‘New star rises in the East’
‘India Independent: British Rule Ends’ was the banner headline on page 1 of the Hindustan Times on Friday, August 15, 1947.
Beneath that was a series of other headlines, including ‘New Star Rises In The East’ (which you may have noticed I’ve pinched for the headline of this post. I thought it was a lovely example of purple prose, just the kind of thing sub-editors must be taught to avoid).
The image I saw of this page was rather small, so I couldn’t decipher much else, which is why I haven’t posted it here. But I spent a lot of time staring at it. Because for the first time in 20 years of journalism, I wondered how they had felt in the newsroom on August 14, 1947.
They’d have known, of course, that page 1 of the paper that went to press that night would be all about freedom, the handover, the raising of the flag, the lowering of the other one.
But they must have argued about the actual stories meant for the page. For instance, they must have wondered whether, in the midst of all this breathless, almost ungraspable, happiness they should have a story on, say, Partition.
If they did think about it – and they must have, no journalist gratuitously avoids anything to do with bloodshed and tension, are you kidding? Bad news is good news – they must have voted against it in the end, because I couldn’t see any such story on the page – though there was a tiny ad next to the paper’s masthead that said ‘Help refugees’ (placed by Ahuja, whoever she, he or they may have been).
Aside from the lead story about the handover, there was one about governors being sworn in and a box with the pledge they had to take; an interview with Mahatma Gandhi (I think, at any rate, something about the father of the nation); some snippets I couldn’t read clearly but I could just make out one that said something like ‘Lord Mountbatten Praises Indian Press’ (which made me fall about laughing – on the most momentous day in the history of India, this made it to page 1? Hysterical!); and – this was so brilliant – a small, boxed ‘Holiday Notice’ that must have stated that since August 15 is a holiday for the staff of the Hindustan Times, there will be no edition of the paper tomorrow. The first ever holiday notice for Independence Day! Fabulous! (And ironic. Hindustan Times no longer has a holiday for Independence Day. Yes, we work while you are free. I hope you COLLAPSE with guilt.)
I wonder, if we had something of the stature of Independence Day to cover today, how we’d do it.
There’d be thousands of meetings starting weeks ahead, of course, including people from editorial, marketing and sales, all the heads of departments looking solemn as we worked out the ‘packages’.
For page 1, naturally, we’d cover the important speechifying, but we’d also do a vox pop – get quotes from five or six or more random people on how they felt when one flag came down and another went up.
And there’d be the mandatory celeb quotes of course, film stars telling us how they felt when one flag went down and another came up. Maybe an anchor story on all the Bollywood music directors and singers who composed and sang special songs for this great occasion, free to view on YouTube, sponsored by this company and that.
In spite of my nasty crack above about the lack of Partition stories on page 1 of the August 15, 1947 edition of Hindustan Times, I’m not certain if we’d have one in a 2012 edition either. We’d certainly argue about it all day, but I suspect we’d let the bloodshed and tension go for the day and let euphoria rule for once. Let good news be good news, just this once.
In media-friendly 2012, incidentally, the handover couldn’t possibly be at midnight, however symbolic that time might be. It would have to happen by 8 pm, latest, so all the newspapers could cover it properly, not only the TV channels. And there would be a lot more photo-ops. (On the 1947 page, there were just two pictures and boring ones at that. Three men not looking at the camera. Blah! Today, we’d have the Tiranga photographed from above, fluttering gloriously over the heads of billions of our euphoric compatriots, and full pages of pictures inside.)
Marketing and sales would be very gung ho about revenues (such a special day, there’s bound to be lots of companies that want to advertise), so we’d have to do special I-Day supplements, all filled with mandatory celeb interviews and quotes in saffron, white and green boxes. I’m not certain, though, if any of these ads would suggest that we ‘help refugees’.
I’m being quite cynical as I’m writing this (this may have something to do with my daily tug of war with marketing and sales which, for some reason, has left me more than usually irritated today) but try as I might, I really can’t imagine how the country must have felt on August 15, 1947.
Being a nation and self-governing after more than a century of ‘Dogs and Indians not permitted’… How must that have felt? Even though my parents try to explain, I can’t quite grasp it.
Nothing in my experience of the country has made me euphoric. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s just been growing cynicism by the day. And I’ve just finished reading The Better Angels of Our Nature – The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes by Steven Pinker, and that’s made me even more depressed about India. Violence may be declining elsewhere, but it’s having quite a party here.
But you know what, it’s been just 66 years.
Maybe we’ll have something to be euphoric about soon. (Shah Rukh Khan praising the Indian press perhaps?)