Marathi Press India

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Marathi: Big Newspapers Are Elephants By Robin Jeffrey

To understand the Marathi press, one needs to appreciate two cities-Mumbai (Bombay) and Pune (Poona). Mumbai is the Manhattan of India-a buzzing, multi- lingual magnet of an island. As well as the industrial and commercial focus of India, it is the base for the advertising industry and for India's two biggest newspaper chains, The Times of India and The Indian Express. Pune, on the other hand, is Maharashtra's Boston (indeed, both have brahmins) where history, culture and more cultivated ways of life are supposed to prevail. Mumbai's magnetism has meant that it is not a solely, or perhaps even predominantly, Marathi city. Migrants come from all over India to seek their fortunes in what ought to be called, if New York is the Big Apple, the Big Mango. Virtually, all of India's languages are spoken in Mumbai, and daily newspapers in Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Sindhi, Tamil and Malayalam are published here. Marathi journalism, on the other hand, first flowered in Pune under the renowned patriot Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1857-1920) in the 1880s, and Marathi's dowager daily, Sakal, began in Pune in 1932, another product of nationalist idealism. Mumbai's dominance distorts any attempt to take simple snapshots of 'Maharashtra' as a whole. Though Maharashtra in the 1990s was India's most urbanised major state with 39% of the population living in cities, one-third of those urbanites lived in Mumbai. After Kerala and Goa, Maharashtra was India's most literate state, but 17% of literates lived in Mumbai, though it accounted for only 12.5% of the population. Maharashtra appeared as India's most industrialised state, but most of that industry was concentrated in Mumbai and its immediate neighbourhood. In rural Maharashtra, particularly the dry districts of the east, literacy and urbanisation were below all-lndia averages. As a consequence of these contrasts, Marathi journalism acquired two distinct styles. One is embodied in Sakal, the other in the intensely competitive commuter newspapers of Mumbai like Navakal, Mahanagar and the Shiv Sena's Samna. The two styles also capture two of the motives for publishing a newspaper: idealism and profit. In some ways, Sakal was a classic newspaper of the nationalist period. But its idealistic founder, N.B. Parulekar had been influenced by American papers during his years at Columbia University. And though he started Sakal (morning) to advance Gandhi's movement for independence, he also introduced genuine daily journalism to Marathi. Previously, as a veteran Sakal journalist recalled, Marathi journalism had amounted to opinions published two or three times a week; the staff went home at 7 pm. Parulekar's Sakal hired reporters, paid stringers in small towns and covered crucial local topics like fluctuations in the price of mangoes. In its first years, Sakal appears to have been ridiculed and deplored in much the same way that old elites scoff at the expanding popular press of the 1990s. "People used to joke about its [Sakal's] district and taluka correspondents' reports about village fairs, pilgrimages and crops." But Sakal built a place in the hearts of the people of Pune and its neighbourhood-and a circulation. By the early 1960s, Sakal sold 69,000 copies a day. The Mumbai-based Marathi dailies of the two chains (The Indian Express and The Times of India) sold 1,22,000 and 75,000, though Mumbai had a population five times greater than Pune. Sakal in the 1960s represented "a real success", according to a widely travelled editor, and "a standing testimony to the viability of the provincial press". Though begun as a part of the nationalist cause, it established itself as a successful business by making day-to-day concerns, not just of Pune but its rural neighbourhood, a preoccupation. By the 1980s, this became a recognised essential for any Indian language newspaper seeking circulation. But Parulekar brought such techniques to Sakal from the 1930s and...
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