Between the Headlines

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I am a newspaper person. My day does not begin until I have perused my three morning papers. Even during the first Covid Lockdown when newspaper vendors stopped home-delivering newspapers, and after a week of serious withdrawal symptoms, my husband and I found an enterprising footpath vendor who braved the police to provide newspapers to addicts like us.  

In the last couple of weeks a lovely poem by Gulzar is doing the rounds, which beautifully captures this addiction. Called Newspaper Mornings, it opens with the line Bina akhbar ke, chai subah ki adhoori lagti hai (the morning tea feels incomplete without the newspaper).

 An article related to this succinctly sums up the charm of the printed newspaper vis-à-vis the blizzard of 24/7 TV channels and Social Media that relentlessly batters our senses and our lives. The newspaper does not try to recruit you to its agenda, it puts you in control. …The important thing is that you get to choose. You comment on a headline, smile at a cartoon, match wits with the crossword, eyeball a celebrity, pore over the sports statistics. …And then there is the pleasure of serendipity. You discover what you didn’t know before, you learn new things at random.

Exactly how I relate to newspapers! I often miss the headlines, but I very much enjoy reading the little items tucked away among the big news. From the mundane to the bizarre, these tidbits add the spice to my chai!

Here is a random taste from the last one month’s newspapers.

Uplifting News: People attending a kite festival in Taiwan were left looking on in horror after a three-year-old girl was lifted high into the air by powerful winds after she got entangled in the strings of a gigantic kite. The child hovered above throngs of spectators and was zipped around by strong winds for a heart-stopping 30 seconds amid inflatable pandas and astronauts as screams erupted from spectators. The girl, who was identified only by her last name Lin, landed mostly unscathed, except for abrasions around her neck and face. 

Lip-smacking News: Waking up to a town coated in chocolate powder sounds like a childhood fantasy, but for some residents in Olten, Switzerland, it was a reality on Friday morning, when it started snowing particles of cocoa powder. Popular chocolate company Lindt & Sprüngli has confirmed local reports that there was a defect in the cooling ventilation for a line of roasted cocoa nibs in its factory; as a result of which the fine chocolate dust escaped. Combined with strong winds the powder spread across the town, leaving a fine cocoa dusting on everything.

Missing News: At least 513 animals have been reported as having gone “missing” from Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, a report said on Sunday. In July 2019 there were a total of out of 917 animals in the zoo. But by July 2020 the number came down to 404. The animals are suspected to have been stolen.

Chilling News: Austrian athlete Josef Koeberl broke the world record for longest time spent submerged in ice. He lasted more than two hours in the box, wearing nothing but a swimsuit. Koeberl took on the challenge in front of Vienna’s main train station, fully submerged up to his shoulders in a clear box filled with ice cubes. Over the course of the two hours, his temperature was monitored, and afterward, his health was checked by medical officials in an on-site ambulance. Josef Koeberl beat the previous record for full-body contact, which he set himself last year, by over 25 minutes.

Searing News: A couple’s plan to reveal the gender of their baby-to-be-born went up not in blue or pink smoke but in flames when the device that they used sparked a wildfire that burned thousands of acres and forced people to leave from a city east of Los Angeles in California. The couple went into a field and fired a device which was to let out the coloured smoke, but an errant spark quickly ignited the tall grass there, leading to the disaster. This was as part of a trend where confetti, coloured smoke, and balloons are used to announce the coming baby’s gender.

Educational News: Surat, Gujarat’s Diamond City is creating a new benchmark in green learning with its innovative approach to promote cycling among young children. To pedal up its efforts the local civic body has designed a course ‘Cyclology’. The subject will be a ten-hour course for which books have already been printed. Students will be taught history of bicycle, traffic rules, along with environmental, health, social and financial benefits in the course.  “If we teach them early kids will develop a habit for life.”

(NB No mention of whether kids will actually have to learn cycling!)

DIY for Dummies News: Whether you have hundreds of gigabytes or boxes of decades-old albums here are some simple ways to catalogue and organise your images. Cathi Nelson founder of a global community of photo organisers uses a prioritisation system she calls ABCS. Album (photos worthy of a physical or online album), Box or Backup (photos you want to keep in some form but don’t need access to), Can (as in trash can) and Stories (photos that conjure up a great memory and are thus worth holding on to). She further advises “Don’t get too lost—you only want to look at each photo for two or three seconds, max.”

Vocal for Local News: The red-purple dragon fruit that has helped Kutchi farmers make a killing may soon get a new name—kamalam (lotus). Officials and farmers say that the shape and external appearance of the fruit has a striking resemblance to a lotus. Kutch farmers have already started branding the fruit as ‘kamalam’ in the local markets.  

Breaking News: In a daring loot near Surat, burglars stole an entire ATM weighing at least 500 kg, and took it to an isolated spot in a farm about 150 feet away. They used cutters to break open the cash tray, and took away nearly Rs 8 lakh from it, in the early hours of Wednesday. They escaped leaving the damaged machine behind.

News That You Can Use: All of the above. I just did!

–Mamata

Gandhi, in and on Newspapers

It is Gandhi week, and newspapers are full of articles and pieces aIMG_20191001_104301.jpgbout Gandhi, his thoughts and deeds. This year it is with renewed vigour as it marks the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Being the prolific writer that he was, and the wide spectrum of subjects and areas on which he expressed his thoughts, every writer today can find some words of wisdom from Gandhi with respect to whatever they may choose to contribute for the ‘Gandhi special’ editions.

Gandhi himself was no exception to the pressure of meeting a newspaper deadline. Sometime in the second half on 1917 he wrote: I promised the Editor a contribution for the Diwali number of Hindustan. I find that I have no time to make good the promise, but thinking that I must write something, I place before the readers my views on newspapers. Under pressure of circumstances, I had to work in a newspaper office in South Africa and this gave me an opportunity to think on the subject. I have put in practice all the ideas that I venture to advance here.

Continuing, he went on to express his views on the business and ethics of newspapers of the day.

Newspapers are meant primarily to educate the people. They make the latter familiar with contemporary history. This is a work of no mean responsibility. It is a fact however, that the readers cannot always trust newspapers. Often the facts are found to be quite the opposite of what has been reported.  If newspapers realised that it was their duty to educate the people, they could not but wait to check a report before publishing it. It is true that often they have to work under difficult conditions. They have to sift the true from the false in but a short time, and can only guess at the truth. Even then I am of the opinion that it is better not to publish a report at all if it has not been found possible to verify it.

How interesting that the same debate about Fake news, and news used to provoke and promote dissension and distrust, continues to rage even today, albeit now, in the context not only of the print media, but all other media also.

Equally thought provoking and relevant are his concerns about the potentially dangerous role that newspapers can play.

It is often observed that newspapers publish any matter that they have, just to fill in space. This practice is almost universal. The reason is that most newspapers have their eye on profits. There is no doubt that newspapers have done great service. …But to my mind they have done no less harm. …many are full of prejudices, create or increase ill will among people. At times they produce bitterness and strife between different families and communities. …On the whole, it would seem that the existence of newspapers promotes good and evil in equal measure. 

He continues with his canny observations on how revenue from advertising tends to override other journalistic responsibilities. And this was over a hundred years ago!

It is now an established practice with newspapers to depend for revenues mainly on advertisements, rather than on subscriptions. The result has been deplorable. The very newspaper which writes against the drink-evil publishes advertisements in praise of drink. Medical advertisements are the largest source of revenue, though today they have done and are doing, incalculable harm to people.  I have been an eye witness to the harm done by them. Many people are lured into buying harmful medicines. …No matter at what cost or effort we must put an end to this undesirable practice or, at least, reform. It is the duty of every newspaper to exercise some restraint in the matter of advertisements.

Ironically my newspaper today has ten full-glossy pages creating aspirations of ”dream” lifestyles, and wooing consumers with advertisements of state-of-the art luxurious residences, gadgets, and holidays; and profligate indulgences in food, drink, clothes, cosmetics and more. The other ten pages has the kind of news that Gandhi had been so concerned about (violence, intolerance, discrimination and disparity), along with a sprinkling of pieces about the Gandhian tenets of simplicity, honesty and truthfulness, and introspection! Contradiction, or comfortable and convenient co-existence? Something to think about indeed!

Written by Gandhi sometime before 14 November 1917 (originally in Gujarati) Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.14. https://www.gandhiheritageportal.org

–Mamata