Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Last Calligraphers + The Musalman-Preservation of a Dream

The Musalman (Urdu: مسلمان) is the oldest Urdu-language daily newspaper published from Chennai in India. It is an evening paper with four pages, all of which are handwritten by calligraphers, before being mass-produced with a printing press. According to the Wired and The Times of India, The Musalman is possibly the only "handwritten" newspaper in the world.

The newspaper was founded by Janab Syed Azmathullah Sahib in 1927. It was inaugurated by Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, the president of the Madras session of the Indian National Congress. The newspaper's office has been located at the Triplicane High Road in Chennai.

After Janab Syed Azmathullah's death, the newspaper was edited by Janab Syed Fazullah sahib, who died on 26 April 2008, at the age of 78. In 2007, Fazullah had expressed fear that the calligraphy might die with him, since his sons were not interested in carrying on the calligraphy tradition. Fazullah's son, Syed Nasarulla, had stated that he has no interest in calligraphy, and "there will be changes", when he takes over.

The calligraphers, known as katibs, work in a little corner of a 800 sq. ft. one-room office. They don't have many facilities — only two wall fans, three bulbs and a tube light. As of 2008, the calligraphy team consists of one man and two women, who work almost three hours on each page of the hand-written newspaper. The hand-written product is processed onto a photo negative and mass-produced with a printing press.

The newspaper's office often hosts renowned poets, religious leaders and royalty, some of whom contribute to the pages.

The newspaper consists of four pages. The front page is for national and international news, the second and the third pages are for local news, and the fourth page is for sports. Some space is left blank at the bottom right corner of the front page, in case there is some breaking news.

As of April 2008, the paper is sold for 75 paise a copy, and has around 22,000 subscribers.

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