In an earlier column I had made a reference to the inauguration of the Kolkata edition of The Hindu In School – a remarkably brilliant, original and innovative idea that merits greater attention. The paper itself was first launched, I understand, on April 2, 2012, across nine Indian cities with an initial print run of a bare 50,000 copies. Imagine my surprise to learn that the “stand-alone school edition” proved to be an instant hit, with an average circulation now of over 200,000 copies. If that is not a major achievement, what else is?
The paper, specially for students between Class VI to XII, according to its editor Siddharth Varadarajan, is meant to “provide a blend of news, features, sports, comics, crosswords, puzzles and contests and columns in a language and style that students could relate to and engage with.” The students between Class VI and XII should normally be between the age of 12 and 18 years. What would children between the age of 12 and 18, say, want to know? The approach of The Hindu In School, says its editor, is not to provide “sensationalism or trivialisation”, but moves to be child-friendly with balanced, trustworthy and sober presentation. One suspects that is more said than done. Unfortunately I have had no access to earlier issues and right now the only one I have is the Kolkata inaugural edition, I keep thinking what I would do, if I were the editor. What should a youngster know in furtherance of the subjects he is taught at school like history, geography, science, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, etc? What sort of pictures should one publish? Shouldn’t he be made aware of contemporary affairs in an objective way? Should violence, especially communal violence be given any prominence, such as, for example, the Muzaffarnagar riots? If Jats were involved shouldn’t one know who Jats are and what are their cultural norms? One understands that they make good soldiers. If the paper has a circulation of over two lakh, it obviously meets the students’ requirements quite well and I am hesitant to say more.
I presume that the paper should not only be ‘informative’ but should also be ‘educative’ in a subtle way, enough to make the young reader wish to keep every issue as a textbook in its own way. But what strikes me is that if The Hindu can run such a special issue for school children, why can’t other papers, especially language papers go in for a similar enterprise? Imagine children studying in any language of their own having a paper to read and digest published in their own mother tongue? Then India would probably be the first one in the world to be so innovately creative in communication.
The Hindu in School – a copy of which I have, carries book reviews, a whole page of pictures on Classic Calcutta, a couple of human interest stories (one on the love of dogs of the British Queen), Sudoku and of course, cartoons. As one can say, Great, but keep improving!
A story that greatly touched me was one I saw in DNA (August 28) from Mathura. The story says: “Thousands of Muslims artisans in the region have been working round the clock to make countless bejewedlled costumes and accessories for the idols of Krishna and other Hindu deities for the Janmashtami Festival. The VHP’s controversial yatra from Ayodhya has not had any impact, as the Muslims join Hindus in preparation for the celebration of Lord Krishna’s birth… One worker, Iqbal, who is known for his expertise in preparing for the idols, says he feels ecstatic whenever he comes up with a new design… Vrindavan and Goverdhan employ roughly six thousand Muslim families. Another Muslim, Mohit Muktawala is quoted as saying: “Since there is a huge demand of poshak of Laddu Gopal (Krishna) on the occasion of Janmashtami, we have to work round-the-clock…” What a lovely story!
Incidentally, I would like to draw the attention of the paper to another story I read – this one in Hindustan Times – on September 12, about “Grandpa’s Return Gift” which almost brought tears to my eyes. Grandpa had difficulties reading and when his young grand-daughter realised it, she offered to read for him, page after page. As she put it, “the happiness derived by helping somebody in need without expecting anything in return is immeassurable”. That was not a news story, but it made a great impact on me. It is, in a way, not difficult to identify beautiful stories worth the print. But one must have an open mind and a quivering heart.
The last thing that a reporter or an editor should entertain is cynicism. One sees so few stories like the one from Mathura. The point is to find them.