Dubai: In the growth story of Gulf News, one of the most important roles has been the commitment and hard work of its distribution personnel in the circulation department who have — over the decades — ensured that the newspaper reaches each of its subscribers on time.
The bond between a subscriber and the newspaper consists of many strands, one of which is the punctual, consistent delivery of the subscriber’s morning news fix. As a commodity, the newspaper thrives from being delivered on time each day, month and year, and it is here that the role of the distributors and newsboys come into play.
The critical time window that needs to be maintained is their responsibility, come rain or shine. There could be days when a newsboy may fall ill, but the subscriber is none the wiser, as the system is so finely calibrated that their paper gets delivered irrespective of what happens.
For years, I used to deviate over 27km from the normal route on a bicycle to deliver a single newspaper. The expectations of customers give me the energy for such tasks.”
- Abdulla B.K. | Distributor
It’s this race against time that Gulf News’ circulation department has been winning every day, with their well oiled delivery system since it was launched in 1978.
We bring you the triumphs and motivations of the newspaper’s distributors down the years.
Xec Mohamad Iqbal
Senior dispatch coordinator
Tenure: 39 years
A self-professed workaholic, Xec Mohamad Iqbal never shirked the hectic nights his job called for. A steadfast presence at Gulf News since 1979, his story is closely tied with the paper’s own history. “There were some really rocky times, especially in the beginning: people were not willing to accept us. The paper was not doing well and we had to work harder.”
He undertook door-to-door campaigns diligently and those yielded mixed results. Iqbal recounts a story where a woman thanked him for his exceptional service, but was reluctant to take the paper as none of her friends recommended it.
It took a change in ownership and a more rigorous door-to-door campaigning, before it all started paying back in the early 90s, when Gulf News became one of the most trusted papers in the region. Since then, Iqbal says: “There has been no turning back.”
Eager to interact with others, Iqbal became responsible for supervising around 50 distributors for more than a decade. This was the nicest yet hardest part of the job, according to him. He had to coordinate the work of people from vastly different backgrounds in a harmonious way, which presented its own share of problems. “Everyone comes in with their own mindset on how things should be done. I knew how to accommodate each and every one of them, while maintaining an ideal work environment.”
Iqbal retired on August, 31, 2018, after working 39 years with Gulf News.
What will he miss most after retiring? “I am going to dearly miss the people I met daily. The sudden lack of tasks and free time are easier to adjust to, than their absence.”
Tenure: 33 years
In the more than three decades that distributor Abdulla BK has worked with Gulf News, his unflinching resolve to do his duty with dedication has remained unchanged since he started on December 4, 1985.
The number of subscriptions he had to cater to daily ballooned from one to hundreds, owing in no small part to his own ingenuity and hard work in popularising the newspaper, despite people’s initial reluctance to it.
He even remembers his very first customer, Mr. Gopichandran.
What he missed most in the years he devoted all his efforts to making Gulf News grow was the presence of his family: his wife and three children. Having had only limited opportunities to meet his two sons and daughter, his favourite part of the job was seeing the enthusiasm of Gulf News’ younger readers, eagerly awaiting the now discontinued ‘Funday’ section.
Now, Abdulla is sometimes disheartened by the lack of interest shown by younger generations towards reading newspapers and feels “sad when seeing yesterday’s newspaper lying untouched”.
He finds the youth are often not as interested in news gathering as their parents, many of whom consider reading the newspaper an essential part of their day. “For years, I used to go more than 27 kilometres out of the normal route on a bicycle to deliver a single newspaper. The expectations of the customers plays a huge role in facilitating the energy for such tasks.”
Nonetheless, he is happy doing what he has done every day for over three decades: burning the midnight oil, looking forward to meeting his extended network of customers every day, many of whom he happily considers family.
On his performance, he says he has met every single target for as long as he has worked here. “Because at the end of the day, there are few things as pleasing as the satisfaction of a job well done and the love I get for doing it.”
A. Abdul Razak
Tenure: 33 years
Abdul Razak initially started working at Gulf News starting December 5, 1985, to help his family overcome some problems, but continued working here because he felt like “part of a family”.
A world away from his home — the city of Thrissur in Kerala — he has worked relentlessly for more than years. From going door to door to spread the “joy of reading a newspaper” to cycling 175km daily in the past, while ensuring that readers get their newspaper without delay. “My accommodation was located in one end of Deira and I would leave at 1:30am to reach Al Ghusais on time.”
Two accidents in the pursuit of the newspaper’s timely delivery have not put a dampener on Abdul Razak’s enthusiasm. Pain in his shoulder and steel rods in his leg after the accidents have not hindered him at work.
Armed with optimism and passion for his job, he even takes the screams, profanity and even an occasional newspaper thrown at him for being a few minutes later than expected as a good sign: that people eagerly await the newspaper.
Abdul Razak savours the chance to talk to his customers and these interactions are the favourite part of his job. He says he “feels good” when customers enquire after his health, in case he is “not the one delivering their paper”. However, it’s also sad watching everyone celebrate occasions like Eid with their families, while he is working the paper route. Nonetheless, he says these feelings soon fade away in the hustle and bustle of work.
This agent aspires to do this job for as long as he can “with the same discipline and hard work” he has put in for the last 33 years.
Chandrashekhar G. Banjan
Tenure: 33 years
“He threw the paper at me and said he would never ever subscribe to it again. Five months later, on one of our daily morning talks, he asked me to sign him up again. I still see him every day,” says Chandrashekhar G. Banjan.
His journey with Gulf News also stretches more than 33 years and it’s a saga of resilience stemming from his love for his job, doing daily round trips to Dubai from Abu Dhabi.
It’s the little things that keep him going, he says, endearingly recalling the first party organised by Gulf News where he was personally congratulated by the owner of the company. “I still treasure the gift he gave me.”
This passion also shines through when he speaks of his personal hobby: collecting every single uniform he has worn on the job. “I have one from 32 years ago. That is from a time when I used to stand at a traffic signal, handing out newspapers that no one wanted. It was a scary time. But I knew the future was promising and in a couple of months, I was running out of newspapers to distribute so fast, that people were booking copies in advance.”
He even wears these old outfits occasionally, much to the amusement of his colleagues. “They think I’m crazy but I wear it to remember a time when I said people will yearn to read the newspaper and that time did come.” But Banjan is also worried by the increasing changes in people’s reading behaviour, prompted by the internet. He is also critical of today’s sedentary lifestyles. “The younger distributors say they are tired in the middle of the job, even as I am bursting with energy.” he says.
One of his primary motivators for doing this job even today is that it has helped him stay active. “I can say with confidence: I can do it for 10 more years,” Banjan says.
Tenure: 36 years
Seeing the children of subscribers he greeted every day become subscribers of the newspaper themselves is just one of the incredible things that Aboobacker Koolipulakkal has witnessed in his time at Gulf News. Now that his own children have grown up and started working, Koolipulakkal has stuck to the very company that brought him to Dubai from Malappuram in Kerala, India.
Starting work on February 15, 1982, Koolipulakkal has witnessed the awe-inspiring growth of Dubai on a scale few have experienced.
“Sometimes, it is hard to believe how much has changed. It seems like something out of a dream,” Koolipulakkal says.
Nevertheless, he welcomes the immense leaps that technology has taken across sectors — from printing to transportation — that have made his job easier. Even if it means he has a much higher number of subscriptions to cater to than when he was cycling around Satwa in the early years of his job.
He has even suffered accidents in the line of work, getting hit by a bus in the wee hours one day when delivering papers on a bicycle.
There were also other obstacles to deal with. Koolipulakkal recalls a time where there was not even a single subscription, which then increased but painstakingly so. A major milestone was the introduction of the print edition in colour. “People were fascinated by it (colour printing) and the impact it had on content. This was conducive to the growth of the paper.”
Like the other delivery agents, Koolipulakkal’s enthusiasm to talk to Gulf News readers hasn’t waned with the years. He greets his daily customers with the familiarity of an old friend, which is exactly what he is in many cases. He believes that the “bond between the customer and the person delivering the news to them” is part of the reason why people have chosen to continue trusting Gulf News.
(Rosieann Shyam is a former intern with Gulf News.)