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Anil Datta: A Gentleman Journalist

By: Ayaz Morris

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“Journalism is a form of worship,” we often hear this phrase in today’s era, which might sound just an idiom. But, in our society, a generation has passed in journalism who literally considered choosing this profession as a form of worship.

However, this generation of journalists was rare in Pakistan, who now, has almost disappeared. Countless journalists have made their unique name and reputation with their high quality content, personal dignity and professional skills. Yet, no doubt they serve as torch bearers to the present generation.

Today’s article will also cover the life and services of one such journalist.
Senior journalist Anil Datta was born on August 23, 1944 in a highly educated Catholic Christian Goan family in Lahore. He received his early education from missionary schools in Lahore and graduated from Punjab University in 1965 and chose journalism as his profession to make career. Later, he moved to Karachi, where he worked for various reputed media houses.
His colleague and journalist Waqar Bhatti says: “Anil Datta did not marry all his life, due to which he suffered from loneliness until the end. His family and relatives had moved to America, but he decided to live in Pakistan all his life. Mr Datta died on the evening of June 28, 2019 due to a cardiac arrest. He was 74. At the time of his death he was associated with The News International where he had been working for over a decade”.

Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas tweeted on his death. “Had long association with Anil Datta since late 80s when he joined The Star. Anil was an honest, thorough professional and man of integrity.”

While writing this article I come to know about Mr Datta from many respectful people.

Senator (r) Javed Jabbar, author, filmmaker and former Federal Minister wrote: “Remembering Anil Datta. Soft-spoken, self-effacing yet self-assured, sensitive, professionally highly capable, an individual with a distinct personality”.

These are the first tributes that spring to mind when one recalls the
individuality of Anil Datta.

The combination of the qualities noted above are quite uncommon, especially in the field of journalism in which presumption, cynicism, assertion regrettably come quickly to the fore among many.

In addition, Anil Datta had an exceptional interest in aspects of social justice, of the need to respect the rights of the disadvantaged, particularly non-Muslims in an overwhelmingly Muslim population. Even as he acknowledged that most Pakistani Muslims are pluralist and mindful of non-Muslims, he remained conscious of the dangers of complacency. He wanted society and state to curb tendencies of extremism or immoderation, and to take tangible actions to prevent such viruses from infecting minds and shaping behaviour. One also felt that he contained considerable pain within himself, the distress that arises from witnessing episodes of socio-economic imbalance in the society, hate or discrimination.

He took keep interest and insight in the performing arts like paintings, literature, theatre and music even though the Pakistani cinema strove to maintain a productive existence to regain its past glory.

Whether in his coverage of events related to the arts or in his conversations with persons such as this writer, Anil Datta expressed his deep appreciation for aesthetics, for cultural creativity and a social milieu that is inclusive, creative and progressive.

Anil Datta will always be remembered with respect and affection. May God bless his soul with eternal serenity!

Peerzada Salman, a senior journalist associated with daily Dawn, told me that he and Anil Datta both used to cover the beat of culture and art. In general, the field of culture in journalism is considered very easy in our country, but it is a difficult and very serious work. Because it includes language, music, dress, dance and film, the journalist has to have special skills in this field.
“Anil Datta had full command to all of them. Despite his old age, he always went to cover the art and culture programs himself and would always arrive on time and wrote on them with great enthusiasm.”
“Anil Datta was very fond of music, he loved western classical and eastern classical music, so when he wrote about music, his style of writing was completely different. Late Muhammad Rafi was his favorite singer; he would often sing his songs in loneliness. He could not bear to hear about Muhammad Rafi in negative comments from anyone.”

Because, journalism it is a passion, one cannot make a name for him/herself and position if he/she do not have passion.

Anil Datta, who belonged to the generation of journalists, was attached to his work to the extent of worship. He performed his work with great dedication, honesty. Besides, he had an impressive personality since he was very conscious about the ethnics, manners and soft skills.

He would often choose special clothes (a fully formal jacket-trousers, shirts and tie) for special programs unlike ordinary journalists. He was a genuine and sophisticated person who loved his work immensely.

Senior journalist and columnist Waris Raza writes: “The last meeting with our senior journalist Anil Dutta took place in the canteen of the Karachi Press Club during the month of Ramadan in 2019.

“Peerzada Salman, was on the center-stage like always of the gathering, while Khuda Bakhsh Abro, Ghazi Salahuddin and Javed Sattar were among the participants”.

“After having launch on the terrace, there was a lively conversation with Anil Datta on music, film, literature and psychology”.

Mr Raza further wrote that Datta was very upset and depressed with the stifling, extremist thinking and lack of political understanding in the Pakistani society. He believed that the only solution to save this society is to have an enlightened-thinking and democratic attitudes, otherwise this society will end. After this conversation, this scholar of journalistic duty said, Waris Sahb, I have to cover a press conference, so excuse me please! How did I know that this will be my last meeting with such a knowledgeable and high-quality person? Amazing azad manish (independent) person he was. Ah!

Senior Journalist Ziaur Rahman, who was also a colleague of the late journalist says “Anil Datta was a very professional journalist. He was very sincere with his work. Even at this age, he used to go himself in the field to report the program or events. He would often get angry for writing wrong English. His writings were of a very high standard. His writings had the best ingenuity and choice of words.”

Journalist and good friend of late Datta, Naeem Shouhatra wrote: “Mr Anil Datta was an amazing person as a human being, and highly professional as a journalist. He was a man of manners and high moral values.
He was a staunch Marxist and equally opponent of the capitalism. But, still a regular attendant of the parish. I attended some Sunday services with him at the Holy Trinity Church”.

“Mr. Datta was unfortunately living in a world of fear due to growing extremism and terrorism in the country. We often had meetings over the breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Karachi Press Club, which was his second home throughout his stay in Karachi during his career as a journalist. He would often express his fears being a non-Muslim despite the fact that he was an equal citizen of the country. In the last years of his life, Mr Datta had gone into isolation following growing extremist views in the society, and unfortunately among some journalists as well”.

Sahoutara further said: “A day after former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own security guards in Islamabad; Mr Datta told me that he and late politician used to study together at the Aitchison’s College in Lahore”.

“As a journalist, he was a thoroughly professional. He had full grip over the English language, thanks to the Christian missionary educational institutes, where he had the opportunity to study”.

“His fellow journalists believe that Mr Datta had developed a deep insight and skill to write on the typical issues of music, art and culture. There is hardly any journalist in Karachi, at least, of his stature and his seat remains unfulfilled in the office till the date”.

“He had deep insight of the national as well as international politics. That’s why he was also assigned by his office to cover diplomatic events because he knew the diplomatic norms and manners”.
Sahoutara concluded by saying that Mr Datta lived a very simple life being a bachelor. No matter how worse the situation had turned in the country, he did not leave to seek immigration or asylum in any other country because he loved Pakistan his homeland.”

He recalled that in 2018, while Mr Datta was visiting his relatives in the United States, he sent me a postcard on the eve of the Christmas through post office. This showed how simple he was in today’s life, which runs through the internet”.

Evening was falling while I was leaving Karachi Press Club, I was coming back home and thought that on the way I should visit Anil Datta’s grave in Gora Cemetery.
Dutta, who was lonely in life was also resting there alone. I thought of asking Datta Sahib a few questions about his life, then an idea came to my mind, Datta Sahab should rest, I will ask him once we will meet together in heaven.
I was leaving the cemetery when I felt that there was silence in the cemetery on one side and on the other side life was on full swing at Shahrah Faisal.
Sophisticated people and journalists like Anil Datta are always a valuable asset of the society whose guiding principles of life, loyalty and sincerity towards their work are no less than a bright example for the younger generation. Journalism, society and the changing scenarios of time have brought new challenges before us, but now where are journalists like Anil Datta who loved their profession like worship, keeping their self and interests aside. How crazy. And there were strange people who gave their all to their work. Such things can only be done by the crazy people like Anil Datta. Anil Dutta we salute to your majesty.

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