Tina frowned at me with a disgusted look on her face as I read the newspaper, while my son played cricket at the nets. She exclaimed: “Do you still buy newspapers? Why do you waste money when you can just go through the headlines on the phone?” But I explained to her my affinity for holding the “daily” in my hand and told her: “The printing ink must be smelt and the fingers blackened.” Speaking metaphorically of course, given the superior quality of paper and printing these days. It didn’t seem to make sense to Tina. She shrugs and decides to ignore me from then on.
Ever since childhood, we awaited the onomatopoeic ‘thwack’ of the newspaper every morning with considerable anticipation. The flavour of freshly brewed Darjeeling tea would blend with the alluring smell of print as the newspaper, or newspapers, if you subscribed to more than one, arrived. The day the paper did not arrive, as when there was a public holiday the previous day, there would be a pall of gloom and a feeling of inadequacy. Another thing that always mesmerised me as a child was the skill with which the man who would deliver the papers, rolled the newspapers and tied them with coir and threw them right into our veranda on the third floor with aplomb! Immaculate aim and dexterity!
The cosy home scene was sometimes marred by unseemly wrangling among family members for who bags which paper first. The man of the house usually prevailed over everyone else, and that was that. It was a ritual for my mother to staple the newspaper so that by the time it came to her it wouldn’t look like a “peeled out mess”! My father, a disciplinarian, insisted that as we finished reading the paper we should sign on the right uppermost corner of the daily and pass it on to the next member.
For reasons yet to be scientifically proven, the newspaper, along with the morning cuppa was seen as the perfect amalgam to aid bowel movement. So I still see a few people, having consumed a hot cup of coffee, tuck the newspaper under the armpit, and off they go to sit on the hot seat and chew on those pages before emerging from their ablutionary exertions.
For my mother, the newspaper is not only a precious source of information, it is an emotion! She has enumerable paper cuttings with which she adorns her personal journal. Below each pasted cutting she writes down her thoughts in the form of prose or poetry. The “opinion” section helps her vent her own thoughts that have been latently cocooned within her. One day I would love to inherit these journals of hers, through them she will remain with me for posterity. On the contrary, Mrs Panday, an acquaintance of mine, thinks it is a waste to subscribe to a newspaper as it doesn’t contain any “masala” (spice). She says she wanted gossip and scandal! She makes do with all of that on social media for free. She’d rather invest that money on shopping.
The millennials that I know, often wonder why would one pore over the newspaper when one can watch all the action, with sound effects and moving pictures, on television screens, laptops and smartphones? The younger generation is moving clearly in that very direction, although it is not clear if the internet is their gateway to news and informed opinion, or whether it is merely a solution to the short attention span that they have. They just sieve out the information that they crave for and need. For them, it is all about “practicality” of things. Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan said: “People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.” I quote this to anybody who undervalues the hard copy of the newspaper.
Meanwhile, my rousing riposte for ‘the newspaper is dead’ is undoubtedly ‘the newspaper is an emotion that is immortal’.
Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter:@navanitavp.