Sunday Herald: It's hot off the press

The aesthetics & texts of the 91-year-old Urdu newspaper called 'The Musalman'
Last Updated 05 June 2018, 09:16 IST

Donning multiple hats and multi-tasking 24/7 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Syed Arifullah is doing just that. He is the editor, publisher, marketing and ad man all rolled into one for The Musalman, a 91-year-old, four-page Urdu broadsheet.

What sets The Musalman apart from other newspapers is that perhaps it is the only newspaper in the world that continues to be handwritten, using calligraphy. That apart,
Arifullah is the third-generation editor of this daily. The Musalman was started by Arifullah’s grandfather, Syed Azmathullah, in 1927. “The whole idea at that point was to
provide a voice for the Muslims in India,” says Arifullah.

Over the years, the focus of The Musalman continues to remain the same. “We carrystories of the community. One of our focus areas is highlighting the need for financial aid in various sectors. We carry inspirational stories of students who achieved success despite hardship, and how they need finance to pursue higher studies. We carry true life stories on medical aid, the need for money for construction of a mosque...” explains Arifullah.

The Musalman is a four-page broadsheet and the eveninger covers all areas of news — from politics to city news, national, international and sports news. The Sunday edition
carries Islamic teachings. As it’s a handwritten newspaper, the working style is a tad different.

The editorial

Arifullah says he has a network of 75 freelancers across India apart from three reporters in Chennai. The news reports are filed in latest by 10 every morning by
the reporters in Chennai and across India.

Two Urdu translators come in at 8 am every day to start translation. The katibs, calligraphers (three of them) come in at 10 am and write out each report on to the newspaper using calligraphy pens. “Calligraphy is the soul of the newspaper,” declares Arifullah. The Musalman carries 25 stories daily and the final story is done by 12 noon, after which
the pages are sent to the press. The printing press is located in one of the rooms of The Musalman’s office in the bustling Triplicane area.

It is difficult to reset the page in case of a breaking-news item. “We carry breaking -news items as briefs. We also carry conflict items as briefs,” says Arifullah.

The Musalman is also perhaps the cheapest newspaper in the country, selling at 75 paisa daily, with the yearly subscription standing at Rs 400. What’s also gratifying is that it has a dedicated subscriber base of 21,000, one-third of which is in Tamil Nadu alone. “Many of our readers are 3G (third generation). Many readers are also from other communities, like Hindus and Christians, who buy the paper for the love of the language. Many Muslims also buy the paper to improve their language and reading skills,” states Arifullah. The newspaper also boasts a loyal advertising clientele, with the association with such companies being over 40 years now. “Our main source of revenue is advertisements, and gold retailers have been one of our main advertisers all these years,” says Arifullah. To keep this advertisement relationship going, The Musalman offers discounted rates to
its old advertisers.

Future of print

With the print media in India itself fighting a digital onslaught, one may wonder what would be the future of a handwritten newspaper? But Arifullah is extremely optimistic
and says calligraphy is the core strength of the newspaper, and the paper will continue to flourish despite disruptions in the marketplace.

Clearly, The Musalman is here to stay. “No doubt the workload is extremely heavy on a day-to-day basis. But I make very little profit. If I made huge sums of money, I would have had competitors. I don’t see this as a ‘P & L’ (profit and loss) activity. This is a legacy that has been passed down from my grandfather, and I will continue this tradition,” Arifullah says.

(Published 02 June 2018, 19:30 IST)

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