They say journalists are emotional people. Well, whether one is in the media or not, all human beings have special fondness for inanimate objects built over years of use. Take for example that old T-shirt with the name of your favourite football team which you bought long time ago when mustering up the cost was an uphill task.
Can you throw it away just like that? Most people won’t because that shirt carries a tale of love, passion, hardship and years of support. Maybe more…..
So, when the New Age building at the corner of Tejgaion-Begunbari came down crumbling, countless people felt something close to them lost for good. It was a time for reflection, for going down memory lane and looking back at the structure, which not only was the working place for many journalists but also the symbol of the strength of an outspoken newspaper.
More than a decade ago, in 2004, when I first went to the New Age building, the spiral staircase joining the ground floor reporting section to the upper floor features and editorial section seemed very modern.
One could just go up and then meet the Editor, at that time, the Late Enayetullah Khan, or better known to us as Mintu Bhai.
Soon, I was part of the dynamic team at this paper which aspired to take a non-partisan trenchant approach to socio political events.
Well, every paper has some slant, no matter how imperceptible and, maybe I am not wrong in stating that the New Age had a sort of very social democratic air about it. In clear language, it was the place where all educated/enlightened leftists were given a place.
This means, the house was abuzz with learned and intellectually driven people. The main building provided the central point of the media operation while the shops, restaurants and car repair outlets surrounding it somehow managed to ooze the whole mantra of the New Age paper which relentlessly exuded a very proletariat flavour.
Another splendid feature was the open roof area which provided the staff the chance to sit outside and see the whole sky above – a rare treat in this congested city.
To be historically correct, the New Age building was actually known in the past as the Holiday building, a weekly publication dating back to the period prior to liberation.
At the height of the pre-independence agitation with the Vietnam War fueling anti-imperialist sentiment globally, Holiday was the product of a group of 60’s well-educated outspoken socialists.
Therefore, when New Age came, as a daily from the same owner as the Holiday, that irresistible socialist aura acted as a potent catalyst.
And the building plus the whole area assimilated that ideology. But since a paper has to be on par with the evolving society, New Age became the melting pot for modern day socialists who blended their principles for an equitable society with the need for some essential capitalist perks. Therefore, the parking area of the building was filled with cars and motor bikes.
The reason I mention the parking is because taking the car to the parking spot and then placing the vehicle turned out to be a driving test for many.
‘If you can manage to park here, then you will be able to park anywhere in the city,’ once a driver told me.
Old buildings have a quaint charm, a character which most modern day structures lack. The now demolished building had that spirit.
The dreams and aspirations of those who worked seeped into the bricks, the iron sheets and, the toilets.
Right, I mean toilets because sometimes, I used to take short naps in them which led someone to ask: boss, constipation or something else?
I spent some of my most memorable times here. If I close my eyes, the entire interior of the office is vivid and the voices of the past come rushing back:
Late Mintu Bhai: Ai, who wrote this piece, it’s abysmal; you have to edit the thoughts of these new writers. Ebhabe to hote pare na……
Almer Khan: it’s already 3pm; is the layout of SLATE done? By the way, where’s my kachchi biriyani……..
Mahjabeen Khan: Towheed, how many times have I told you not to use the word pomegranate lips…..
Niaz Zaman: who can review this book for me? Collection of esoteric poems….
Akash: Wow I have won another $3000 in a photo competition……
And of course the never ending line from the current Editor, respected Nurul Kabir Bhai, addressed to me: when are you going to leave this development bhokkor chokkor (claptrap) and come back to full time journalism?
I left full time journalism but they say: once you are a journalist you will always be one and so, I never stopped visiting New AGE and keep on writing for it.
That is exactly why the vast empty space where the New Age building once stood makes me exhale in resignation every time I pass it.
Yes, practicality suggests, old should make way for new, space optimisation is of the essence but despite realising that, there is a gnawing feeling inside.
If all these buildings with history keep crumbling for high-rises, then what will remain of the history of Dhaka?
I am sure, to a lot this may sound foolishly romantic. Well, it’s just that, silly romanticism but when we decided to become journalists we knew that our lives would be more about emotion and romance and less about meticulous calculation.
That is why, the death of a building hurts the eternal romantic in us.
In an evolving society, we carry on, New Age the paper goes on in a new address, but perhaps, without something, which, for many, had an emotional value.
High rises may come up and the whole area may transform, but for us and others, the turning to Begunbari Tejgaon road will forever be: New Age er mor……