As a business model, The Musalman (The Muslim) — the world's oldest Urdu-language daily newspaper — is unlikely to be replicated. For one thing, The Musalman serves a limited readership in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and any prospective competitors would be hard-pressed to duplicate the paper's network of New Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad stringers.
For another thing, The Musalman is a handwritten paper. What modern, world entrepreneur has the patience to wait while four katibs (scribes) scratch out the day's events in Urdu calligraphy across four pages of newsprint, then trot the sheets over to the local Kinko's for reproduction before finally peddling it on the streets of Chennai?
Since 1927, Musalman editors have followed a tradition of dying at their inkwells. Fear of Internet intrusions on the global news cycle mean nothing to them.
According to Business Standard.com, on 26 April 2008, owner-editor Syed Fazlullah died, leaving the paper in the hands of his sons. His youngest, Syed Arifullah, now runs the paper. His paper is still written out by hand, still produced in the same 800 sq ft office near Wallajah Mosque in Chennai’s Triplicane, still sells 21,000 copies a day (according to Registrar of Newspapers for India), and still makes very little money.
“It is in balance only for the past three years,” says Arifullah quietly over the phone. What keeps the paper running is the compact between the few employees — including the three long-time katibs or calligraphers Khurshid Begum, Shabana Begum and Rahman Hussain — and its readers.
Urdu is both a limit and safeguard. “It’s a little bit difficult,” says Arifullah, “because Urdu in Chennai is not a common language.” But it also gives the paper a monopoly over Urdu readers.
Why Urdu? The decision was taken by Arifullah’s grandfather Syed Azmathullah when he founded the paper in 1927. “There was no voice of Muslims in the south,” Arifullah explains, at that time. Indeed, in 1927 the paper was inaugurated by Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, president of that year’s Congress session.
Much later, Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister is said to have remarked during a press conference that The Musalman with its Hindu reporter and The Hindu with its Muslim reporter together provided a picture of secularism in India. The Musalman’s chief reporter is still Hindu.
Making The Musalman is simple but laborious. It is a broadsheet folded to make four pages. The front page has local and national news. Page two has international news and editorials. Page three contains Hadith, quotes from the Qur’an and (incongruously) sports. The last page has “everything”, says Arifullah, with a focus on local news. There are ads from local businesses, “exhibitions, circus, new products”, and even Aligarh Muslim University.
News comes in from part-time reporters in different cities, once by fax, now also email. “We are not able to afford” full-time Urdu reporters, the editor says, so the material often comes in English. Three translators turn it into Urdu. The katibs then write the copy out on paper with quills and ink, three hours per page, and paste all the items on a form. If a mistake is made or a news update arrives, the page is rewritten. The form is turned into a negative, which is used to make the plate for printing.
On May 11, the Ministry of External Affairs’ Public Diplomacy Division released on YouTube an 11-minute film on The Musalman, directed by Ishani K Dutta of Delhi-based Carrot Films. Dutta hopes that when the film is shown in Arab countries and Europe it will generate support. “It’s just passion that is driving them. The katibs really don’t get a lot of money, but they actually enjoy this whole process."
At Rs 1 per copy, including 25 paisa for mailing, the subscribers of The Musalman are not burdened. The future, if not good, at least looks survivable.
source : irib