Her talk is hardly different than that of most grandmothers. “Call me narrow-minded, but today’s newspapers carry such vulgar ads,” says Santosh Puri, the director of Central News Agency (CNA), one of Delhi’s biggest and oldest companies that distributes Indian as well as foreign newspapers in the Capital.
Puri sits at her family-owned company’s office at P-block, Connaught Place. While CNA was founded by a government official named Balak Ram Puri in 1936, Puri joined the company 30 years later — following her marriage with the founder’s younger son. Then Delhi was different. “In the bus, the men offered their seats to women,” she says. “I can’t imagine that now.” The cultural shift has also affected Puri’s office, which, also doubles up as a bookstore. “People now watch TV. So the reading and the crowd has taken a beating,” she says.
In the 80s, Rajiv Gandhi would hop in to get the foreign photography magazines. “He was very gentle,” recalls Puri. Teji Bachchan, actor Amitabh Bachchan’s late mother, came daily in an auto to pick newspapers. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was a regular visitor too. Once he rang Puri to confirm if his copy of The Guardian Weekly had arrived. Later that day, Puri left, Dr Singh arrived, and was told by a confused shop assistant that the journal hadn’t come yet. The morning after Puri called Dr Singh to apologise who requested her to have a word with the assistant. “Son, always make a thorough check before giving the customer a reply,” he said gently. Due to security reasons, Dr Singh has not stepped in since he became the Prime Minister in 2004.
“We had intellectuals crowding the place here,” Puri says. “Now it’s usually empty.” Does it get boring during the day? “But I enjoy the newspapers,” she says. In her 74th year, the lady doesn’t have any plans to retire. “I don’t want to be at home and gossip,” says Puri. “Our staff is nice and I like reading.”