Dhaka, 19 April. The ticker running on NDTV jolted me out of my reverie.
It reported that DAWN journalist Murtaza Razvi had been killed in Karachi. Bad news coming out of Karachi saddens, but no longer shocks. However, in this case the horror of the murder of someone I knew was compounded by a feeling of helplessness. It was rather late at night and calling Karachi for more information – and comfort – was not an option.
However, the tragedy was confirmed the next morning when I checked Pakistani newspapers on the internet.
What are the thoughts that go through one’s mind when confronted with news of someone one knew quite well and liked being brutally murdered? The image of Murtaza’s amiable, gentle face remained stuck in my mind. He had been a colleague at Spectrum for three years or so and we remained sporadically in touch.
Murtaza Razvi was the quintessential media person. He made a seamless transition from journalism to advertising and back to journalism. When I interviewed him for the position of Creative Manager at Spectrum, he already had years of advertising and journalism experience. My decision to appoint him was taken at this first meeting, during a conversation that focused more on events and issues than on advertising. It was rare – and risky – as I did not, contrary to practice, ask to see his advertising portfolio or samples of his newspaper articles. Later, I patted myself on the back for this instinctive judgment of calibre!
#### The words ‘understated’ and ‘modest’ would, to a limited extent, describe Murtaza. A virtual walking encyclopaedia, he was not one to flaunt his knowledge of subjects both common and obscure.
As Creative Manager, Murtaza’s style of work was very different from the norm. While most people in creative believe in embracing chaos, he brought an unusual (for an ad agency) discipline to his work. Usually preferring to work alone, he had the ability to deliver completely on a brief. Astute in analysing briefs and the market scenario, he had the rare ability to back his creative proposals with cogent reasoning and reliance on research. Perhaps, his experience as a journalist enabled him to add value to campaign concepts. However, Murtaza proved to have flair not only for ideas but for their execution as well. I recall, in particular, the couple of commercials he shot in the Punjab for the Ministry of Population Welfare. Those were the closest to real-life treatment that perhaps any commercial for family planning has projected. His knowledge of Punjabi, as well as of the rural setting, helped in bringing a gritty realism to these commercials. I knew Murtaza to be equally fluent in English, Urdu and Punjabi; however, it was only after reading tributes from his colleagues in DAWN that I came to know of his command over several other languages.
The words ‘understated’ and ‘modest’ would, to a limited extent, describe Murtaza. A virtual walking encyclopaedia, he was not one to flaunt his knowledge of subjects both common and obscure. One could always go to him with a question or for confirmation of a fact. And rarely was he stumped!
Murtaza may have been a loner in his work habits, but he inspired colleagues and worked hard to develop talent where he saw the potential. His sense of humour and command over satire came as a surprise to all when, at a Spectrum annual meeting, he presented brilliant spoofs of the agency’s commercials, some of them on the serious issue of contraception. Perfectly dubbed and edited, he had everyone rolling with laughter.
It was sometime in 2001 that Murtaza came to me with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. He had just been offered the position of an assistant editor at DAWN. Apprehensive about upsetting me, yet understandably excited about the prospects, he told me that this was a job he had always dreamed about. We were unsettled to see him leave as a certain level of dependency had built up around his input; however, we saw the futility of luring him with pay rises and other perks. His heart was set on the job at DAWN.
Purely from a reader’s point of view, I saw the launch of the fortnightly art magazine, Gallery, as one of Murtaza’s key initiatives at DAWN. Asked by the then editor, Saleem Asmi, to put together what would be any Pakistani newspaper’s first magazine devoted to the arts, he brought out an immensely readable publication. The magazine, to its credit, gave considerable space not only to the works of established artists but also to art students. Gallery was ultimately integrated in DAWN Images when it came out as a consolidated Sunday magazine. This, too, was a challenging task assigned to Murtaza who by then had become in-paper editor. Apart from editing the magazine pages of DAWN, Murtaza occasionally wrote on matters that were of particular concern to him – the rise of extremism and the shrinking space for culture and the arts.
And in the midst of all these commitments, he managed to write an engaging book on former President, Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf – The Years in Power was published by Harper Collins India in 2009, a little over a year after Musharraf stepped down. While the first part of the book is an analysis of Musharraf’s rule, part two consists of interviews of a cross-section of people. It is to Murtaza’s credit that he got so many people to speak candidly about a man who was no longer in power. Those he interviewed range from former colleagues and admirers to critics. The book also has a useful timeline of events that his wife, Shahrezad Samiuddin compiled.
Murtaza gave me a copy of his book when he came to Spectrum in 2009 as a jury member for the agency’s ads of the year awards. Each year he served as a judge on the three-member panel, a role he clearly enjoyed. All it took was an email, followed by a reminder call for an enthusiastic acceptance. Our last meeting was on such an occasion last year, though on his request I did contribute to a few special issues he edited.
Murtaza Razvi dedicated his book Musharraf – The Years in Power “to the hope that Pakistan will achieve peace with itself and the world.” I would like to say ‘Amen’ to that wish – even as we mourn a dear friend and colleague.
Zohra Yusuf is Creative Director, Spectrum Y&R.