Reflections on small-town journalism

Returning to Bangalore from a trip to Jamshedpur early morning last week, I stopped by at an A. H. Wheeler news cart at the Tatanagar railway station to pick up a newspaper. What struck me was the plethora of choices. In Hindi and English, both. There was “Dainik Jagaran”, “Prabhat Khabar”, “Hindustan” and some others in Hindi and “Hindustan Times” and “Telegraph” as the English language choices. I had a four-hour long train journey to Howrah ahead of me (travelling from Jamshedpur to Bangalore is painful, it consumes the whole day; Jamshedpur to Howrah and then a rickety taxi-ride to the airport and then the long flight), and I ended buying virtually all the broadsheets on offer. I was sure I would have a co-passenger keen on borrowing. I’d rather lend an entire newspaper than end up sharing sheets of it as was common in the good old days.

(Mercifully, no one asked, maybe in A/c chair cars it is not a done thing!)

Browsing through the papers I realized they were like any other newspaper. There were important news stories on the front page followed by local (Jamshedpur-based), regional (Singhbhum-district based) and state (Jharkhand) news. It was a pleasure to read the local news from Kadma, Sonari, Bhuinyadih, Aazad Basti, Kharangajhar etc. The news itself was like in any other city paper, road accident, dowry death, elopement, murder etc. It was the fact that I was reading news reports about something which happened in-and-around the place I grew up in was exciting enough.

Silly stuff, you say? You wonder why I am making a great deal about it. Right?

So listen!

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I grew up in the Jamshedpur of 60’s and 70’s. It was a pretty town, with lovely tree-lined roads, street lighting which always functioned, crime rates were low, and on 3rd March, the birthday of Jamshedji Tata, the founder of the city, we all got sweets from TISCO management delivered right in our schools. You could drink the water off the taps (it was so clean) and power-cuts were rare. There was little traffic on the roads, the bulk of the commuters were cyclists. There were hardly any motorcycles and the ones who could afford it would buy a Vespa or a Lambretta scooter. Cars were rare. There were good schools and a great large park (Jubilee Park) right in the center of the city. This idyllic world had just one problem, there was no local newspaper.

Jamshedpur those days was a part of Bihar and the only two newspapers published in the state were “The Indian Nation” in English and “Aryavart” in Hindi, both from Patna, published by the same house. But Patna was twice the distance from Jamshedpur as compared with Calcutta. So it was the Calcutta newspaper most households subscribed to. The venerable “The Statesman” with a masthead in Gothic script was the newspaper we subscribed to. Some families took “Amrit Bazar Patrika”, I think it is defunct now. The Bengalis of Jamshedpur, and Jamshedpur had many such families, would buy “Anand Bazaar Patrika”. The Oriya-speaking community would get “Samaaj” published from Cuttack. Those who wanted to read their news in Hindi and could not stand “Aryavart” of Patna would buy “Dainik Vishvamitra” published from Calcutta. In short, most communities would get their daily news fix in their desired languages.

But there was a catch. The newspaper reached us from Calcutta only in the evening, around seven pm or so. It did take a long time for something to travel some 250 kms from Calcutta to Jamshedpur!

Not that we minded it. We, the neighbourhood kids, would do our homework well in time. When we heard the newspaper-wallah’s cycle bell tinkle- he had a special symphony, tring-tring, triiiiiiiing,  tring-tring we would all leap out of our homes, accost him and take our respective newspapers even before he would chuck it at our door-steps.

Once home, the newspaper would quickly get apportioned among all the eager readers in the family. The outer sheet with the headlines, the sports page and then the rest of it. I, for one, would always try to get for myself the sports page. That was the only way to see the score-card of the previous day’s cricket as one would have missed the commentary, the previous day being a school day.

“The Statesman” being a Calcutta newspaper, had considerable news of the city. We would know what exactly was happening there. Right from the success of Satyajit Ray’s “Goopy Gyne, Bagha Byne” to the bands playing at Mocambo and Peter Cat on Park Street, to the reports on football matches between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal to the latest offerings in New market. Even the comings-and-goings of ships at the Kidderpore dock! I first visited Calcutta when I was some 18 years old and I thought it was all too familiar, just that I was seeing the city physically for the first time.

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It is not that Jamshedpur did not have it own newspaper, it did. There was a weekly tabloid called “Azad Mazdoor” which I am sure most Jamshedpurians would never have heard of. While it called itself a weekly, I am not sure if it was indeed published every week. I think my father got it free- thanks to his friendship with the editor- and the paper would show up in the mailbox once in a while.

The big newsletter from Jamshedpur was the in-house magazine from TISCO, as Tata Steel was then called. It was a stylish, glossy, black-and-white affair published in two languages: “TISCO Samachar” and “TISCO News”. While this was meant to be an in-house thing, considering the profile of the city those days. Most were “company employees”, hence virtually each household got a copy. My father was not a TATA employee- he was a college professor- and was not entitled to a copy. But we keep ourselves informed of TATA’s corporate activities by borrowing copies from relatives and neighbours. “TISCO Samachar” was full of stuff as any good in-house magazine should have. The inauguration of a new mill, the record production by a Blast Furnace, visit of Chairman JRD Tata to Jamshedpur, suggestion awards (“Sujhao Puraskar”) given to employees (so-and-so has improvised on the coke utilization process resulting in a saving of Rs five lakh annually and he gets an award of Rs 10,000) and the all-too-common community development projects undertaken by TISCO.

The excellent production quality of “TISCO Samachar” has one useful application after it was read, it was used to cover books! Nice, strong and glossy sheets. One more. It was rumoured that one particularly lazy relative of our’s would serve roti and sabzi to her kids on sheets of the journal. This was to avoid washing dishes after the meal. Lazy, but brilliant! TISCO’s image has always been squeaky clean, be it their corporate performance or their in-house journal!

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I return home to Bangalore late night and when I wake up in the morning I see my family sprawled on the dining table devouring their quota of daily news. Over time, the number of papers we get has increased manifolds. There is this ubiquitous “Times of India” which gets subscribed to for the simple reason that it is ubiquitous, you have to read it to stay up with the Joneses (or, in India, with the Kapoors, Patils, Bannerjis, Reddys and Pillais). No choice there! I need to know the local news even better, so “Deccan Herald” is a must, I am the only person in the family who reads it. We started on the newly launched “DNA” newspaper just to check things out, and my wife got hooked onto it. There is this mandatory “Economic Times” for me, cant crib about that. And now the TOI chaps have begun giving the obnoxious tabloid “The Bangalore Mirror” free with the the paper. So we have reams of newsprint delivered to us at the crack of dawn now and there is enough for all of us, including the maid servant and the dog. Ok, we don’t have a dog.

Maybe I should get one.

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7 Responses to Reflections on small-town journalism

  1. Vijay Sambrani says:

    Santosh, As usual it brings back old memories of us getting to read the newspaper after lunch during our school days !!!.

    though we get The Hindu at home, all my news is read off “www.samachar.com” which gives headlines of every major newspaper .

    well, how times have changed !!!.

    sadly , the kids have not taken to News, neither through Papers, nor the Electronic media

  2. squarecutatul says:

    Lovely article. It brings back similar memories. Growing up in Ranchi,I too remember that “Indian Nation” and “Ayravart” were the leading newspaper of Bihar, published from Patna.

    In Ranchi, there was one weekly newspaper called “Ranchi Express” which became a daily in mid 1970s.People of Ranchi were used to getting their local newspaper once a week, and I thougt that daily dose of that maganzine would be too much for them, but to my surprise, people quickly got addicted to this daily local too.

    I am sure this “Ranchi Express” was read in Jamshedpur too.

    In my younger days, I loved to read crime news. 😀 It was later on that I became interested in the sports news.

    Calcutta based papers like “The Statesman” and “Amrit Bazar Patrika” were also popular.The Bangla newspaper of the Patrika group was called “Amrit Bazar Patrika”. In 1980s, the Anand Bazar Patrika group started “Telegraph” (with M J Akbar as the editor) and this newspaper became a favourite of mine. Later on, when I went to other parts of the country, I got the opportunity to read newspapers like “Hindu”, “Times of India”,”Indian Express”, “Deccan Chronicle”, “Deccan Herald” “Hitwada” “Dainik Bhaskar” etc.

    It is a lovely article, as I mentioned. I hope that you will write an article on the magazines too, as well as on “Pocket books”/ Bal Pocket books, etc.

    • santoshojha says:

      Ranchi Express showed up in Jamshedpur too.
      I have mentioned Bal Pocket books in one of the earlier posts. Maybe I should take a cue from your love for crime news and talk about “Satyakatha” and others of its tribe!

  3. Jitu says:

    You know something Santosh… 2 times in one week I have visited your blog. Now when I Google for something and read the words Santosh Ojha… I know it’s your blog that Google is showing.

    Last week I was googling for Nandan comics. I was a voracious reader of Nandan. 🙂 We couldn’t afford these comics every month… so every time I was rewarded as a child… it would be a nandan or a chandamama or a tinkle or a pink or a chaacha choudhary ( when I was even younger).:)

    Now… today I was looking for TISCO samachaar… and voila … Google shows your blog. 🙂 I made a beeline to it knowing already from your Nandan comic post that we share a similar taste history.

    It is so nice to read about TISCO news, TISCO samachar… from a complete stranger. 🙂

    I laughed out loud when I read “TISCO Samachar” has one useful application after it was read, it was used to cover books!”

    LOL… Am sure many many Jampot-ians would relate to that. 😀

    btw… we had another very creative use for those glossy pages. 🙂 Once… we had rolled up those strong sheets into thin and strong pipes… and stuck them together one next to another on an old stool. Then we applied coat after coat of varnish. In the end the old stool looked beautiful.. with a bamboo-like finish. 🙂

  4. Jitu says:

    One more thing… true story!! 🙂

    Once … one of the K D Flats of kadma had a fire. TISCO did white wash only once every 3 years… an they had just gotten their white wash done before fire. 🙂 So had to wait a year before they could send in the fresh request.

    So… the residents used these glossy TISCO news sheets as a wall paper to cover the walls. 🙂

  5. Jitu says:

    Oh… and btw… we used to get “The Telegraph” earlier.. and later when I was in high school… I coaxed my parents to switch to “The Statesman”

    🙂

    And guess what… Sports page(s) were the only pages I never read. 😛

    :D:D:D:D

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