Close to three years ago, death came to him stealthily and took him away from us. The man who had always given us reason to be happy, to enjoy life, was suddenly silenced by death, gone from our midst.
We speak of Madan Shahu, our dear friend, our guru in journalism. Age never caught up with Madan da, in the seventy seven years in which he inhabited the earth. Those handsome features, the blue-green eyes, the full head of hair remained in place, to suggest that the beauty of nature comes in its myriad forms. In another day and age or in mythology, Madan da would be part of a heavenly pantheon, a superb companion to the Greek and Roman deities of old.
It was his misfortune that he lived in modern times. It was our sheer happiness that he was part of our times, for he was the one who gave and we were the ones who received. That smile never went away, not even in death. As he lay in his coffin, ready to be scattered into ashes, to be in his new avatar among the elements at the coming of twilight, the smile played on. You could sense he had said farewell to the world with no complaints.
But that in essence was Madan Shahu. He never complained, not even in those dark moments when people around him were getting the better of him. He was a journalist in whom the old values had ensconced themselves, embedded in ways that marked them out as the pearls of wisdom which defined men of his generation. In more mundane times, Madan da suffered through the mediocrity of the ignorant. A man who made his entry into journalism as a reader, he went up all the way to being head of the editorial section of a leading newspaper. It was his qualities that took him there. It was these very qualities that had lesser men pull him down quite a few notches. In the end, he was left with a job he did not deserve. He translated advertisements from Bengali to English for his newspaper. It was a paltry sum he received at the end of the month for it.
And yet Madan Shahu did not complain. He smiled when he was informed that he was being sent off into superannuation. It broke his heart, not merely because he needed the job but also because he loved being a media man, loved being in the thick of the action. Some of the pain that came with forced retirement was assuaged when he spent time at First News. It was here that some of his energy, some of his old zest for living came alive again. He had never been a loud man and yet his quiet presence filled the room. Every time Madan da made an entry, be it in the cafeteria of the Daily Star or the office of the First News editor, the heart in his friends was made glad.
There was a soul throbbing with melody in him. There are now only the memories of all the times Madan da, Babu Bhai --- our dear Azizur Rashid Babu --- and I tuned in to old songs and lost ourselves in a nostalgia-drenched past. Madan da closed his eyes in absolute ecstasy as Sandhya Mukherjee sang tumi ar ekti din thako. When I sang Talat Mahmood’s hum se aaya na gaya tum se bhulaya na gaya, he hummed along. Often the three of us sang together, Babu Bhai always a throwback to the Saigal and Jaganmoy era. Ours was a team of friends brought together through love of music and anecdotes and humour. We loved life. We laughed and joked about death.
But behind Madan da’s quietly cheerful exterior lay pain he took care to keep buried deep inside him. He missed his father. That his father had been murdered by the Pakistan army was a truth he never forgot and in all the years I interacted with him, only once did he let me into the details of the tragedy. It was searing for him, but again, he did not complain. He was that bright instance of a good Hindu who nurtured in himself and in the circumstances around him the truth of meaningful, secular humanity. Even so, he observed at twilight every day the passing colours of the sky. All glory is fleeting, or so he seemed to believe, without being loud about it. Wo shaam kuch ajeeb thi…ye shaam bhi ajeeb hai. Evening past was strange and evening present is strange as well. It was a line he never forgot, quoting it every now and then.
Madan da was a thorough aesthete, schooled in the traditions of the old. He went into a waking trance speaking of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Ashok Kumar and Uttam Kumar. For him, as for many of us, Waheeda Rehman was the emblem of classical beauty, of superior artistry. Given the opportunity, given more propitious circumstances, Madan Shahu --- masculine, handsome, accomplished, humble --- could well have been part of that values-based world of artistic creativity. The times and the small men around him boxed him in.
Yet Madan da did not complain. His smiles, his soft laughter were a curtain he kept drawn on his secret pains.
This evening is rendered strange, for the space where Madan da used to be speaks of that other beautifully strange evening when he was ours, when we were his. Now he belongs with the stars.
(Madan Shahu --- journalist, raconteur, aesthete --- died on 8 May 2016)