transparencies.
Even now a news photographer also has to have luck on his side. He has to be at the right place at the right time – and then the knack of capitalising on the right moment. Before the automatic cameras were introduced, the lensman (a term not so common these days) had to focus his camera and set the aperture in that fleeting moment.
Back to Mujeeb, he was with the late political leader Zahoor-ul-Hasan Bhopali, MPA Sind (it wasn’t Sindh in those days) in 1982 when an assassin barged into his office in Karachi’s PECHS area and pumped bullets into the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan’s leader’s body. Mujeeb, who hid himself under a table sprang into action and took a photograph of the car that sped away. The next moment he took pictures of Bhopali who was struggling in vain to get up from the ground. The Dawn Group’s publications were the only ones to carry those photographs. The pictures earned Mujeeb his first APNS (All Pakistan Newspapers Society) Award.
In the days when Mujeeb was a novice in the field of press photography, the cameras and the flash guns were large and heavy, so on the one hand, they slowed down the movement of the man on the job while on the other hand they exposed the photographer. This led to ugly situations and, as Mujeeb’s eldest son Faysal Mujeeb says, Mujeeb had to face volatile crowds and angry policemen many times, whose victims were press photographers. “My dad was treated roughly more than once but he took it in his stride. He dismissed it as a professional hazard.”
Faysal recalls the time when his father escorted Dilip Kumar (and his wife Saira Bano) while he was on a trip to Pakistan with a view to collecting funds for the Fatimid Foundation. He was in Islamabad with the thespian when the ammunition depot at Ojhri Camp was blown up. Mujeeb rushed to the site when it was up in widespread flames. He promptly sent the pictures to DAWN and won the race against time. That was in May 1988.
Mujeeb’s second APNS Award came the same year for the picture he had taken in 1987 of a girl hitting a roadside Romeo with her sandal outside the gate of Sir Syed College Nazimabad, when the young man was trying to harass her. A highly apt comment came from no less a person than Benazir Bhutto, who wrote just two words – ‘Poetic justice’.
Mujeeb won quite a few other prestigious awards and founded the Pakistan Association of Press Photographers. He remained the president of the body for many years.
Mujeeb qualified for the term photojournalist during the days when he was working for Daily Hurriyat which was acquired by the Dawn Group, when he often penned the story accompanying his photographs. He was much more at ease in writing in Urdu than in English.
When Mujeeb touched 60, he retired from the Dawn Group but was absorbed by the sister concern White Star, which provides pictorial support to the newspapers and magazines of the parent body. It was in 2014 that he had to resign on health grounds.
Mujeeb had his first stroke in 2010 but managed to pick up his camera and continue with his work. It was the same year that he discovered that he was a diabetic. In late 2014 came the second attack of paralysis, which coupled with a persistent heart disease saw him in and out of hospital for months. A fighter to the core, Mujeebur Rehman lost his final battle on September 30, 2015. Left to mourn his death are his wife and seven children, not to mention his friends in media and outside it.
Asif Noorani is a Karachi-based writer. email@example.com