In the present day, Afghanistan is in tatters. The Taliban are trampling upon the Ghor province of Afghanistan, capturing massive tracts of the country as the deadline for the withdrawal of the US-led Nato troops comes closer. The Taliban are reportedly in control of over 100 districts out of 400 in the country. As the Taliban forces march across Afghanistan, their footsteps echo across the globe.
As monsoon rains drenched Delhi on Sunday night, July 18, photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was laid to rest at a cemetery in Jamia Millia Islamia. Danish lost his life on July 16 while covering clashes between the Afghan Special Forces and the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
Hundreds attended the funeral, several photojournalists, friends, and neighbours murmured prayers for the man they admired. They shed tears and bid him goodbye. They wished him well, wherever he is.
Based out of Mumbai, Danish worked with Reuters for over a decade. He won the Pulitzer Prize in feature photography in 2018.
In the aftermath of Danish’s demise, we at NRI Vision spoke to some of his loved ones, who remembered him with fondness and warmth.
Danish, the mentor
“I was Danish Sir’s fan for several years. I admired him and dreamt of meeting him,” photojournalist MD Meherban, who was mentored by Danish, told NRI Vision.
“When I met him for the first time, I went up to him and told him how he inspired me and how big a fan I was. He kind of laughed and told me he was just doing his job; there was nothing so great about it. I have never met a more humble, down-to-earth person in my life,” he added.
Meherban was at that time trying to build his career. He soon joined an organization where he was to be mentored by Danish.
“With time, we became closer. I could rely on him for absolutely anything. There wasn’t a day that we would not speak to each other; we were just constantly in touch,” said Meherban.
“He was an absolute favourite among everyone he mentored. We loved him. He was supportive and caring; he would encourage us to go out into the world and explore. His work had a great influence on budding photojournalists — each of his photographs told a different story. I remember something Danish Sir had told me: “It is your work that speaks. It is the story you tell that remains. We may not live forever, but our hard work will never be forgotten”,” Meherban added.
Danish and Meherban covered the 2020 Delhi riots together. Recalling an incident, Meherban said, “There was a photograph taken by Danish Sir that was widely circulated across social media platforms: that of a group of men chanting pro-Hindu slogans while beating up a Muslim man named Mohammad Zubair. Danish Sir captured the heartbreaking moment, but he did not stop there. He could have taken the picture and left, but he instead traced down Zubair to make sure he was fine. Sir asked Zubair if there was anything he could do for him, and Zubair requested him to send him copies of all the articles where this photo would be printed. Danish Sir made a file with copies of every article about the incident and the picture and gave it to Zubair,” said Meherban.
“Before leaving the last time, he had said, “Inshallah, I will be back by Eid al-Adha, and we will meet again”. But he never returned. I remember a lot of times when I would go out amid the lockdown and walk along deserted streets and yet feel like I was among many people. But at his funeral yesterday, with hundreds of people praying, I felt more alone than ever,” he added.
Danish, the friend
“Danish and I were neighbours. We were not really in touch after the school years but followed each other’s work in the field of journalism,” said Bilal Zaidi, a former journalist.
“My favourite memory of him is when he decided to leave TV journalism and become a photojournalist. He was too dignified, soft-spoken to be a TV journalist. He was empathetic, and that was something that used to reflect very beautifully in his images,” he added.
In a Facebook post in remembrance of Danish, Bilal wrote: “Danish Siddiqui and I were once playing cricket together in our Jamia Nagar colony. We were both 8-9 years old. I remember taking him home when a local bully hit him with a cricket bat and broke his hand. We took Danish and that bully kid to Akhtar uncle (Danish’s father). At that time, Akhtar Uncle was the RWA president of our colony and the default guardian for all kids who used to play in the park. I remember Akhtar uncle was very nervous when he first saw Danish in pain but immediately let the bully kid go home. The Siddiquis were composed and dignified about everything.”
“Remember that bully I wrote about in my post on Danish Siddiqui? He was there at his funeral today with his two kids. I hugged him. He wept. The story ends,” Bilal wrote in another post.
“Danish was a soft-spoken, empathetic guy who was liked by everyone who knew him. He was not a class topper, just your average next-door friend. For him to have come from such an ordinary background and to achieve so much in such a short time was exemplary,” Bilal concluded.
Danish, the colleague
KM Asad from Bangladesh, now best known as an independent photographer, and a popular photojournalist at Zuma Press news agency and a contributor to Getty Images, expressed his sorrow and disbelief at Danish’s death.
“A beautiful soul, gone too soon,” he said.
Recalling their first meeting, Asad said, “Back in 2017, I was taking photographs of the Rohingya exodus, and so was Danish. I remember standing at a site one day and suddenly seeing a well-built man running towards me. He came and hugged me. “Asad, you’re doing an amazing job. I love your photographs,” he told me. That was my first encounter with Danish, and I will never forget about it.”
“This memory is special because, in my career, I have met very few people who are so warm, generous and loving towards their juniors. People who do great work often fail to appreciate those who are still trying, but Danish’s approach told me a lot about his character. When he hugged me, I knew that I had met a good man,” he added.
In the next few days, both Danish and Asad covered the plight of the Rohingya refugees.
“Journalism can be a tough job. Not every journalist has the courage to put their life at risk and cover wars and riots. Not everybody would be brave enough to go to Afghanistan amid such unrest, just to make sure that the world knew their story. Danish was extraordinary,” Asad said.
Danish Siddiqui was someone who was loved, cherished and looked up to. May his remarkable works continue to inspire thousands of generations to come.