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India's Handwritten Daily Faces Digital Demolition

Urdu calligraphy

In New Delhi, India, tucked into Wallajah Mosque, The Musalman daily newspaper maintains a unique and painstaking tradition: reporting by hand, in Urdu calligraphy, reports Wired.

The Musalman covers local politics and English stories translated into Urdu, as well as poetry, messages on devotion to God and communal harmony.

It has been hailed as a "hub of South Asian liberalism, employing both women and non-Muslims," with half the katibs female and a Hindu chief reporter. It operates much the way it has since its inception in 1927.

Each katib writes one page. When one is sick, others pull double-shift, as no replacements exist anywhere in the city. Mistakes elicit a whole rewriting from scratch, and each katib earns approximately $1.50 per page.

The paper is sold for the equivalent of a penny on the sidewalks of Chennai.

Rehaman Hussein, The Musalman's current overseer, has inscribed the paper's front page for over 20 years. "Urdu is a clean language," he said. "It is the language of our Koran."

But the art of Urdu calligraphy is slowly facing eclipse in favor of faster pursuits, and Hussein faces the digital divide right in his own home. The paper has no clear successor, and his son Syed Nasarulla admits he would only reluctantly take the paper on.

"I understand Urdu, but have no interest in calligraphy," he said. "There is no practical reason we have not gone to computers. If my father asks me to take over I will take over, but there will be changes."


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