I am the Political Editor with the Hindu BusinessLine.

Poornima Joshi

Newspaper story

Poornima Joshi | Updated on April 15, 2020

Representational image   -  The Hindu

Surviving Self-Distancing – Day 8

After exactly a week, the day brightened when I opened the door this morning to find that the newspapers were back. Not all of them but the Hindustan Times and the Times of India at least had made an appearance. In a life thrown upside down, this was the first sign of any order, normalcy even.

For those scared off the papers by fake news about newspaper spreading Corona, let me clarify that the ritual that follows in this household of wiping the newspapers with Colin and, in the absence of such disinfectants, actually wiping them down with soap water and then ironing them dry has nothing to do with Covid-19. It’s among the several absurdities that have been totally normalised in our lives by Amma’s cleanliness obsession. Usually, a cloth bag for the newspapers is hung outside the door so that the newspaper hawker doesn’t drop it on the dirty floor where the neighbourhood cat might have pissed. Or, as has been the practice of late, they’re left with Dinesh the Guard who then hands it over to Nilu the temple girl who brings it along when she waltzes in. I go and fetch them if she’s late which is often.

It’s not just because I have turned a journalist that the absence of newspapers in the morning signifies a day out of the ordinary, like you’re on a holiday or there’s been a major catastrophe, natural calamity or, of course, it’s Holi or Diwali but even on those days, The Hindu and The Hindu Business Line, the paper that I work for, come out because they’re a Chennai-based newspaper group. Ordinarily, the sight of the newspapers and the buzz about their arrival marked the beginning my day much before I even went to school because Papa and before him Bawa, my grandfather, ran the only newspaper agency in Nahan. And Papa wrote for The Tribune and Tauji wrote for The Statesman and The Tribune and The Indian Express. Tauji had a degree from the Oxford University in journalism and worked in Delhi and Bombay from where he brought out a literary magazine called Sudha before he chucked it all and came back to Nahan to launch a newspaper. Himvaan I think it was called. But no one apparently cared for either of the publications and till the end, some loan that had been taken to hire the printing press on lease used to get paid by Papa.

Tauji would sit with his typewriter on a metal desk in the courtyard and read through the day while I sat around, on the table or next to him, on the bed where a big nail had been driven into the wall for his towel. He would keep a row of books on the trunk behind his bed and no one was to touch it, ever, unless of course I am doing it. He was indulgent like that with me and Chaneen and Bunty. He would read and write and would sometimes have brief but heated exchanges with Taiji. Once, when he went outstation for a day and returned earlier than expected to find Dinesh Chachaji, Taiji and others playing cards in his room and it looked like someone had gone near the books, he famously shouted, “Is ghar se koi agar eik din ke liye bahar chala gaya to vo mar gaya. Uski saari cheezen bahar phenk do.”

But Tauji never had much time for the newspaper agency or dukaan as it was called which Papa ran with his majestic indifference to the minutiae of everyday business. The monthly bills for T. D. Joshi & Sons were never dispatched to the customers unless Yashpal Chachaji came after office hours and sat inside to pore over the hissab and actually bill the customers. I would rush to dukaan after school to read Champak, Nandan et al and, of course Bawa made a daily trip in the evening. He would take us along on the evening trips and make us straighten out the packaging papers, the thick brown and cream sheets which got torn at the edges in the morning when the papers used get offloaded from the bus. We made paper bags from newspapers as well.

I never saw the morning bus but have a vivid memory of Bunty returning once from the early morning offloading trip, soaking wet in the rain and because he had fallen into a ditch in the bus stand. Papa had taken to sending him, the eldest of us, to offload the newspapers in the morning. He couldn’t have been 12 or 13 at the time. Besides his shaken face, I remember Amma’s outrage. “Kaun apne bachche ke saath aisa karta hai,” she hissed. The boys also delivered newspapers sometimes when one of the hawkers disappeared.

Then, of course, the only memory of the Emergency I have is in the courtyard where Krishnadidi was reading out the newspaper to Bawa who struck his palm on his forehead in disgust and exclaimed, “kar liya arrest Indiraji ko.” Bawa was the treasurer of the District Pradesh Congress Committee and a staunch Gandhian who wore khadi and loved Nehruji. He had cut and pasted his picture with folded hands net to a smiling Nehruji and fixed a rose on top. That picture adorned the wall next to our cash box in the dukaan. That and a pile of pictures with Nehruji throwing a pillow at party workers during a meeting of the Congress Committee, him lighting a cigarette. Indiraji was his daughter. No good could ever come out of arresting her.

So you can imagine what the last seven days have been like. No newspapers means the world has come to an end. And today, there was the first sign of hope that it may one day be over.

Published on April 06, 2020

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