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September 2008


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Michael Medley <[log in to unmask]>
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Pakistani-American Cultural Society <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 16 Sep 2008 18:26:51 -0400
text/plain (96 lines)
Thanks, Dr. Ehsan, for this really touching story.  I have to agree
with the writer that it is a lot more pleasant to read
hand-calligraphed Urdu than to read computer generated text.
--Mike Medley

On Tue, Sep 16, 2008 at 12:20 PM, Ehsan Ahmed <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Here is an interesting story, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal
> Today:
> CHENNAI, India -- After his father died in April, Syed Arifullah took the
> reins of a newspaper that stands out even in India's increasingly crowded
> media market.
> The Musalman, the oldest Urdu-language daily paper in India, has been
> handwritten by Urdu calligraphers since it was founded by Mr. Arifullah's
> grandfather 81 years ago.
> "That is the advantage of this paper," said Mr. Arifullah, 30 years old.
> "This is easier to read, and the lettering is more graceful."
> India's Handwritten Daily
> View Slideshow
> The Musalman has retained its old-school look despite the availability of
> Urdu computer fonts and an onslaught of new media in India. The country's
> economic boom has spawned hundreds of television channels and dozens of
> newspapers and magazines.
> The handwritten stories are the Musalman's biggest selling point. The paper
> has about 23,000 subscribers, most in this southern city, who pay less than
> $10 a year. The calligraphers, known as katibs, who transcribe its headlines
> and articles use the swooping horizontal strokes of Nastaliq, one of the
> most fluid styles of Islamic calligraphy. Urdu, a mix of Arabic, Persian and
> local Indian languages, was the language of the Mughal royal courts and is
> still spoken by more than 50 million people in India.
> Parvez Ali, a truck driver, has subscribed to the Musalman for 15 years. The
> 32-year-old resident of Chennai said the calligraphy appeals to him, and he
> wants to support a paper available in his language. "It is unique," he said.
> "We get a personal touch when the newspaper is written by hand."
> The paper endeavors to cover a wide range of topics in its four pages, with
> international to local news, editorials and a special Urdu poetry section
> every Friday.
> The paper has about 10 part-time reporters who write in English and fax
> their stories to Mr. Arifullah every morning. It takes as long as 30 minutes
> to translate the stories to Urdu. Then they are handed to the three katibs,
> who dip their reed quills into capfuls of ink and start writing. Three hours
> later, they are done. Negatives are made from the handwritten pages and
> pressed onto printing plates.
> "I like it a lot," said Rehaman Hussein, the 51-year-old calligrapher
> responsible for the first two pages. "But there is no money in it." He
> started at the paper as an apprentice 25 years ago. Today he earns less than
> $2 a day.
> Mr. Arifullah's father edited the paper 40 years, up to his death. Putting
> Mr. Arifullah in charge was a decision taken by his mother and two older
> brothers.
> "Because I am the youngest one, they decided," he said. "If they say you run
> the business, I have to run the business." The paper struggles to turn a
> profit, but Mr. Arifullah said that it is a family heirloom and that he
> won't shut it down "at any cost."
> Since taking over, Mr. Arifullah has focused on improving the paper without
> taking away from its old-world charm. He had a computer and printer
> installed in his office in June so advertisers could email ads. Most of the
> advertising comes from local jewelry and clothing stores.
> "I have to fight to get advertisements," he said. "Most companies these days
> have a budget for English and the local language. In Chennai's case, that is
> Tamil. That means fewer advertisers will advertise in an Urdu newspaper."
> While the paper's operations are tiny, the Musalman has had its moment in
> the national spotlight. Mr. Arifullah said his father was fond of telling a
> story about how the Musalman once came to symbolize a more modern India. At
> a press conference given by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the
> reporter for the Hindu, a national daily, was Muslim, while the reporter for
> the Musalman was Hindu. Mrs. Gandhi noticed and announced to the gathering
> that this is what she meant by national integration.