I immediately noticed them when I first came to Calcutta, and never stopped doing so: The newspaper men. To me, they are men reading newspapers on the streets, in their stalls, sitting on stools and chairs, leaning onto railings, or whatever comes their way, at bus stops – simply everywhere. Yes, there are people hunched over cellphones like everywhere else in the world, but more noticeably are those who fold out broadsheets or the likes.
“Asia’s first newspaper started in Calcutta,” says Soham Chakrabarty, founder of Calcutta Capsule. “The Hicky’s Bengal Gazette (1780) was published for two years before The East India Company seized the newspaper’s printing press. Calcutta was once home to a lot of newspapers, and some of today’s newspapers are more than a hundred years old, like The Statesman.”
While Delhi, with its grand monuments, is the capital of India, and Mumbai the financial hub, Calcutta is often seen as the cultural capital of India marked by art, literature, science, politics and journalism. Bengal, especially Calcutta, was the cradle of journalism in India and till the 1880’s the main hub of newspaper publication.
“Newspapers acted as a medium to reach out to the common crowd,” says Soham. “The independence movement, but also other political issues, included a lot of newspapers through which freedom fighters and activists voiced their opinions.”
Till this date I haven’t seen a single woman reading a newspaper on the streets of Calcutta. Nor are there many female street vendors.
“The streets of Calcutta are a man’s world” says Soham. “Common culture be it, or whatever reason, do not make it comfortable for women to spend too much time on the streets hence you don’t see them reading newspapers. Whereas a lot of men do spend time on the streets, sometimes for no obvious reason, where they see it fit to read newspapers. Both my grandmothers had habits of reading newspapers. They were homemakers, but always found time to newspapers within the premises of their house.”
As I go through my Calcutta photos it comes as no surprise that the men reading newspapers aren’t exactly the young generation, rather middle-aged men who, like myself, finds pleasure in something that is about to become an anachronism. And the day I was about to finish this blog post, the newspapers didn’t show up in my mailbox on a Saturday morning; the prime newspaper day of the week. A tablet was put on the table, but no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t able to digest the electronic news together with bread and butter.
[END of story, more photos below]