Each page of this Urdu newspaper is handwritten by 'katibs'
'The Musalman', a four-page evening paper, hasn't missed an edition for 81 years
The Times of India
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
By Kamini Mathai
Chennai --- At the office of 'The Musalman', the oldest Urdu daily in the country, and possibly the only handwritten newspaper in the world, no one has ever quit. They work, says Rahman Husseini, the chief katib or copywriter of the paper, till they pass on. Rahman joined the Urdu daily more than 20 years ago as an accountant, learnt calligraphy, and when the then chief katib passed away at the age of 80, he took over the front page of 'The Musalman' and has been working on it since, earning Rs 2,500 a month.
It is the same story with the reporters, the production staff, the distribution staff and everyone else at this newspaper office. "We are all family," says Rahman. "Even bhai worked here till the end of his life."
When he says bhai, Rahman is referring to Janab Syed Fazullah Sahib, the editor of the paper, who died on April 26 this year at the age of 78. Syed Fazullah had taken over the hand-written paper from his father Syed Azmathullah, who was also the founder of the daily.
Nothing much has changed at the newspaper's Triplicane High Road office since its inception in 1927. 'The Musalman', an evening paper, has always been handwritten -- all four pages of it -- everyday, not a single day missed in all 81 years. The calligraphers still work in a dingy little corner of the 800 square foot one-room office that also houses the printing press, as they have been doing for years. There is no airconditioning in their corner, just two wall fans. In terms of ventilation, it all comes through the narrow front door. Lighting is three bulbs and a tubelight.
Even the editor's room is a still from a bygone era. Papers stacked everywhere, a solitary fax machine in the corner, lots of files and ledgers, not a single computer or typewriter anywhere. For the next 36 days though, the newspaper will have no editor, says Aarif, who is Syed Fazullah's youngest son. "I am looking after the paper while my brothers take care of the funeral arrangements. We are not allowed to decide anything till the 40th day is over, so we have no editor. But the paper has come out every single day," he says.
The katibs, one man and two women, work almost three hours on each page, writing out by hand the headlines and news reports in Urdu, then sticking on the advertisements, sending the pages in for plating and then for printing. When one of them is ill, the others work overtime to bring out the paper. If there is a mistake, sometimes the entire page has to be rewritten.
The front page is always for national and international news, the second and third for local news and the fourth for sports. One square of space is always left blank at the bottom right corner of the front page, says Rahman, in case there is breaking news. "But we only carry it if the breaking news happens by 3 pm as we still have to write it down by hand and then get it printed to reach the houses on time." The paper is also sold on the streets every evening for 75 p a copy.
"We have correspondents all over the country," says Aarif. "In New Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad etc. They fax us their stories or call and tell us and we write it."
For the 22,000 subscribers of the paper, 'The Musalman' is the only newspaper as they cannot read any other language but Urdu, says Aarif and though the number of subscribers is reducing in Chennai, it's going up in certain interior parts of Tamil Nadu. Profits are down, he adds with a sigh, but it's not stopping them.
Date Posted: 4/30/2008