Anandabazar Patrika: A perfect blend of tradition and modernity

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee*

What is Malayala Manorama to a Malayali, Samaja to an Odia, Anandabazar Patrika is to a Bengali: not just a newspaper, but a part of his linguistic identity. Like the other two newspaper, Anandabazar Patrika too started with a nationalistic mission and with time has become an institution.

Anandabazar Patrika began its momentous journey on 13 March 1922. It was the day of Dolyatra (Holi), the festival of colour. And probably to go with the festive fervour, the first issue was printed in red letter. But the British administration took the red colour as a mark of danger, which to a large extent proved true in future. Priced at two paise it had a first-day circulation of a thousand copies.

Founded by Suresh Chandra Majumdar (the proprietor) and Prafulla Chandra Sarkar (the first editor), Anandabazar Patrika started as a four page evening daily. But soon it increases its pages to six. Next year, it became a morning daily. From the beginning Anandabazar Patrika tried to be professional so far news dissemination was concerned. It soon tied up with Reuters, Associated Press and the Free Press of India. In order to reach readers living in far flung areas, a bi-weekly edition of Anandabazar was started.

It became popular soon. By 1925 it had to increase its page numbers to 16, no mean feat in those periods of low literacy and lower purchasing power. It published a 120 120-page special supplement on Calcutta Congress, which was sold out within two hours and second edition was printed on demand.

In 1926, Anandabazar Patrika published its first Puja special issue, Sharadiya Shankhya. This became a tradition which in turn helped the growth of Bengali literature in no uncertain terms.

Like its counterparts in other languages Anandabazar Patrika too had to suffer the draconinan press laws promulgated by the British administration. In 1930 it even went out of circulation for over six months (May 2 – October 31). But like the proverbial phoenix it resurfaced and recaptured public adulation and patronage. So much so that by 1932 it had to invest in a fast-paced rotary machine, capable of printing 25,000 copies per hour. By 1933 its circulation went up to 58,000- a figure considered astronomical in those days.

Advances were made in management of newspapers. Post of news editor was formed for the first time. First bureau with a team of journalists was also formed to facilitate news gathering and processing. Circulation of newspaper was speeded up by sending it to Dhaka by air.

And in this time, in 1933 Desh, the Bengali literary magazine was born, which were to play a very important role in shaping and nurturing modern Bengali literature.

Anandabazar Patrika has always been into innovation- be it in presentation of news or in printing and composing technology. In fact in 1935, Suresh Chandra Majumdar pioneered the blueprint of a Bengali linotype and it was first time the paper was printed in lino. Mechanising a non-Roman language, an Indian first, helped create the Bengali/Hindi typewriter.

On the field reportage has always been the strength of Anandabazar Patrika. In 1936, it arranged exclusive reportage from the Berlin Olympics, first such feat for any language Indian newspaper. It was also the first newspaper to inform about Subhas Chandra Bose’s dramatic escape in 1941.

As said earlier it had to suffer draconian laws and restrictions quite often. In 1942, it stopped publication to protest against regulations imposed on newspapers (August 21 – September 5). It had to publish abridged editions during World War II as there was severe scarcity of newsprint.

As the country freed itself from the shackle of the foreign rule, Anadabazar Patrika changed its role. It tried to build the newly freed nation fighting its myriad problems. It grew physically. The circulation grew. So much so by 1954 it became the widest circulated newspaper in India published from one centre. Its impact grew. It also grew technologically. Faster machines capable of printing more copies in less time were installed. It also tried to contribute in literary and cultural life of Bengal by introducing Ananda Purashkar. It attempted successfully to bring about a change in the use of language in newspapers. It made its newspaper more colloquial. Only the editorials were written in classical language- a tradition that it still follows.

Anandabazar Patrika was one of the first newspaper in Eastern India to have introduced Photo-typesetting, which it did in 1975. Most other newspapers did it in 80s. It introduced Computer to plate technology (CTP) in printing in 2004. It launched its Internet edition in 2000. Always tech-savvy, Anandabazar Patrika is now available on mobile and other Internet enabled devices.

The group has published many well known newspapers and magazines. Hindustan Standard was published in 1937. In 1975 Anandalok, a Bengali entertainment magazine was born. Business Standard, a business daily, was started in the same year. Sportsworld was launched in 1978. With time Hindustan Standard was closed down and Telegraph, an English daily was launched in 1982. In 2012, it launched Ebela, a Bengali tabloid.

The group has made its foray into television as well. STAR Ananda, the 24-hour national news channel in Bengali, began broadcasting in 2005.

The best thing about Anandabazar Patrika is: it has always moved with time. It has been at the forefront in terms of coverage of events. It has involved the best minds in critical discourse on issues. And while doing all these, it has retained its Bengali soul almost unchanged.

This is probably the secret of its long standing success. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, it has a circulation of 1.28 million copies making it the largest circulation for a single-edition, regional language newspaper in India. According to Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2012, it is the most widely read Bengali newspaper in India with a readership of 58.59 lakhs.

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