Newspaper Makeover

Dr. Tiny Nair

It was a sunny morning, unusual by unpredictable Kerala standards, no rain and no bandh calls. My instinctive search for the morning newspaper was paused by a colourful ‘magazine’ occupying the slot. It took some time, and my reading glasses, to realize that it was my usual newspaper, clad in a balaclava-style, multi-coloured two-page advertisement, proclaiming ‘amazing’ offers and ‘flipping’ of shopping carts. While I clearly thought it to be a violation of protocol and ethics, my kids snatched the morphed cover-page to make sure that they are not missing out on an offer. Sadly, my wife stood there without a protest, her smile appreciating the intelligence of the carriers of her DNA.

I scanned through the morning newspaper. From the story of death, violence, destruction and bombings; waling though a path strewn with scams and identity thefts, ending with protest marches and teargas shells, turning the colorful morning around me to an overcast grey.

Did these news make me more empowered? I doubt.

I was reminded of the Persian alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan.

Jabir (pronounced ‘Giber’) wrote technical essays so complex, that to most common men it was junk and worthless. Space-occupying worthless writing became known as gibberish.

As a kid I was made to read all the editorials in the newspaper, at the insistence of my father, apparently to improve my language skills; but all that it did was to develop an intense aversion to the queen’s dialect, because I could neither grasp the content nor enjoy the conservative English. But those were the days when father’s diktats were considered as strong as a court order and mother, our only legal advisor, was asked to continue to restrict her area of interference as the F&B manager at home, and not meddle with extra-judicial matters.

The use, or abuse, of the newspaper didn’t end there. It percolated and seamlessly blended with our daily life. We didn’t have the luxury of table and chair and ate food, served by mom, siting on the floor. While the elders were offered a seat on a hand-crafted mat, kids were given a week old newspaper to be used as a shield to prevent food spillage on the floor.

School books had not acquired their ‘khaki’ uniform then, and mom would clad them in newspaper to keep them tidy. Few of us with English newspaper ‘book-cover’ were considered cool, drawing glances from jealous classmates. In case we inadvertently stepped on a piece of newspaper, we were supposed to mutter a silent prayer by touching our forehead, to pardon us of the unintended guilt.

We didn’t need a PlayStation or a Pokémon; an old newspaper with two punched-out holes to look out, would make a mask; with an adequate coating of imagination, we would turn ourselves into superhero or a monster in a jiffy. At the end of the day, mom would roll a sheaf of newspaper into a roll, dip it in kerosene and use it to light up the ‘wood-fired’ ‘coal-powered’ stove.

The leftover newspaper had tremendous exchange value. They were bundled and handed over to the ‘newspaper-seller’ who in exchange would give mom back an aluminum utensil or some other kitchen implement, which she doted and preserved more than people do to their ‘Mercedes’. Bitcoin would take another 20 years to arrive.

The educative, highly-respected, freely exchangeable newspaper has come out of a beauty parlour with a facelift, some hair-dye and botox.

May be I am jealous or just too old to whistle.

(Dr. Tiny Nair, MD, DM, FACC, FRCP(E) is Head, Dept. of Cardiology, PRS Hospital, Kerala and he can be reached at )

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