The oldest memory of my tryst with newspaper reading dates back to the times when I was a primary school kid. Kashmir, in those days, was much more peaceful and news was yet to get commodified. Though the number of newspapers published from Srinagar was very less but the contents of the newspapers were rich, informative as well as educative. Even though those times were not of free economy and market capitalism, our newspapers had all the ingredients of a quality product whose features were creatively crafted to outsmart competition. The two stars on the horizon of Kashmir Journalism shone equally bright; The Daily Aftab and The Srinagar Times.
Newspaper reading was a luxury in those times, a perfect mood elevator and a companion of the lonely. We used to get newspapers only during winter vacations perhaps because both of my parents were working and we all kids were in school. So, in order to beat the boredom of long winter months when most of us were forced to stay indoors because of vacations and heavy snows, the Daily Aftab used to be our companion exactly till 28th of February.
Those who remember the Aftab of those times would confirm that the newspaper was a very good product then. The newspaper, then, was not, a shoddy collection of press releases and government advertisements. It had, rather, a number of daily and weekly featured segments which would cater to diverse tastes of its readership. Perhaps the only newspaper with a banner headline, every page of the paper was a treat to the eyes. Though the Srinagar Times scored over the Aftab by its creative front page cartoon by BAB, The Aftab had its own cartoon section on the second page much in line with style of R.K. Laxman’s daily cartoons. I have a childhood impression that Aftab was popular among the educated working class while as the Srinagar Times was relished by the business class.
The second page of Aftab also used to carry a daily feature titled dilchasp magar mukhtasar. This column was our window to the world then. It provided nuggets of information about happenings around the world much before Prannoy Roy’s The world This Week telecast over national network become a rage with us as kids. That was before the private channels era had started and that was when news had a certain reverence and when it was yet to be linked to TRPs.
Me and my siblings were addicted to Aftab so much so that we competed to stay outdoors in the chilly winter mornings so that the more perseverant grabbed the copy first, read all the stories and then only announce that the newspaper had been dropped by the winter. Same was true with our cousins and neighbours. I vividly remember those many times when I used to stealthily come out of the house to grab the newspaper and find a corner behind a snowy bush to read my favourite segments. And what were those segments? Khabre Zainakadal by Jaleel Jalakdooz; a witty sarcasm on our daily lives. Sunday kay Koftey by Peer Abdul Shakoor, a political satire that was a staple for our elders and equally liked by the youngers for its sharp witticism and simple language. And how can I forget to mention the great epic that was carried daily on the bottom spread of the op-ed page. Afrasiyaab ki Kahaani; a major hit among children, much more than the over publicized Harry Potter of these days.
We were yet to knock at the doors of the world when a whirlwind uprooted the whole world of imagination and creativity around us. News became a death-count. Breaking news broke our hearts and in milieu our newspapers became anything but newspapers.