LITERARY NOTES: Munshi Mahboob Alam and Paisa Akhbar.

Byline: Rauf Parekh

NEWSPAPERS do not merely report events. They reflect civilisation and culture. Much of human struggle in modern times, political or otherwise, is recorded in newspapers. With the abolition of taxes on British newspapers in 1855, availability of cheap newsprint and inexpensive postal services made British newspapers available to the masses at low price. This paved the way for revolutions in many fields of human endeavour.

Some of the ideas copied from the British journalism in the Pakistan-India subcontinent include low-priced newspapers. Two of such Urdu newspapers launched in the subcontinent proved to be harbingers of modern journalism in the subcontinent: Akhbar-i-A'am and Paisa Akhbar. Both were weeklies, later on became dailies and both were priced at paisa one. Akhbar-i-A'am was launched on Jan 1, 1871 from Lahore and, passing through ups and downs, closed down in 1930. It was the first newspaper in the subcontinent that was priced at paisa one, showing the other newspapers how to popularise the habit of reading newspapers among commoners: simply by making a newspaper affordable for the common people. It was something already known in the west as 'penny press'.

But Paisa Akhbar has a different story. Munshi Mahboob Alam, Paisa Akhbar's founder and editor, was an ambitious and innovative person. He had launched an Urdu weekly named Himmat in 1888 from Ferozwala, district of Gujranwala. Soon he began publishing School Master, another Urdu weekly. Then he realised that a low-priced but good quality Urdu newspaper was the need of the hour. So he renamed his weekly Himmat as Paisa Akhbar and moved on to Gujranwala. The first issue had the print order of only 100 copies. Being the owner, editor, publisher, printer and even the hawker, Mahboob Alam had to do every job himself. His brother helped him hawk the paper. Soon he began publishing Zameendar-o-Baghban-o-Baitar, too, an Urdu magazine on agriculture and allied fields. He moved to Lahore in 1889 with his publications. Soon the circulation of Paisa Akhbar began to grow and with it the advertising revenue, something not very common in those days.

Going against the practices in vogue, Mahboob Alam changed the size of Paisa Akhbar, drastically reduced the annual subscription, forcing the other newspapers to reduce their price. He started publishing interesting articles translated directly from English newspapers and giving the excerpts of news prominently. He added many...

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