Madras, as Chennai used to be known, used to be a syncretic newspaper cradle. It was the hometown of The Hindu. It was also the hometown of The Musalman.
The English morninger and the Urdu afternoon broadsheet were headquartered within shouting distance of each other, under the shadows of the flood lights at Chepauk.
The former positioned at a sort of wide-ish square-leg; the latter at sweeper cover, if you were a right-hand bat.
The Hindu on Anna Salai, on what used to be Mount Road. The Musalman at Quaid-e-Millath road, on what used to be Triplicane High Road.
That’s where the parity, and the poetry, ends.
In Chennai, as Madras is now known, the contrasting realities of the two newspapers couldn’t be starker, in some ways mirroring the state of the denizens contained in their registered titles.
The Hindu, started in 1878, is now a behemoth, brilliantly designed and printed, strutting around in 21 cities. The extended family is now happily in charge; its offices are landmarks on Google Maps.
The Saturday edition, yesterday, had 56 pages at a cover price of Rs 5; the Sunday edition, spread over five sections, cost Rs 12.
The Musalman, started in 1927, on the other hand, is caught in a time warp. It operates out of a tiny office in a narrow alley behind the big mosque whose name might ring a bell for cricket commentary buffs: “Wallajah Road End”.
It is, as we speak, the last or perhaps one of the last newspapers in the world which is dutifully hand-scripted by calligraphers every day.
The Saturday edition had all of four pages at a cover price of 75 paise.
The front page ads of the Saturday paper were the same as the front page ads of the Thursday-Friday edition, as indeed were the inside and back page ads, which can mean only one thing: life is tough.
Syed Arifullah, the third-generation editor of The Musalman, is understandably reticent and reluctant, but is courteous enough to draw a chair for a pest hovering around his doorstep even after a long day’s work.
At 91, you need all the help, whether you are a paper or a person.
Also read: A hand-written paper faces a digital future