001- ‘YOU CAN’T WAIT FOR INSPIRATION. YOU HAVE TO GO AFTER IT WITH A CLUB.’- JACK LONDON
The Musalman continues its 85 year old tradition of handwriting its news, making it one of the oldest calligraphic Urdu newspapers in the world.
In the world of ever changing technologies, we have seen media and newspapers evolve and evolve. And then there are those that embrace tradition passionately. In a tiny nondescript room that seems to have been frozen in time, three Katibs (calligraphers) labour away copying the day’s news in fluid calligraphic strokes. The only sound comes from two fans and the bustling traffic on the street. An unimposing, antiquated building situated in a narrow alleyway in Triplicane- a locally flavoured area of Chennai, houses the printing press and office of The Musalman. What is so special about this press office you may ask? Only that it is the world’s oldest surviving calligraphic Urdu newspaper daily.
This eponymous newspaper is a voice for the Muslim community in India, a celebration of both Urdu and calligraphy. Starting a tradition in 1927, Syed Azmathullah founded The Musalman as a platform for Urdu which can be used in everyday life.
Remaining faithful to its humble beginnings, the daily features four pages handwritten in Urdu. In typical Islamic literary fashion, the paper reads from right to left, the same way it is written. The news is translated and penned down in Urdu. A negative is printed after which it is mass-produced in a printing press. The paper has been in publication since 1927 without missing a single day.
Taking on his grandfather’s dream after his father, Syed Arifullah continues this assiduous journey of preserving the language and the craft. A short conversation with Arifullah is enough to realise his unwavering commitment.
This year marks the beginning of their 85th year and the paper seems to be growing stronger, with over 22,000 subscribers. Readers have come to cherish the consistency of the newspaper, the simply presented format with an overview of the most important news, balanced between international, national, local, sports, religion and entertainment. The fact that this broadsheet has survived for over eight decades is a testimony of the people who subscribe to it reflecting their appreciation of the art and language.
The dedication is undeniable. The Musalman sells at a meagre 75paise per copy and the paltry wages given to the staff is nothing to boast of. Yet, no one complains, no one quits. It is truly remarkable that every single person who has worked for the organisation has never quit, choosing to enrich their lives by working for The Musalman till their last breath. It is a true evidence of their unconditional love for not only the language but also the art of calligraphy.
Arabic calligraphy was used to write the highest form of literature in the Muslim world- the Qu’ran. Calligraphy is a beautiful and highly respectable visual art form, albeit one that is fast declining like many other ancient practices.
Other than the zeitgeist, nothing has changed in the newspaper since 1927. The Musalman is intrepid in continuing the tradition despite changing technologies and advice of going digital. Syed Arifullah has already devoted his life to The Musalman and has assured its readers of its continuity for generations to come. An apt phrase every Muslim would say at this point- ‘Inshallah’; if God be willing.
Recommended: A captivating short movie about The Musalman.