The Musalman (IND, 1927-present)

Publication History:

Place of Publication: Chennai, India

Frequency:  Daily

Volume and Issue Data:  Published since 1927, circulation approx. 21,000

Size and Format:  Broadsheet folded to make four pages; Urdu language publication; handwritten, then printed

Editor/Publisher:  Editor-in-Chief Syed Arifullah (youngest son of former editor Syed Fazlulla)

Title Changes and Continuation: None

General Description and Notes:

According to Wired Magazine, “the fax machine on 76-year-old Editor-in-Chief Syed Fazlulla’s [died April 26, 2008] crowded desk is by far the most sophisticated technology in the room.”

“Fazlulla, who is deep into creating the next issue of the handcrafted The Musalman daily newspaper, frowns as he deciphers the handwriting and searches for a cover story. After some consideration, he passes the page to his brother who translates it into Urdu. He in turn sends the text to the back room where writers take calligraphy quills in hand and begin.

“Here in the shadow of the Wallajah Mosque, a team of six puts out this hand-penned paper. Four of them are katibs — writers dedicated to the ancient art of Urdu calligraphy. It takes three hours using a pen, ink and ruler to transform a sheet of paper into news and art.”

According to Iran Radio Islam, the paper, whose name means “The Muslim,”

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.

The Wired magazine reporter observed that the paper’s

“. . . office is a center for the South Indian Muslim community and hosts a stream of renowned poets, religious leaders and royalty who contribute to the pages, or just hang out, drink chai and recite their most recent works to the staff. The Musalman publishes Urdu poetry and messages on devotion to God and communal harmony daily.

The newspaper’s content is not exactly hard-hitting. It covers the basics of local politics and the writers translate stories from English papers into Urdu. Still, the paper is widely read and appreciated by Muslims in Tripplicane and Chennai where the paper has a circulation of 20,000.

While the Musalman is a Muslim newspaper, it is a hub of South Asian liberalism, employing both women and non-Muslims. Half the katibs are women and the chief reporter is Hindu. Staff members say that Indira Gandhi, former prime minister of India, once called the business the epitome of what modern India should be.

The Urdu language is, according to Wired, “similar to spoken Hindi, Urdu is a mixture of Arabic, Persian and local Indian languages. It originated in the army camps of Muslim rulers in Delhi and has been the language of poets and artists because its rich roots draw on so many traditions across various cultures.”

But when British colonizers swept across India importing printing presses and English, Urdu ceased to be the official court language. It was spoken primarily by the Muslim community, but katibs could still make a living because no Urdu typeface existed.

That changed in 1997 with the first widely circulated Urdu computer font. Nowadays, people learn to read and write Urdu mostly as a hobby.

Information Sources:

Bibliography:  Scott Carney, “A Handwritten Daily Paper in India Faces the Digital Future,” Wired (magazine), July 6, 2007; Iran Radio Islam, “The Musalman: The Last Hand Printed Newspaper in India,” IRIB World Service-English, May 26, 2011.

Locations:  Unknown (Chennai, India)