Kerala is newspaper country. I’m sharply reminded of this each morning when I accompany my sons to their school in the auto. Out on the street are the newspaper readers, some sitting, some standing. Everybody in Kerala reads the newspaper.
I recently got hold of a wonderful book called No Elephants for the Maharaja by Louise Owerkerk. It’s a rare book (even Flipkart reported it to be out of stock) that I was lucky to get. Louise was an Englishwoman who served as a professor in a women’s college in Trivandrum in the 1930s and 1940s. She gives a fascinating account of the politics of that period and also paints a vivid and insightful portrait of the society she found herself in. It’s required reading for anyone who is interested in Kerala history and the politics of the kingdom of Travancore during the run-up to India’s independence, and I’ll be quoting from the book here from time to time. Here is what Louise says about newspapers and Kerala:
Life has been easy; very little cultivation will yield an assured and abundant harvest, and the people have plenty of leisure to develop a very high level of culture. They are distinguished by a great liveliness of intelligence, a keen interest in religion, politics, literary pursuits. No part of India has spawned such an output of newspapers, good, bad, and indifferent, or such a proportion of newspaper readers and listeners; surveys show that every newspaper is read by or read to, an average of ten persons.
The person reading the newspaper in the top photo is a keen newspaper reader I spot most days from the auto. Sometimes he reads the paper deposited in front of a yet-to-open shop and replaces it after he finishes. At other times he can be seen in his pad reading the newspaper with rapt attention. Yes, he is a ragpicker who lives on the street. This is his home, and the wall he is sitting on is where he sleeps at night. Is there any other part of the world where you will find such avid newspaper readers among ragpickers?
And the photo below, from a photo exhibition organized by The Hindu at the Maharaja’s College auditorium a few weeks ago, shows a boatman reading a newspaper. (Now, there’s a Malayalee for you: isn’t it clear from the way he is reclining that he’s the monarch of his world?)
And, finally, even babysitting duties do not stop this youngster from reading the newspaper:
Yes, Kerala is newspaper country alright!