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Zafar Agha, a gentleman and a known committed journalist passes away in Delhi

On March 3, 2020 I got a call from Zafar Agha the editor of National Herald, Delhi requesting if I could write an article on the Corona Virus that had just started rearing its head in India.

It was both a pleasant surprise and also a tough call to take. I had just retired from The Hindu BusinessLine on February 29, after a long innings of 37 years as a professional journalist.

Honestly, I was looking forward to relaxing, taking things easy and spending time with family and friends. But, Zafar Bhai called again and his persuasive tone motivated me to take up the challenge. I had never met nor talked to him after leaving Delhi around 2001.

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Within two days I managed to put together an analytical story on the deadly virus which was playing havoc in China, Italy and spreading rapidly to many countries. The article was titled “Corona Virus–Is India prepared to face it?

That piece, published on Mar 5, turned out to be one of the first in my career as an Independent Journalist. Incidentally, it was on March 3 that the first case of the Corona virus was detected in Hyderabad. The fear of the unknown virus was so high that my farewell party scheduled for March 8 in the Sailing Club, Secunderabad was cancelled.

Meanwhile Zafar Agha called up again a week later and said, “Som Bhai, a follow up article chahiye’. Honestly, I could not see the printed version of my maiden article itself. The printed newspaper was getting scarce and the National Herald was not widely circulated. But, I got calls from a few friends in the capital, expressing “surprise, happiness to criticism.”

 With nothing much to do and fear of meetings and going out growing by the day, I took up Zafar’s call and wrote another piece. This time it was used in their Sunday magazine. Thus began an association between me and the soft spoken, knowledgeable Zafar Agha. It continued for over a year and half, till the virus peaked and started declining with drugs and vaccines slowly halting it in its tracks or treating people. I managed to contribute a dozen articles for their print and online versions. More importantly, that call ensured continuity in my Journalistic career without a break.

Quickly, I started writing for The Korea Herald, The Siasat.com, Telangana Today etc. on the various aspects and developments on the Covid-19 pandemic.

When I heard this morning that Zafar Agha is no more I felt upset. Here was a thorough professional, well informed, concerned about issues facing both the country and media.

According to his brother Qamar Agha, Zafar was suffering from severe pneumonia and chest infection. He passed away around 0530 IST this morning at the Fortis Hospital in Vasant Kunj and was 70.
It is so ironic that Zafar lost his wife to the corona virus a couple of years ago. He was battling his own issues with health in the last year or so. He is survived by a son.

Zafar Agha began his career way back in 1979 with the Link magazine that was brought out by Patriot Newspaper group. He gained prominence in the India Today group and as the editor in chief of the National Herald and editor of Qaumi Awaz. He was also one of the founders of Tehelka.com

According to Sohail Hashmi, the 70-year-old Zafar remained active in the profession for more than 45 years. During this time he worked with the Patriot, Business and Political Observer, India Today as Political Editor, ETV and Inquilab Daily.

Other than his journalistic career he also served as member and later as officiating chairman of The National Commission for Minority Educational institutions till 2017.

Born in Allahabad now Prayagraj in 1954, Zafar studied at the Yaadgar Hussaini Inter-College and graduated in English Literature from the Allahabad University. It was at the prestigious University that he was drawn into the progressive student movement and remained allied to left and democratic politics throughout his life. He was also active with the Delhi Union of Journalists.

Zafar’s colleagues in the profession and friends recalled his contributions, his commitment to social causes, the cultured nature of the man and his warmth.

“Zafar Agha opposed the Muslim right-wingers as resolutely as he did the Hindutva advocates. He was forthright in expressing his views. And he was friendly and open with those whom he did not agree with,” recalled Parsa Venkateswara Rao Jr, noted Journalist who worked with Zafar for some time in his social media post.

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