I and Danish Siddiqui were once playing cricket together in our Jamia Nagar colony. We were both 8-9 years old.
I remember taking him home when a local bully hit him with a cricket bat and broke his hand. We took Danish and that bully kid to Akhtar uncle (Danish’s father). At that time Akhtar Uncle was the RWA president of our colony and the default guardian for all kids who used to play in the park. I remember Akhtar uncle was very nervous when he first saw Danish in pain, but immediately let the bully kid go home. The Siddiquis were composed and dignified about everything.
Danish’s death has been shocking and brings back so many memories.
We went to different schools but we sometimes used to take the same blue-line bus. It used to be packed and we usually would hang it at the door. Students wearing uniforms would never buy tickets. We used to say ‘Staff hai’ without knowing what it meant.
Later Danish went to study at Jamia MCRC and I studied journalism at Delhi University.
Our paths crossed again when both of us landed at Vir Sanghvi’s ambitious project called NewsX. They had hired a group of 40 odd people in their 20s to compete with the likes of NDTV and CNN IBN etc.
I remember him coming back from a Gujarat tour and he was showing his still pictures to everyone in the newsroom.
Danish then became a TV reporter at Headlines Today (now called India Today TV) while I stayed on at NewsX. We would run into each other in the field with our mics. And he would always carry his still camera with him everywhere.
Which is why no one was surprised when Danish dropped TV reporting to go behind his camera full time and boy what a great decision it was.
We often spoke about the affairs of the world. For Danish, Journalism was always a social responsibility and not just a career option. Enough has been said and written about his ability to breathe life into his photographs.
Yes, he was the first Indian journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize – the Oscar equivalent for journalism, but in my view, his best work has come after the 2018 award.
His coverage of pandemics, protests, riots has been extraordinary.
Still in his 30s, Danish was just about getting started. His work was being recognised globally and he was going places. Literally.
After his Pulitzer win, we felicitated him in Jamia Nagar. He always wanted to give back to the ‘ghetto’ where he grew up. We had both discussed plans of setting up spaces and institutions where young people would be inspired to do great things. ‘Let’s sit down and discuss the next time you are here…’
Friday afternoon we were waiting to hear about Danish’ mortal remains. The family had not received any communication from the MEA. I called up some of our former media colleagues and they were very helpful. Aditya Raj Kaul organised a phone call from the MEA and Maha Siddiqui got us some details from the Afghan embassy. Many others also helped, including our local BJP contact Atif Rasheed.
Sometime in the afternoon, Akhtar uncle asked me if his body has been found. I reluctantly told him about a picture of his body on social media, and that he shouldn’t be seeing it.
He insisted that he wanted to see it for his closure.
He took a good look at the picture and then he kissed the phone screen. Still very composed and dignified.
Bilala Zaidi is a former journalist and founder of Our Democracy, a crowdfunding platform.
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