I woke up on Monday morning with an inexplicable air of foreboding. I couldn’t make sense of it till I went to the dining room for my morning cuppa and realized there were no newspapers on the table: no Times of India, no Indian Express, and no Hindustan Times. I hollered for the wife, who explained – without the slightest expression of horror on her face – that there would be no newspapers today on account of the Ganpati festival the day before. No Mid-day or Afternoon either? I asked in a faltering voice. My heart sank when she nodded sedately. I have always had the utmost admiration for the elephant god, but after enduring this purgatory, I may need to re-evaluate my relations with him.
So what is this mysterious allure newsprint has on many of us? After all, with 24 hour television news channels, news can be obtained with astonishing facility. You can even read the New York Times and Washington Post online. If anything there is a surfeit of information out there. So why does one day without newspapers represent such a calamity?
Part of it is familiarity, I suppose. Those of us in their forties and above grew up in an age without the internet or television. The newspaper was our only lifeline to what was going on in the country and the rest of the world. And for some of us, solving the daily crossword was a major, if often frustrating, pastime. But that was then. Television news and the internet have been around long enough to become as second nature as newsprint. But somehow, they cannot compare with the satisfied feeling of holding a broadsheet in your hands, even though turning a page involves a fair bit of calisthenics.
Part of the reason may be the sense of intimacy a newspaper provides. Physical contact can be very comforting. Then again, most newspapers publish letters to the editor, although some are more generous than others in providing space. Although many of the letters are highly opinionated – and some grammatically atrocious – they provide us readers with a faint sense of entitlement. Our voice may often be ignored by the powers that be, but at least it is being heard. Lately, even television channels have cottoned on to the effectiveness of viewer participation. Thus CNN has its I-Reports and CNN-IBN its Citizen Journalists.
I could analyze this subject to death, but the simple truth is that newspapers are as important to our lives as our daily bread. We may groan and vituperate at the boorishness and antics of our politicians, but not being able to rant about them would be interminably worse. We need them as much as they need us. The elation and relief I experienced on Tuesday morning at the sight of the Times of India beside my cup of tea provides ample proof of this.