(This piece was original published on 15 June 2018, and has been republished to mark the death anniversary of Shujaat Bukhari)
A retired bureaucrat who has held powerful positions in the Union and state governments had been asked to chair the session. But he tended to ramble, and did not seem able to control how much time each speaker took.
Shujaat Bukhari smoothly took control, gently but firmly telling each speaker they had another two minutes, or one, and then smilingly informing them that their time was up.
His intervention was precise, and timely, and yet seemed unobtrusive. The conference, which had been running far behind schedule, ran quite efficiently thereafter.
Soon, other participants got used to Shujaat running every session without even being on the dias. Since the conference was held in one of the smallest halls at the India International Centre, the space was intimate enough for him to run things from among the audience.
Such was his success that when the vice-chancellor of a leading university took the chair for another session, he barely spoke at all – just sat there impassively through the session while Shujaat efficiently introduced speakers, and kept things running on time.
One could not but respect Shujaat as he emerged as a familiar figure in the seminar and conference circuit, apparently quite easily finding time even while editing and publishing a daily newspaper.
For me, that conference brought out a new aspect of Shujaat, who was killed outside his office in Srinagar on the evening of Thursday, 14 June, by terrorists who escaped after shooting him and Shujaat’s two security guards.
Although Shujaat had grown visibly in confidence and public prominence, I still thought of him as the somewhat reticent young man I had got to know when he was a relatively young correspondent.
Not only did he conduct much of that conference with great finesse, he interacted intelligently with participants at breakfast and dinner, and made announcements regarding logistics.
He had taken charge without seeming the least bit arrogant. The net result was a purposeful, well-organised conference.
No wonder Shujaat was one of the few figures in Kashmir who used to be sought out by people interested in insightful discussions. A conversation with him was likely to yield thoughtful and informed analysis rather than gossipy speculation.
One factor that endeared him to many was that he was a good listener, and his responses were concise and to the point. Self-aggrandisement did not seem to be his purpose.
Moreover, his horizons were wide. He had a well-rounded knowledge of the world.
To function as a journalist in Kashmir has been a bit of a tightrope walk. Particularly during the 1990s, journalists have been acutely conscious of the need to avoid stepping on the toes of the powerful and well-armed.
The terrible toll of this situation has, among so many other things, been evident in the nature and content of journalism. Many journalists have opted to play safe in their reporting and writing. Some have opted for security cover. Others have chosen to withdraw into a shell, preferring to do most of their reporting by telephone.
Shujaat was among the foremost of the many who have confidently engaged with their work, their society, and the world beyond. For many young journalists, he had become something of a role model.
This is no mean feat. Such are the circumstances and pressures in which people have to function here that the easiest response is depressive withdrawal.
Several journalists, including Bukhari, had been abducted and attacked, some with gunfire, during the 1990s, when militancy raged in Kashmir. Kashmiri journalists tended to be very suspicious in the murky situation that prevailed during the militancy of the 90s.
Bukhari's murder brings the number of journalists killed during the past three decades of violence to 19. In addition to this horrifying figure, several journalists have been abducted, threatened, tortured and beaten – by armed men on both sides.
During the past three years or so, coverage of the situation in Kashmir has often become shrill and one-sided to the point of being a tragic caricature.
The aggressive and superficial positions that several analysts have chosen to take have in general alienated significant sections of the population, and so have made the situation worse.
It has fed the anger of young Kashmiris, who pelt stones and take up guns.
The sad fact is that the murder of such a stellar influence on Kashmir’s intellectual and political firmament is likely to drive bold voices further into the shadows. This does not augur well. Not at all.
(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)