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News Every Day |

Veteran broadcaster Rashid Ashraf passes away


LONDON: Veteran author, broadcaster and journalist Syed Rashid Ashraf, known for his long association with BBC Urdu, passed away early on Saturday morning at his home in the Bromley area of London. He was 91.

Mr Ashraf joined BBC Urdu in the 60s and remained associated with the publication even after retirement, mentoring young journalists.

Born in 1932 in Delhi, Mr Ashraf did his Bachelor of Arts from Dyal Singh College and completed his Master of Arts (MA) in journalism from Punjab University in 1961. Before his journalism degree, Mr Ashraf worked as an interpreter at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. He pursued journalism for a few years, then worked in public relations. In 1966, Mr Ashraf moved to London with the BBC Urdu service, which marked the beginning of his three-decade-long career in broadcasting.

His BBC colleagues have fond memories of him and describe the late broadcaster as a man who was not only a guru, master orator, linguist and storyteller, but also a good friend and a gentleman.

Colleagues recall fond memories of ‘a guru, master orator, linguist and storyteller’

BBC’s Hussain Askari recalls an invaluable piece of advice Mr Ashraf gave to him that he will never forget. “When we were new to the service, our editor Mohammad Hanif told us about Rashid sahab and said he can give us broadcasting tips. Rashid sahab told me to come to the studio with my script so he can hear my delivery. He then gave me the most important feedback of my life.”

“He said,” Mr Askari continued, “my voice and delivery are fine. But then he said, ‘when you are speaking, don’t speak as if you are broadcasting a speech to millions of people. Speak as if your parents, a friend or a sibling is standing in front of you as if you are telling the story to one person. It should be a conversational tone’.”

Mr Askari said the advice was “at the forefront of his mind” when he presented news. “Even though he was very senior, his attitude towards new journalists was friendly and affectionate. He taught us so much.”

Arif Shamim at BBC recalls an inside joke shared between him and the late broadcaster. “I came to London from Punjab, so my kaaf and qaaf were not always clear. He would tell me, ‘Bhai Arif, I need to fix your qaaf and kaaf’.”

Mr Shamim said that though it is customary to praise those who have passed away, in the case of Mr Ashraf, “no one spoke ill of him”.

“He was very disciplined and even at this age, he would rehearse his programmes. He was the only person who would actually rehearse his lines and script. Generally, BBC seniors wouldn’t go in the studio for rehearsals.”

About his voice and delivery, Mr Shamim said his mentor’s “Urdu was excellent and delivery was a thing of beauty”.

Sharing an anecdote that showed Mr Ashraf’s dedication to his work, Mr Shamim pointed to a collection of letters featured on the BBC in a 2020 story that had been written some 50 years ago in a writing competition titled ‘What Will the World be Like 50 Years From Now’.

“This is the kind of person Rashid sahab was. He kept those letters for 50 years.”

The letters were well-preserved and kept in Mr Ashraf’s attic, and became the basis of a story.

Former BBC current affairs producer Durdana Ansari, for whom Mr Ashraf quickly went from a colleague to a father figure, said, “I feel like I have lost my father, my best friend for the second time… he was the pillar of my life. We had a 30-year association as I was a junior in the BBC Urdu service. Everyone respected him. He was one of the most humble people.”

“He had a wealth of knowledge. You name it [and he knew it]. [Ranging from] history, religion and literature to music. Any query one came up with, he had an answer, a solution,” Ms Ansari told Dawn. According to the BBC, he is survived by his wife Kishwar; three daughters, Ainee, Munazzah and Bushra; granddaughters and “scores of friends and well-wishers”.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2023


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