The last conversation I had with Anwar Mooraj, one of this paper’s most loved columnists, was when I found out he was unwell and wasn’t sending in his weekly columns.
I called him up and he assured me that he was doing fine and that he would be up and about soon. We decided that we would meet up for chicken tikka once he was better as he didn’t really like fancy restaurants and would prefer Bundu Khan as the venue. Sadly that was not to be, as last week I received the news that this eminent journalist and writer had passed away.
The best way I would describe Mr Mooraj would be as a “gentleman journalist” - a dying breed in not only Pakistan but the world over.
He belonged to a distinguished family from Bhopal and went to the famous Doon School of Dehradun. He and I shared one alma mater - the London School of Economics. After studying at the LSE, Mr Mooraj decided to do something that most with his education and background would shudder at doing. He joined the profession of journalism.
From working for Dawn in the ’60s, Mr Mooraj went on to become the founding editor of the Herald magazine. The Herald replaced the Illustrated Weekly of Pakistan.
This then took him to more lucrative shores when he went on to become the chief executive at Gulf News in Dubai. But then after, he came back to Pakistan to head the Pakistan American Cultural Centre (PACC) for about fourteen years. The PACC’s main contribution over the years has been teaching English-language skills to thousands of men and women – who benefitted as a result.
Mr Mooraj also worked with PIA: once for a few years in sixties as a feature writer and then again in ‘70s as general manager, PR. That era of PIA was considered one of its very best.
In his tribute to Mr Mooraj, former PIA colleague Khalid Butt recalls that Anwar Mooraj throughout his life remained active and was always visible at Karachi Press Club, playing chess with members notably the late I H Burney, Nargis Khanum and others.
Mr Mooraj’s special interest was music notably jazz and European orchestral music. Till his last days he wrote about music in the newspapers and was a consistent speaker on it in various forums. In that as well, it will be hard to find someone to write on this genre.
My favourite were his writings recalling a bygone era. In a column in this newspaper, he remembered the Karachi of days past. He wrote: “After entering retirement, the scrap heap of life, one can’t help thinking about the time when Karachi was a great place to bring up one’s children. Girls used to cycle to school and people loved the old trams that trundled along from Empress Market to Keamari from where they would then hop into a sailboat that took them to the great picnic spots of Sandspit and Hawksbay.”
Mr Mooraj recalled: “What I miss most about the Karachi of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s was the spirit of tolerance, secularism and open-mindedness that existed. There was also what Judge Morgan Freeman in Bonfire of the Vanities described as the qualities that distinguished a dishonest society from an honest one — decency and graciousness.”
About a visit to Lahore which took place in the winter of 1966: “Lamps had ripened early in the surprising dusk and were furred like stale rinds with a fuzz of mist. At Government College, I presented an autographed copy of my first book Sand, Cacti and People to the head of the English department. He promptly invited me to attend a performance of the amateur dramatic society.
“The cultural critic of the Pakistan Times Safdar Mir, who wrote under the pseudonym Zeno, was less than enthusiastic and wrote a less than friendly review. The next evening, there was a tea party. Here the reviewer kept trying to meet the director and the latter kept avoiding him. Finally, Zeno cornered him and apologised. He said he was a bit harsh and didn’t really mean all the things he said in his review. Aijazuddin replied with characteristic aplomb: Not at all, old chap. After all, an amateur director deserves an amateur reviewer.”
We will miss you Mr Mooraj and your writings. It was an honour knowing you.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2017.
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