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The tricky task of pleasing readers

If you get five readers of HT together, you are likely to get six contradictory opinions about what the newspaper ought to be covering and publishing.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2011 00:50 IST
Sumana Ramanan

If you get five readers of HT together, you are likely to get six contradictory opinions about what the newspaper ought to be covering and publishing. This raucous diversity makes the newspaper’s job more challenging than if it had a more homogeneous group of readers but it also makes it more interesting.

It also means that a newspaper that manages to satisfy some of its readers some of the time is doing a fairly decent job. But people are usually less vocal when they are pleased than when they are not, so I don’t often get to write about such readers and such occasions.

Last week, I received a response that did give me such a rare opening. But it also supported my first point about the impossibility of pleasing everyone, because it expressed views about arts coverage that differed from those of another reader, about which I had written a month ago.

Last week, Milind Sathe, who owns the online art gallery IndiaArt.com, wrote saying how much he liked ‘From nowhere village in Rajasthan to the Edinburgh Fest’, which appeared on August 21 on the Mosaic page. Dedicated to culture, travel and lifestyle trends, Mosaic appears in HT Mumbai’s eight-page ‘Think!’ features section every Sunday. (See page 16 in today’s edition.)

The article, by Riddhi Doshi, HT’s arts correspondent, was about Bhanwari Devi, a 50-year-old mother of nine, who had been invited to the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland to sing folk songs traditionally sung to bless or heal ailing children.

Bhanwari Devi comes from a community of folk singers, the Bhopas, who are highly respected in Rajasthan for their semi-religious performances. Trained by her parents, Bhanwari began performing when she was 10. She caught the eye of playback singer Rekha Bharadwaj at last year’s Rajasthan International Folk Festival in Jodhpur.

“I really liked the story,” said Pune-based Sathe. “It is an inspiring story, one that testifies to the talent that India has even in its small villages.”

Two months ago, another reader had written to me complaining about an article on Mosaic that had described the struggle of young artists to find working space in the city after graduating from their art colleges and in one stroke losing access to indispensable infrastructure, such as studios, supplies, models, etc.

The reader suggested that when the city had so many homeless people, devoting newsprint and resources to the struggle of artists to find studio space was a tad frivolous. “Instead of focusing on the problems of rich painters,” the reader had written, “the newspaper should serve the common people.”

I had responded to this reader a month ago, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say that I had in essence argued that writing about the arts was not inimical to serving the common person. In some cases, as with Bhanwari Devi, the coverage itself involves a “common” person, if one must use such terminology.

As HT’s weekend editor, I can add here that the Mosaic page does not make a distinction between “high” and “low” art. Moreover, rather than restrict itself to artists and their shows, Mosaic tries to capture trends, write about personalities and describe challenges in the huge eco-system around artists.

It has for instance, carried stories about the rise of the professional curator in India and on the challenges that fine arts students from rural areas who come to Mumbai to study face while trying to make it in the city’s urbane art world. Today, it has a story about how online galleries — including Sathe’s — websites and Facebook are giving artists visibility and new markets.