12 March, 2010
Power of the Press
The train glided onto the platform and the bundles dropped. Experienced hands picked them and carried them to the sidewalk. More hands joined in as the packing strips were cracked and the quiet but urgent job of assembling a newspaper began. Like clockwork the route copies were handed over and the copies on the stand arranged. There were many brands of newspapers in this busy metropolis but only a few moved with regular frequency. Fresh gleaming copies, warm from the presses cut a handsome picture on the news vendor’s display.
One such paper was the “Time of the Day”. It was a magnificent fourth in the leader board of circulation numbers. Its editor Nari Batliwala was a graduate of the school of thought that a newspaper Informs, Educates, Engages & Interacts with the readers. It plays the role of a catalyst towards both the general and specific benefit of the society. Keeping in line with this thought, today’s edition carried amongst other things three noteworthy articles.
First was by the current Commissioner of Police D.Sivanandan, an erudite man. He talked about the need to increase the Police–Public dialogue and sharing goodwill as a means to the well being of the Police force and Society.
The second was by a leading social worker who protested the division of the metropolis and the services it offered along linguistic lines. It was directed at a suburban shakha pramukh who had announced a protest march against a popular new movie release later in the day today.
The third was on the growing sense of awareness in the Parent Teachers association on physical punishment meted out to children in schools. This was an in-vogue topic. The same parents had been whacked by their teachers in their time and no one had protested. In fact their parents may have actually been happy at that. This grumble was being addressed by the new generation of parents.
There was also a health and beauty column where a young lady reader had asked the secret behind having a sparkling rosy complexion and a bounce in her step. The periodical against Nari’s best wishes also had an Agony Aunt’s column where a young man had expressed a desire to know the means to reach out to and win his lady love.
Like all newspapers that for their sustenance need advertising TOTD had its own classifieds and personal columns. An entreaty published in today’s sheet said “Dear Rajeev, Am truly sorry for being so stubborn. I shall wait for you near the Flora Fountain today at 10.15am. If you have forgiven me please be there. Leaving today at noon.K”
A young man with a strained expression passed by the vendors stall at 8.45 am and picked up a copy. On today’s agenda was the search for a new job. Bunching the newspaper with his handkerchief he thrust it into the open flap of a shoulder slung bag he carried and boarded the train to VT. It was a testy ride in the crowded compartment that barely allowed him space to stand, let alone read the newspaper. He left it for the luncheon time. At 9.45 am from VT he had started walking to his office at Colaba. In the surge of the human stream walking with him, someone jostled him and the newspaper got knocked off. He had reached the Prince of Wales Museum when he felt the first beads of sweat and missed his handkerchief. Cursing he realized that it was the monogrammed one and traced his steps back. He had reached the Flora fountain again when he saw it fallen on the road bunched up in the newspaper. As he drew the kerchief out of the paper, it was the hour, his eyes made contact with those of a beautiful teary eyed girl who rushed into his arms. Rajeev you have come!! In this meeting all anger and thoughts of changing a job flew off from his mind as a light wind blew her hair in to his face.
The same wind carried his newspaper separating the pages. They flew and plastered themselves on the window of a yellow and black cab. It swerved & banged into a fire hydrant and caused a cut above the eye to the young driver. Constable Tanaji Kadam, the local beat cop, hastily gathered the flying pages as he sensed that they were a mortal danger and could cause more accidents. He rushed this way and that and finally put all of the newspaper together, only to find Rajeev and his companion had walked away. His adventurous trot across the street was observed by Abdul the local chaiwala. Abdul companionably called out to him, Tanu bhaiyya have a cutting ( half a glass ) before you go on your round. The friendly words and someone having made a note of his being on duty made the cop happy. He had the cup of chai and suitably refreshed by a general member of the public he cheered up considerably. With a jaunty step he walked on ahead to find a kid in a white shirt and blue shorts walk by. Playfully he extended the newspaper to him and said boy this shall be your education for today. Having done his good deed Tanaji ambled along on his beat.
In the meantime the taxi driver was carried into a nearby municipal hospital. His wound being administered by the young nurse whose attention he had struggled to acquire. His heart had thudded from the first time he had seen her six weeks ago. He had even penned his problem to the agony aunt. Today she was not only close to him but was administering to his cut gently and when he had asked her out for a chai she had not refused.
Where is the newspaper? These stories can progress quite happily all on their own; let us remain with the news sheet for today.
The young boy whose name was Deepak carried the paper home. He had to collect his bag and be off to school in the noon. His sister Deepali a very plain looking girl came in and saw the newspaper. A long while back she had written to the doctor who answered queries on health and wellbeing. She had given up hopes on seeing her query turn up by now. Very carefully she withdrew the glossy supplement from it. It was a plain sheet as the ad copy line was at the bottom of the page. She carefully cut it and used the rest to line up her threadbare muslin skirt from the inside. So skillfully she pasted it, that the same skirt developed a flare and pleats which made its fall smarter. As she went out and saw the envious stare of Devyani, the girl who stayed next door. In that envious look of Devyani her day was truly made. Had Deepali been able to see herself, she could have seen a girl with a face flushed with pride and a bounce in her step from the crackle of her skirt. It made her look almost pretty. She even attracted a wolf whistle.
Damu Angre was the father of Deepak and Deepali and he came in and frowned at the newspaper sitting on the stool. He didn’t even pause to wonder who belonged to it. From his rear pocket he fished out a switchblade and noticing nobody about carefully cut out the crossword and the sudoku puzzle. Then with a pen and paper he retired into the bedroom. Damu was the shakha pramukh (council leader of a social union) of his area and had arranged a protest against a movie ( the real cause of the protest is immaterial) today at 12.30 noon, the time of the first showing. His fellow protestors had gathered but the final three words had eluded Damu. Such was he engrossed and engaged. The followers waited a while and muttering to themselves melted away without a protest.
By the time Deepak came home the paper was nowhere to be seen. Not being the brightest academic talent his teacher had promised to rap his bottom hard with a ruler if his homework was not finished. Sitting down after these sessions was always an uncomfortable business. Deepak had not finished his homework. The teacher had proceeded to smack his bottom but the shorts Deepak wore were extra fuller today. His gait was waddling but there was an impish smile on his face. By the time he reached home his waddle had pushed one of the many pages of the Times of the Day to come out from the leg of his shorts at the back.
Such is the aura of the fourth pillar of democracy. Nari Batliwala had unwittingly achieved the mission of his paper serving as the catalyst for the well being of the society. Is it a wonder then when it is said that newspapers are important and the press has a power that reaches out and touches people?