Dr Ajaz Anwar discusses the role of zamimas as news breakers
Our traditional news-breaker used to be the man with the drum who would scream headlines accompanied with the intermittent beating of the drum and, sometimes, jingling of the bells. “Suniye janab–i-aala!” he’d holler. “Kya kehta hai manaadi wala?”
The announcement for some wrestling match would always create a lot of buzz. There would be a number of wrestlers on a tonga, sporting extra-large shirts and big turbans, and holding some gurz (mace). The children would dance to the beat of the drum.
With the arrival of newspapers, advertisements were printed/ published in local dailies. They had to be compiled, edited and printed expeditiously to meet the deadlines and distributed in time. For the uninitiated, the newspaper industry depends not on the number of copies sold or the print order as much as on the advertisements it gets from both public and private sectors, depending on how popular a paper is. Some nepotism was alleged as part of political bribe.
The papers to be sent out to other cities were printed early and dispatched through trains or buses by midnight. Local editions were printed later, to be distributed early morning.
Sometimes they contained Stop Press columns. This meant that any latest (read breaking) news was incorporated by stopping the press.
In Lahore, the newspaper market is famously located on Circular Road, off the Hospital Road. It is here that all local newspapers are collected by the hawkers, which they deliver by hand, going from door to door.
The hawker is a very important member in the chain of the newspaper printing industry. Hence, the akhbar farosh unions can threaten to fight for their rights.
The hawkers charge a nominal fee for all complimentary copies. Some hawkers still do their job on bicycles, while some ride their motorbikes. They are always in a big hurry. They remember exactly which paper is required at which house in the locality they are assigned. They arrange all in the right sequence, and rolling each individual paper, they quickly throw them over the gate and speed off.
There were days when the hawker would slip your favourite morning read through the narrow crevice in your door while it was still dark. Riding his Hercules bicycle with a cloth sheet bound around the front frame, all his merchandise was firmly secured for ready reach. He would send out a coded (voice) message upon each delivery, lest the sleeping dogs should alert the whole neighbourhood.
All papers had to be distributed. The bill would be collected after the pay-day.
Nowadays, any unsold papers are non-returnable; thus, the shops selling newspapers in various localities have disappeared. In the past, every locality had a vendor display papers for prospective buyers. People would read the headlines of the papers and discuss the looming atomic fall-out.
The distributers are known as news agents. The oldest news agency was run by a Goanese whose signboard “de Morrio and company” is still on display at the YMCA building on the Mall.
The hawkers are also into an advertisement business of their own. Now you can print your own ads on glossy, coloured papers, and ask the hawkers to insert these in the newspapers for a small financial consideration. Once, I too had to seek such help because the mosque committee had refused to make the announcement for my lost/ stolen Jackie.
Not all news can wait till the following day’s edition. By the afternoon, some hawkers would storm the neighbourhood, belching “Ho gya, ho gya!” These were called zamimas, or eveningers.
Anyone with a small, litho stone press would print a single page on the latest developments or news. The Pakistan Times started one such edition on January 25, 1947. It was priced at two paisas. That very day, the Punjab Muslim League’s Big Seven had got Lady Shahnawaz arrested. Independence riots on both sides of the divide, in which hundreds of thousands had to leave their ancestral houses, was barely reported in the supplementaries. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, however, took a daring tour of the troubled East Punjab and prepared a fiery report accompanied with photographs.
The Kashmir War that forced so many to migrate was also a hot topic, because the things by then had settled relatively.
The coming into being of Pakistan Television Corporation did not quite affect the newspaper industry, because PTV was only audio-visual and no replay or VTR.
PTV’s advertisements, though far more expensive, opened the door for live and animated visuals. Moreover, the initial airing was only for three days. It was initiated by Aslam Azhar. Agha Bashir was the director general at Lahore and Taufiq Ejaz was the ‘live’ set designer.
Monday would be the day off.
Things have changed with the new-age media that includes multiple private channels and the ever growing social media. The print media is left to fight for survival.
While journalists are being waylaid, the moderators on the TV channels are enjoying a windfall never dreamt before.
Note: Free art classes, all ages and genders, are held every Sunday online at houseofnannas.com
(This dispatch is dedicated to the late Nizami sahib)
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