Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali: An extraordinary journey

Photo - Times of Oman

It was a love of print born under the dim light of an oil lamp as a primary school student.

From a humble childhood avidly scanning old newspapers and magazines, Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali's life was an extraordinary journey from schoolboy to running his own media house. Essa's early life may have been modest, but his hard work, courage and foresight saw him achieve great feats in life.

It is a year since Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali, founding chairman of the Muscat Press and Publishing House (MPPH) and editor-in-chief of Times of Oman passed away, but his memories remain forever.

Source - Viewpoint, Essa Al Zedjali

"How can I forget the wonderful moments spent in his company? Is it possible for me to not recall the great person that he was?" asks Mahmoud Suleiman Al Zedjali. Who better than Mahmoud Suleiman Al Zedjali can talk of his best friend and cousin, Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali?

The duo forged a strong bond of friendship and mutual trust, initially as schoolmates, and later as colleagues. "Whether it was sheer coincidence or destiny, I can't say, but we went to the same school and college, worked in the same companies and even landed up being posted in the same countries," Mahmoud says.

The two of them went to the same school in Oman, and later studied and worked together in different countries, including Kuwait, the UAE and India. Mahmoud describes the late Essa as "a self-made man." Having lost his parents early, life was not easy for him.

"But he dared to dream and had the guts to pursue those dreams with conviction," says Mahmoud.
In the Saidi school where they both studied, Mahmoud recalls Essa as a very quiet child who focused on his studies. "He would read everything he could get his hands on – even old newspapers or magazines," he remembers.

Mahmoud says as Essa grew up he became more social, which eventually led him to build life-long friendships. He remembers that Essa was a stubborn man who never looked back once he set his mind on doing something.

"He had worked for an oil company, been in the foreign service and owned contracting, printing, trading, pharmaceutical and livestock companies, but he had no idea about the newspaper business. Yet, he went ahead and launched a newspaper, which is today the most enduring brand in Oman," Mahmoud says.

Mahmoud believes that it was the days spent in Kuwait that shaped his thoughts about Essa.

"It was here that he was exposed to great books belonging to different genres. He became a voracious reader. He made it a point to read books on history, politics, philosophy, economics and other subjects.

We had a shared an interest in books," he says.

Kuwait also gave him an opportunity to hear eminent thinkers from Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan and other countries.

"When we were at secondary school, there was what was called the 'cultural season' in Kuwait where thinkers from across the world would come to address the gathering. We both would make it a point to attend the opening for all lectures. At times, the topics under discussion would fly over our heads, but it ignited our thought process," he says. Perhaps this influenced his thoughts and writings in journalism, he adds.

Also, Essa's weekly column, Viewpoint, published every Sunday, became one of the most keenly-awaited columns in the country.

Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali signing his popular book Viewpoint

"That was not surprising. Essa used to draw the attention of authorities to a lot of issues and problems.

The Darsait flyover was one of his long-standing demands. He always made it a point to offer constructive suggestions. We need journalists who write about issues that are useful to the community," he says.  

About Essa's legacy, Mahmoud states, "He is a human example of how one can start from nothing to reach the top."

Today, Muscat Press and Printing House (MPPH) owns several publications, including Times of Oman, Al Shabiba, Hi, Thursday, Faces, and Black and White.

Essa's amiable and kind hearted nature attracted the young and old. He was always ready to lend a helping hand, as there was a generous side to him and the number of people he helped is countless. 

"In fact, when he helped, he never made it known to anyone. He had to struggle hard to make it to the top of the ladder, so he wanted to ease the climb for others. He provided for the education of many youngsters and helped those who needed money for medical emergencies," he says.

When he passed away, people turned out in large numbers to pay him their tribute.

"This proved his popularity with the people. Our family lost a great support and role model," he says.
Mahmoud also dwelt at length about his friend's varied interests. "He loved to travel, read books, listen to talks, was an ardent observer of global issues, an enthusiast of music and art. Bright, intelligent and articulate, he was the centre of attention at every get together," he says.

Additionally, his popularity in the Indian, Filipino and Pakistani communities was a source of his being greatly admired. Near the end, Mahmoud wanted to go to Bad Neustadt an der Saale in Germany, where Essa was being treated while ill. But Essa wouldn't allow him.

"He told me, 'It is freezing here, don't come. You may fall sick'. Such was his concern for me. He said, 'I will come'. He did come back, but not in the way I wanted to see him," reminiscences Mahmoud. 
Mahmoud stresses that Essa was not only a pioneer in the world of journalism, but a highly committed human being.

"His wisdom, integrity, sense of humour and experience is something that all who came to know him admired. An extraordinary man, he was the strength and inspiration of his family and society. He was universally liked, admired and respected by everyone. He deserves not to be forgotten," Mahmoud says.

Engaging personality

Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali's passing one year ago was a sad moment in time for all of us. I hope that today everyone will reflect on his extraordinary life. His moral strength, pragmatic wisdom and engaging personality had made him among the most admired personalities of our times. As one of the most charismatic public figures in the Oman media, he will always be remembered for his intellectual excellence and diverse insights on world affairs. His legacy will endure for generations to come. The KR management, staff and my family members join in a silent prayer to remember his love and goodwill for the work he did for the community at large.

Sheikh Kanak Khimji, Director, Khimji Ramdas
Truly great man

I had the pleasure of knowing Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali for well over 25 years, in various capacities.  He has been consistently supportive of the Indian community for longer than I have known him, first in his position as the consul general of Oman in Mumbai, and later as a pillar of Omani society and the founder chairman of one of the most successful newspapers in Oman. He has been preeminent in his field, having taken Times of Oman from a weekly to a daily newspaper with one of the highest circulations in Oman.

More than all this, though, it was his wisdom and goodwill which earned him a place in all our hearts. I have several times gone to him for advice in my capacity as chairman of the Indian Social Club, and I have also sought his support for my ventures as an event manager. He always received me with the utmost courtesy and grace, not to mention the significant insight he brought to everything he was part of. I am sad that we in Oman have lost a truly great man, but gladdened that we were ever lucky enough to have known him.

Dr. Sathish Nambiar, honorary chairman, Indian Social Club

Left behind a great legacy

I had known late Essa bin Mohammed Al Zedjali since March 1986, a few months after my arrival in Oman. I met him in connection with a business venture which he had set up.  Over my subsequent meetings with him, I found him to be a very humble and caring person. As I got to know him more, and he found out that I was from Karachi, he used to share a lot of his own fond memories of the time when he was studying in Karachi. He specially mentioned the excitement of his ride on the Karachi Trams in the 50s and 60s. His favourite tram stop was at the Empress Market. The reason being he would get off the tram there and eat the fresh "jalibees" from the famous sweet shop near the Empress Market. I worked very closely with him on the assignment when Times of Oman was seeking funding from Ministry of Finance for its expansion. During that period I got to appreciate his business acumen and his very deep understanding of the media sector. Even today when I read the Times of Oman, the first thing in the morning, I remember late Essa Al Zedjali.  He has left behind a great legacy.

Khalid Ansari, partner-in-charge, KPMG Oman
Popular figure

It was recently in Dubai that I learnt from a Pakistani friend  about passing away of Essa Sahib. For me the news was rather saddening since I had lost a friend who was particularly kind to me during my stint in the Sultanate. Essa Sahib was a popular figure amongst Pakistanis in Muscat and would invariably grace the functions at the Embassy and the PSM. He spoke Urdu and Baluchi with ease but I enjoyed talking to him in Arabic. From his days in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to journalism to the world of business, he had a long and distinguished career. I visited him twice in his office and each time was gifted a beautiful book. One of these books is a compilation of his own Arabic columns and bears his signatures. I occasionally open it to read a column or two and am impressed by the chaste Arabic and the substance each piece embodies. Such people live in the hearts of their friends long after their physical demise. In was in 2006 that I asked Essa Sahib to visit Pakistan and he immediately accepted my invitation. He spent a couple of days in Quetta and then went to Islamabad. Both Times of Oman and Al Shabiba gave very positive coverage to Pakistan during and after the visit. I also vividly remember the Ramadan cricket inaugural ceremony at the PSM in 2006 when he bowled the first ball and I played it.  He was closely associated with various social and philanthropic activities. People of his caliber leave a deep imprint on the sands of time. May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace. Ameen.

Javed Hafiz, former ambassador of Pakistan to Oman

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