Dr Ajaz Anwar talks of a variety of newspapers that were taken out from Lahore
Lahore has always been the centre of educational, cultural and political activities. No wonder it was also the city where the biggest number of newspapers were published.
The earliest newspaper to come out from Lahore was in Urdu language, titled Koh -i-Noor. It was published by Munshi Nevil Kishore in 1849, with the backing of the East India Company government. It was because the government feared that the word of mouth could be more inflammatory than the real news. The printed news was regarded more authentic because if there was any inconsistency the journalist or the newspaper publisher could be held responsible.
Koh-i-Noor was 12x8 inches spread over eight pages. It only covered government announcements and new legislation. Some news from other countries was also included, with reference to foreign papers.
Darya-i-Noor was brought out by Faqir Shahsawaruddin. Both these papers competed with and criticised each other, thereby contributing to a healthy tradition in journalism.
Punjabi Harkara was published in Gurumukhi script. During and after the 1857 War of Independence, the Company government imposed strict censorship on the newspapers. Munshi Harsukh Rai was imprisoned for three years under the press control laws. In its editorial, dated April 29, 1856, Koh-i-Noor reported that the government was considering limiting the freedom of press, and that the journalists must resist such a move.
Koh-i-Noor was printed in both English and Urdu languages, on the same pages, because more people, including the local Christians, could speak and read English. Mian Gul Mohammad Munshi used to translate the Urdu columns into English. The paper acted as a training ground for young journalists. Nadir Ali Shah, Tajuddin Mirza Muahid, Muharram Ali Chishti and Abdullah were the leading journalists of the time. They later went on to publish their own newspapers.
An English newspaper, Lahore Chronicle was published by Syed Waqar Azim. His son, SM Latif, wrote the famous books on the history of the Punjab and Lahore and its antiquities. Lahore Chronicle had to be closed down soon. Its Punjabi version became a tri-weekly but it too had to be discontinued. Its sister publication in English was also shut because of lack of advertisements and a small print order. The Urdu section, however, continued till 1890.
The most successful newspaper to come out of Lahore was Paisa Akhbar, founded by Maulvi Mahboob Alam in 1887. The paper was so named because of its selling price. Alam served as its editor, calligrapher and printer. It soon became a leading printing and publishing house, which was to print some 700 books. It also published magazines, namely, Intikhab Lajawaab, Shareef Bibi for women, Bachhon Ka Akhbar for children and Baghbaan for farmers.
Alam was an ardent follower of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.
Paisa Akhbar was a serious newspaper. Its daily print order was 11,000 which was the largest in those times. It survived both its rivalry with the daily Zamindar and a serious fire. But eventually it too had to be wound up. Its mention has survived as a locale name (remember the Paisa Akhbar Street?).
In early colonial times, papers could not openly criticise the government of the day. Moreover, accounts of various disasters such as earthquakes and floods, and incidents of public interest such as the festivals, the visits by foreign dignitaries, the introduction of electricity, water supply, aviation and train services, and even the incidents of crime could be studied from the real-time witness accounts.
The 20th Century brought with it new opportunities for journalists. Cartoonists and photographers too became essential members of the team. Advertisements were now the main source of income/ finances for the newspapers. The founding of new political parties necessitated their affiliation of the newspapers on religious or sectarian lines. Zamindar began publishing as a weekly in 1903. Its owner was Maulvi Sirajuddin Ahmad Khan. The paper led the farmers’ awakening. When the British rulers framed laws seen as harmful to the farmers in the canal colonies, Chaudhry Shahabuddin, who was the then speaker of the Punjab Assembly, wrote a fiery column in the paper. It was titled Pagrri sambhal Jatta. Eventually, the government withdrew the intended law and the newspaper became popular among the masses.
After Sirajuddin’s demise, his son, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, assumed charge and made the paper a daily. It was published form McLeod Road, Lahore.
Under Zafar Ali Khan Zamindar became the mouthpiece of Muslim nationalism. Khan introduced satire and counter attacks through his columns. He was rounded up many times, his press was confiscated and hefty fines were imposed, which were paid by his admirers. Today, its impressive building houses a hotel named after it, for the travellers getting off from the nearby railway station. A trust founded by his friends and managed by their descendants, carries out various cultural and journalistic activities in Noon Avenue, Muslim Town. Old newspapers and photographs can be accessed in its archives.
In 1927, Maulana Salik and Ghulam Rasul Mehr resigned from Zamindar and obtained the declaration for Inqilaab. True to its name, the paper proved quite a revolutionary publication. The duo collected hundred rupees each from forty odd friends as life subscription.
It soon became a successful paper of the day. But being a serious paper it didn’t gain much popularity, especially among those looking for humour and satire.
Moreover, the paper shunned rumours. It strongly supported the Pakistan Movement and opposed the Nehru Report and declared the Communal Award unsatisfactory.
To be continued
(This dispatch is dedicated to M Naeem, the chief librarian of Government College, Lahore)
The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org