Monday, August 27, 2007

mutterings of a former newsie

When I was growing up, we never really took the daily paper, except when there was some sort of promotion and it was free. At one time we had two paper routes in the family, and we delivered Janesville Gazettes to around a third of the Brodhead subscribers, but we never got one for ourselves. In the winter, when the slush piled up against the idea of biking, we would walk the paper routes, and sometimes, in the minute-long familiar trudge between two houses, I would read a few paragraphs of one of the front-page articles. Then I would deliver the paper and read on from the next paper, sometimes wondering if anyone would be bothered to receive used news. This never had the same feeling as sitting at home with a paper.

The Sunday paper was much different from the papers the rest of the week. It was thick. The comics were longer and in color, and there were more of them. There were colorful glossy advertisements spilling out, there were coupons for local stores, there was an entire section for sports. We usually bought the Madison paper when we got a Sunday paper, and it was $1.50 instead of the daily cost of 50 cents. My dad always liked getting the Sunday paper.

From the delivery standpoint, the Sunday paper was about five times thicker and a bit more challenging to deliver. You could throw one onto a porch as long as it went fold first, otherwise the outer layer would stop and the insides would keep sliding across the porch, creating a visual treat akin to rolling out a red carpet or fanning a deck of playing cards. Then you had to go push it all back together before the customer saw it.

Joie and I just started taking 'The Times of India' recently. There are some very interesting features of an Indian newspaper.

The cost is ridiculously low. Getting the paper was not a major decision for us, as the newsstand price is Rs. 2, or about 5 cents per day. It is only slightly more to have it delivered, and I believe that this makes newspaper quite a bit cheaper, kilo for kilo, than firewood. The discussion was short. I said, "I think I'd like to start getting the newspaper, it's a hundred rupees per month." Joie said, "Okay". Now where I come from, the paper is considerably more expensive and you have to decide if you could read it enough to make it worthwhile. This consideration inevitably ended in my admitting to myself that I really only wanted the crossword puzzle, the sudoku, and the comics, and it was stupid to pay for those. I have decided that 2 rupees a day is a forgivable indulgence. I just checked, and the price of a Sunday Times is Rs. 3.40 (3 rupees and 40 paisa), which is a little over eight cents and essentially means Rs. 4 in most places, since paisa are not really in use.

The daily comics are in color. The papers seem to take it upon themselves to colorize them, so the colors are not really in tune with what the artist may have intended. Snoopy, for example, is brown. Dilbert's funny hair has been perceived by Indian comic painters as a hat, which they decide to paint blue. Calvin sometimes has dark hair because hey, doesn't everyone?

The Sunday paper is nothing special. It is decidedly different, but neither bigger nor better. There is a matrimonial section on Sundays, and only about half of the comics, which are not in color. There was no crossword puzzle or sudoku in my Sunday paper, though the daily papers were always very faithful to me in that respect. There is a one-page glossy insert called "Life!" which is full of sensational rubbish about fashions and celebrities and lifestyles.

There is a matrimonial section in the Sunday paper. Now American papers have a 'personals' section that seems full of sleazy people searching for sleazy people by posting thinly veiled appeals for casual romantic relationships offering some degree of anonymity and adventure. In India, many marriages are arranged, and matching people up is big business. Many of the ads seem to be posted by parents, referring to a "boy" who might be 31 years old. Some ads are quite specific about what is offered and what is sought, while others are very basic appeals with no information.

The phrase "Caste no bar" occurs commonly and means that the family does not object to marriage between castes. Though the caste system has been long abolished, it is still a pervasive dynamic within many Indian communities. People who marry outside of their caste can risk being rejected or killed by their villages and even their families.

The matrimonial section and the industry of arranging marriages is becoming increasingly relied upon as many areas in India are experiencing a severe shortage of women. While India does not restrict the number of children you can have, a girl needs a dowry, and is therefore perceived as a financial liability. It is illegal for doctors viewing an ultrasound to disclose the gender of a baby because so many people will abort it if they know it is a girl. Even so, infanticide is a popular option in some regions, and the Indian authorities occasionally discover some village well that is full of dead baby girls. This, I believe, is one of those heinous crimes that too clearly betray a savagery that no nation wants to admit. Like evil on the face of the picture of Dorian Gray.

There is a memorial section. I am used to obituaries or personal notes for people who have just died, but the Indian papers publish little pictures and personal notes to people who have been dead for years. The notes often commemorate the anniversary of the date of death, and contain a little note written to the loved one to show that they have been missed. I personally suspect that if the dead can see us, they will be able to tell if their families miss them without reading the 'Times of India', but I do appreciate the implied notion that each edition of the newspaper is perused expectantly by recent generations of India's dead.

1 comment:

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