Growing up with Print Media
I grew up in an era when the Daily Newspapers published from Dhaka had two datelines. The first was Dhaka and the next mofussil, meaning rural areas and small towns. All towns outside Dhaka were considered mofussil, and it was not expected that a newspaper published from Dhaka would reach other parts of the country before the following day or even the day after. The Daily Azad, the paper edited by the legendary journalist Moulana Akram Khan was published from Calcutta before partition, and it took about six months after the partition for it to migrate from Calcutta to Dhaka. Until then Dhaka was still considered as a mofussil town. Some district towns like Chittagong, Sylhet, Khulna, Bogra, Rangpur also had their own dailies and loyal readership. Personally I never had any addiction to anything except reading or glancing through newspapers since my childhood. Chittagong, my hometown, can boast of publishing the first newspaper after partition in 1947, the Dainik Purbo Pakistan. It was edited by Poet Abdus Salam. He lived and worked in Rangoon for a while and when returning to Chittagong he brought with him the idea of publishing a vernacular daily from the newborn country. He was a visionary, but unfortunately could not continue publishing the paper and around the late fifties the publication became irregular and then finally closed down. In the sixties it was published only when the Education Boards and the Dhaka University published their examination results. The paper cost one anna (sixteen anna made a rupee). Besides the Dainik Purbo Pakistan, there was another Bangla daily, Dainik Zamana, edited by Mahbub ul Alam, which was also published from Chittagong. It started publication in October 1954 and continued till the late sixties. Chittagong had a very strong English and Urdu language paper readership. Begum Maimuna Ali Khan, a refugee from Gorakhpur in India started the publication of the The English weekly 'Eastern Examiner' in August 1954; in January 1956, it was turned into a daily. Though Khan's name continued to be published as the editor of the paper in the printer's line, as a matter of fact it was single handedly produced by Zafar Ahmed Jawed, an old journalist from Bombay. The paper ceased publication in the mid sixties.
Another English language daily The Unity was published by S M Mobin, along with an Urdu daily Paswan and had a wide circulation because of a large Urdu speaking immigrant community and government officials posted from West Pakistan. By the late sixties, practically all of these newspapers ceased publication, the primary reason being the improvement of communication between Dhaka and Chittagong for which the mofussil tag was removed from the Dhaka based dailies, and the PIA morning flights carried the dailies to Chittagong. The seventies saw the emergence of a new bunch of dailies both in Bangla and English in Chittagong, notable amongst them were Daily Azadi (first published on September 5, 1960), Daily Purbokone, Daily Naya Bangla, Dainik Swadinatha, Dainik Ishan, Dainik Bir Chattagram Moncha, Dainik Suprobhat, Daily People's View and Daily Life. Some of these have survived and continue to compete with many Dhaka based national dailies. Some have become 'underground' papers and are published occasionally. Some of them have even gone online and expatriate Chittagonians can read about what is going on in their beloved city, whether they live in Boston or Brussels or are on a visit to Auckland and Austin.
My grandfather was very loyal to the Bangla Daily Azad. By the time I grew up and started turning the pages of the Dainik Azad, it was being published from Dhaka. I first bought my own copy of a newspaper specifically on October 8, 1958. On the previous evening, General Ayub Khan removed General Iskander Mirza as the President of Pakistan and declared Martial Law all over Pakistan abrogating the Constitution. This was big news in the media and the Pakistan Observer along with other newspapers of this erstwhile province reported the event with an eight-column banner headline. While walking down from school, the roadside news stand was always a mandatory stop for me. The Observer headline stared at me and I could not resist the temptation of buying a copy with two anna, the money I saved from my tiffin money for my bamboo stub saving-bank. I tried to read whatever was there, and sure enough could not make much of it but could guess something was not going right. The same Observer (later the Bangladesh Observer) has ceased publication a couple of weeks ago-- a tragic end for an iconic newspaper of this country.
My Dhaka University days were a golden period of my life for many reasons. First I was a witness to and a participant of a new national history in the making: the mass upsurge of 1969, the elections of 1970 and the bloody birth of Bangladesh. I also had enough money to spend; my father sent the required amount to his 'needy' son, a son who was actually enjoying two scholarships and the dining hall dues were just thirty three taka. What could one do with the rest of the cash? For me, just buying books and magazines, subscribing to three newspapers, Dainik Azad, Dainik Pakistan and the Pakistan Times (published from Lahore) and going out and eating in a Chinese restaurant with friends once a week was a must. Dainik Azad played an extraordinary role during the mass movement of 1969. On Sundays I would buy a copy of Pakistan Observer as it would carry the children's page 'Young Observer' edited by Uncle Kim. Later Uncle Kim became 'Auntie Kim' when the page editor Geetiyara Shafiullah (later, advisor to the former Caretaker Government) decided to get married and make her identity public.
My experiment with writing in newspapers started with writing for 'Chitrakash', a cine weekly of the Azad group. As an ardent moviegoer I concluded that I had an inherent right to write on movies. Most of it would be poor translations from old issues of the Film Fare, available on pavements at Nilkhet. My passion for reading newspapers continued to grow with my age and at present before I switch off my laptop after midnight, the last thing I do is to glance through next morning's dailies online, although I subscribe to eight dailies. Previously when I used to travel abroad, my daughter meticulously preserved all the old copies. Today all newspapers are available online, so I am literally never out of Bangladesh whenever I travel. The only painful thing is when I ask today's young people how many of them read newspapers on a daily basis, the answer often is not encouraging.
With the coming of the digital age many thought the days of the print media was drawing to a close. The prestigious Economist of June 12 writes 'a year ago the mere survival of many newspapers seemed doubtful. It had become clear that the young, in particular, were getting much of their news online. Readers were flitting from story to story, rarely paying attention. Advertising too was moving online, but not to newspapers' websites. Rather it was swallowed by search engines.' Sure some newspapers are struggling; some have ceased publication while some have made a remarkable comeback with better strategy. The Economist writes 'that emphasis on giving readers what they want to read, as opposed to what lofty notions of civic responsibility suggest they ought to read, is part of a global trend. Newspapers are becoming more distinctive and customer-focused. Rather than trying to bring the world to as many readers as possible, they are carving out niches.'
Ceasing of publication of a popular newspaper is surely sad news, especially for old timers like us. We grew up with the Dainik Azad, Bangladesh Observer, Dainik Bangla, Morning News. They were not only mere newspapers; they formed part of our rich publication history and heritage. They served as schools for many of the eminent journalists that still make their presence felt at their ripe old age. Every night when I listen to ABM Musa or occasionally Mahbub Alam on TV talk shows, or read innumerable columns of Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, I wonder who will be replacing them? Still I am proud of our media world, and believe we have one of the most vibrant media in this region, and have often risen to answer to the call of the hour.
Abdul Mannan, teaches at ULAB, Dhaka and is former VC, Chittagong University.
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