Recently random net surfing led me to a news in the Khaleej Times about an almost century old Urdu newspaper published or rather written from Chennai. It was about The Musalman, an Urdu newspaper which is handwritten. Urdu has a tradition of calligraphy. There was a time when books, magazines and newspapers were handwritten. The katibs (writers) wrote with machine like precision. The art of writing calligraphy is called kitabat. Master katibs were high in demand and they were respected for their finesse and dexterity to write in cursive style. With the advancement in print technology the art of kitabat slowly lost patronage and usage. That’s why it came as a pleasant surprise that even in these days and times there is still a newspaper which is published using the beautiful art of kitabat.
The Musalman is published since 1927. It is published on spreadsheet and then folded to make it a four page. The daily was started by Syed Azmathullah of Chennai in 1927. Presently Azmathullah’s grandson Syed Arifullah is running the newspaper. Arifullah has done MBA in marketing and has dedicated himself to the dream of grandfather to continue the newspaper. The Musalman is a daily newspaper. The daily circulation is 21000 copies. It has dedicated readers from all over India and in Chennai it is also available on newsstands. The annual subscription is paltry 400 Indian rupees. The cost per copy is mere 75 paisa.
The newspaper has illustrious history. The first edition of the newspaper in 1927 was inaugurated by famous freedom fighter and a leading leader of Indian National Congress, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari. Some interesting stories are also associated with the newspaper. In early 1960s the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru visited Chennai, he was pleasantly surprised when he was interviewed by The Musalman reporter, Krishna Iyer. While Iyer was interviewing Nehru, a photographer of another newspaper The Hindu entered the room and introduced himself as Mohammed Asad from The Hindu. This example of plurality and composite culture of India where a Hindu was working for The Musalman while a Muslim was working for The Hindu left Nehru speechless. In fact, a few years later, Indira Gandhi held up the incident as a model of India’s secularism (Ziya Us Salam, 2021).Both The Hindu and The Musalman are still published from Chennai. The Hindu is in circulation since 1878 when it started as a weekly and later turned into a daily in 1889 (The Hindu, 2021)
The Musalman is most probably the only Urdu newspaper which still uses the traditional system of Kitabat. However, some of the newspaper reports about The Musalman mention it as the first Urdu newspaper (Joydeep Sen Gupta, 2021). This is not only patently wrong but also shows the casual manner these newspaper articles were written. By the time The Musalman was launched in 1927, Urdu newspapers in India had already completed more than 100 years. Various researchers give the credit to either Jam e Jahan Numa (1821) published from the then Calcutta or to Maratul Akhbar (1822), also published from Calcutta. Besides these there is a long list of Urdu newspapers which were started in early 18th century, thus, preceding The Musalman by almost a century. Some of the important Urdu newspapers from early 18th century are: Agra Akhbar (1831), Jamiul Akhbar (1841), Azam Akhbar (1848), Umdatul Akhbar (1849), Taleemul Akhbar (1851), Suboh Sadiq (1855), Tilisme Hairat (1856) (J.S. Ifthekhar, 2015; Mrinal Chatterjee, 2011).
I had telephonic conversation with the editor of The Musalman on 28 November 2021. I found out that at present the newspaper is delivered through email. The editor told me that hard copy will be back in print within a month. The newspaper at present can be subscribed either by visiting it’s office in Triplicane, Chennai or by sending cheque. At present the management does not accept payment or bank transfer. Either way its a treasure worth preserving and a story worth telling.
J. S. Ifthekhar (2015) All about the Urdu media and more. The Hindu, February 17. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/all-about-the-urdu-media-and-more/article6904069.ece. Accessed on 3 December 2021.
Joydeep Sen Gupta (2021) How The Musalman, India’s hand written newspaper is defying covid-19 challenge. The Khaleej Times, 16 June. Available at: https://www.khaleejtimes.com/coronavirus/how-the-musalman-indias-hand-written-newspaper-is-defying-covid-19-challenge. Accessed on 2 December 2021.
Mrinal, Chatterjee (2011, November 3) The history of Urdu journalism in India. twocircles.net. Available at: http://twocircles.net/2011nov03/history_urdu_journalism_india.html. Accessed on 1 December 2021.
The Hindu (2021) About Us. The Hindu. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/aboutus/. Accessed on 3 December 2021.
Ziya Us Salam (2021) Plural Imprint: Chennai-based Urdu daily ‘The Musalman’ continues its strong show. The Hindu, 27 August. Available at: https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/plural-imprint-the-musalman-chennai-based-urdu-daily-published-since-1927-continues-its-strong-show/article35787242.ece. Accessed on 15 November 2021.