“Aziz’s Story of the Journalist Nazir ” by William J. Jackson
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, William J. Jackson laments the loss of a Pakistani journalist.
When an open window suddenly slams shut, it shocks me. It bodes ill.
When glimmers of hope die out there is an ache we feel. The pain is from the loss of something essential that we foolishly took for granted. The death of Pakistani journalist Nazir was such a loss.
I knew Nazir since schoolboy days. He was not showy, but he was brave. He wielded his pen like a spotlight. He was friendly, polite, funny, and awkward, a bookwormy, eyeglasses-wearing type of man. He did not marry young, but in due time he had a wife and three kids.
Nazir could barely make a living as a writer because he was so daring. His series on the “VIP con man who sold nuclear secrets” got him in hellish hot water. He wrote a brief history of the military in Pakistan and received anonymous threats: No one is allowed to write that. Even light pieces Nazir wrote were not trivial. For example, he wrote a piece in which he followed the trail of a rupee, which began as part of an aid package given by America to Pakistan. Nazir told the tale with charm, showing how the corruption of foreign aid money occurs at many stages.
Another writing mused on the ropes used for hanging criminals, about how they are made and how some curious souls are drawn to the gallows, seeking bits of the hangman’s rope, because in the poor human mind rope used for hanging is considered auspicious. Death blesses it with a terrible nearness. Seekers of the lucky rope fibers include Hindus, Muslims, Christians.
Nazir wrote another column, “Narcitecture Today,” about state-of-the-art architectural features in homes that opium built, “compounds of the rich and nameless.” It won an international prize, and also death threats.
“Truth is in tatters,” he said, “because human faults and vices, corruption and self-interest, ruin society’s fabric.” Nebulous areas of hidden crimes led directly to forbidden areas where Nazir walked through minefields.
A month before I was to meet him, uniformed thugs abducted Nazir in Pakistan one night, beating him with cables. He wrote that the attackers asked: “Wanna be a hero? It takes a lot of suffering—so you need this.” A maulana watched from nearby shadows.
That beating did not stop Nazir. He wrote about it, posted it on the internet. He was in the process of publishing a book about Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in the Waziristans, culminating years of interviewing in the border areas. Nazir was obsessed with deep state issues—powerful out-of-sight forces, like ISI and Taliban leaders.
When Nazir was asked why he insisted on stirring trouble, he said, “They’re trying to make us live in fear. Censorship sticks in my craw.”
The maulana issued a fatwa leading to Nazir’s death, condemning him on the grounds that he wrote words insulting the faith and its founder.
Nazir had committed the great taboo—writing about security forces and Islamic militants interacting.
He came to Kashmir then, to lie low. I was warned it was too dangerous to meet him. But he had knowledge I needed. The Monday we were supposed to meet, I reached the coffee shop inside the Broadway—a luxury hotel on tidy upscale Moulana Azad Road in Srinagar—a half hour late. The sidewalk was cordoned off. Soldiers kept passersby at a distance. Nazir’s body was on the ground. A coroner was examining the wounds. Witnesses said two men on a motorcycle killed him point-blank. The driver slowed; the rider fired a handgun three times.
I would never be able to talk with him. That window was slammed shut now.
It was sundown, and there was a chill in the air. A big-bosomed waitress gazed upon the dead journalist with grief-stricken shock. She wished to embrace him, but knowing he was broken, was resigned to accept his departure. She stroked the back of his hand.
When questioned, she said Nazir was her brother. “He nicknamed me Koh-i-noor . . . He was smiling as he died, speaking like a child: Hello, mother, yes, that blanket feels warm, it is so nice to see your face again. His hand was over his navel. He died happily. In his own mind his mother’s love was sweet, even at the time of death.”
Nazir loved writing. “What other work lets you ride through the countryside at night to uncover hidden secrets of the deep state? People have a right to know. I’m just a shadowy forward face of people who are determined to know what’s what.”
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jan 26, 2015
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