The Mad, Mad World of Print: Snippets from around India

Away from the spotlight of big businesses, technology innovations and market predictions, this regular column brings you the stories of print from the fringes. Print is everywhere and every new experiment takes us closer to this journey we have embarked upon together – the journey to the world of print

02 Mar 2016 | By Dibyajyoti Sarma

Spotlight on newsprint newspaper


This has been a great week for newspapers. On 28 February, the Academy Awards were announced and Spotlight, a film set in Boston Globe, a newspaper based in Boston, the US, took home the Oscar for Best Film of the Year. While the film is about how a group of reporters from the newspaper broke the story of rampant sexual abuse of children by the catholic priests, the film has also brought forth the focus on newsprint newspapers, which for most part of the US, is a thing of the past. The movie reinforces, once again, the power of print.

Martin Baron, the then editor of the Boston Globe and currently the executive editor of Washington Post, who is a character in the movie, played by Liev Schreiber, wrote in Post about the film, “The rewards will come if the movie has impact: On journalism because owners, publishers and editors rededicate themselves to investigative reporting. On a sceptical public, because citizens come to recognise the necessity of vigorous local coverage and strong journalistic institutions. And on all of us, through a greater willingness to listen to the powerless and too often voiceless, including those who have suffered sexual and other abuse.”

There is lesson in this for India as well.

It has been confirmed that Independent and Independent on Sunday, two of Britain’s popular newspapers, will cease to exist as print versions and will appear only in digital from March onwards.

In the West, online news outlets are the reality, but are they the alternative to newsprint newspapers?

Roy Greenslade, writing in The Guardian on 17 February, explains it in no uncertain terms.

He writes: “Online news outlets are building massive audiences. They count their monthly hits in millions. Their problem is they are all finding it difficult, at least at present, to make the kind of money required to fund journalism. Similarly, they don’t have the clout of the national press to scrutinise the ruling elite. Note how online investigative outfits have to court national newspaper and broadcasting organisations in order to give their work its necessary profile. So, in conclusion, ponder this question: in a world without newsprint, will journalists be able to carry out their central mission to prevent government, big business and the various institutions from doing as they like?”

Meanwhile, on 22 February, The famous The Economist turned its gaze upon the booming Indian newspaper business in its column, ‘The Economist explains’.

After discussing how ad revenues in Indian newspapers are going up, as opposed to its counterparts in Britain, and how regional newspapers are driving the growth, The Economist offers another reason for this boom.

Says The Economist: “Newspapers also go to great lengths to cut costs. To utilise excess capacity, Lokmat uses its factory in Maharashtra to print Maharashtra Times, a competitor. For a small fee, vernacular newspapers tie up with rural entrepreneurs to distribute in smaller towns and villages. Customers, too, are shrewd about picking discount schemes and benefit from selling the paper back to scrap paper dealers.”

Taxi Fabric in The Guardian

It is nice to see an Indian print story find a global audience.

On 29 February, British newspaper The Guardian featured a photo gallery on Mumbai’s art collective Taxi Fabric. Interestingly, they discovered the quirky covers of Mumbai taxis and autos via the Coldplay music video Hymn for the Weekend. The video of the song, featuring Beyoncé, was criticised in Indian media for its clichés.

Back to Taxi Fabric, we are especially happy because PrintWeek India carried a photo gallery on the same way back on 10 January. Payal Khandelwal wrote: “Taxi Fabric made its modest beginning as a Tumblr blog in 2013 that simply collected the bizarre and quirky seat covers and ceilings of taxis in Bombay. It is now a full-blown project that collaborates with graphic designers to create exclusive theme based designs for the seat covers and ceilings of Bombay’s omnipresent black & yellow taxis. It has unleashed about 23 refurbished and inimitable taxis into the city so far.”

You can view the gallery here.

Umberto Eco: 1932-2016

Umberto Eco, who passed away on 19 February at 84, was a phenomenon in itself. He was internationally renowned philosopher to become an author of bestselling novels. Best known for his 1980 historical mystery novel The Name of the Rose, which has been translated into more than 40 languages, Eco created fiction bearing all the hallmarks of his academic work as a semiologist as he explored the link between fantasy and reality. The book was adapted for the big screen by Jean-Jacques Annaud for the 1986 film starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater.

“Books are not meant to be believed but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means,” Eco said.

Born on 5 January 1932 at Alessandria in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, Eco continued his literary success with Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) about the lost treasure of a sect called the Knights Templar, The Island of the Day Before (1994), Baudolino (2000), The Prague Cemetery (2010), a novel about the rise of modern anti-semitism, and Numero Zero (2015).

Harper Lee: 1926-2016

Harper Lee, who passed on 19 February, will remain with us through her monumental Pulitzer winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird and the beloved movie it spawned. Published in 1960, this is one of the bestselling novels of all time. Told from the point of view of his young daughter Scout, the novel tells the story of Atticus Finch, an idealistic lawyer fighting for a black prisoner in racially volatile Alabama.   

Lee, born in 28 April 1926, published nothing else after To Kill a Mockingbird, despite clamours for more. Finally, in 2015, HarperCollins published Go Set the Watchman amidst literary controversy. Written in 1950s, the publishers claimed it was a sequel to Mockingbird, while others claimed it was in reality the first draft of the earlier novel.

Be what it may, Go Set the Watchman sold a million copies worldwide, reinforcing Lee’s popularity. Kundli-based Replika Press printed the book.

ONV Kurup: May 1931- 2016

In India, you cannot separate literature from movies, especially in South India. The prime example is Malayalam poet ONV Kurup, who passed away at 84 on 13 February. He was a Jnanpith awardee and an environmentalist, yet he was more popular for his lyrics.

Kalam Marunnu (1956) was his first film as lyricist. This was also the first film by famous Malayalam composer G Devarajan. He has penned about 900 songs in about 232 films and numerous songs for plays and albums.

ONV was awarded the Jnanpith in 2007.

His first poetry collection, Porutunna Soundaryam, came out in 1949. The book Dahikunna Panapatram (The Thirsty Chalice) contains his early poems.

Balraj Bahri Malhotra: 1929-2016  

One of the iconic features of the sprawling Khan Market of Delhi is the bookstore called Bahrisons. It is a rather tiny, cramped space, filled, from the floor to the ceiling with books. You mention a book and Bahrisons would have a copy. For a serious bibliophile in Delhi, Bahrisons is the place.

Balraj Bahri Malhotra, the founder of the landmark bookstore, passed away on 27 February. He was 87.

As the story goes, Malhotra came to Delhi from Rawalpindi during Partition, and in 1953, sold his mother’s gold bangles to raise money to start the shop in Khan Market, which would later become Bahrisons.

More than a business, we remember him today as an icon, and a book evangelist. He cared a lot about what his customers read. He was always patient with people who couldn’t afford to buy and visited the shop to read. He also cared about sourcing books for his readers; a serious collector.

In short, he made Bahrisons a Delhi institution, and in turn made himself an icon.