On returning from my vacation, one letter stood out in my inbox. Balanced and insightful, it spoke about Hindustan Times’ coverage of Maharashtra Day on May 1.
“Your four-page pullout was unparalleled for an English-language newspaper,” wrote Parag Naik. “Kudos to you for giving [readers], especially newcomers to this city, a window into the state’s history and rich literary heritage. For example, you introduced thousands of readers to luminaries such as Acharya Atre, C.D. Deshmukh, Mrinal Gore and Ahilya Rangnekar.
“Because we don’t have many good English sources of information about Marathi culture, there is a disconnect between the city’s non-Maharashtrians and Maharashtrians. As Readers’ Editor, you yourself have argued that Mumbai needs a constructive dialogue between the two.
“People’s opinions about Marathi-speaking people are often shaped by Bollywood stereotypes, which usually do not go beyond that of the bai and the corrupt police hawaldar. Your nuanced coverage will therefore go a long way in creating an atmosphere for better understanding.”
I, too, was impressed with HT’s coverage on May 1, orchestrated and executed by Senior Associate Editor Vaibhav Purandare and Associate Editor Shailesh Gaikwad and his team.
But it was not an exception. Over the past year, HT has made a determined effort to cover the Maharashtrian world better, in terms of volume and quality.
“We have looked closely at the evolving socio-cultural scene,” said Purandare. “We were the first to write about the reasons for Marathi cinema’s revival; we not only widely covered this year’s Marathi literary meet in Pune but used the occasion to examine trends in Marathi literature, something no other English daily attempted to do; when actor Nilu Phule, music composer Bhaskar Chandavarkar and writer-poet Vinda Karandikar passed away, we did detailed reports highlighting their contributions.”
HT’s coverage is not restricted to features or one-off events. “The newspaper’s revamped nation section has detailed reports every day from various regions of Maharashtra that put the state in the larger context of a fast-changing India,” said Purandare.
“We realise that our readers would not only like to know the Marathi world but understand it in the right context, one that is not coloured by politically motivated talk,” he continued. “Which is why, as the reader has pointed out, stalwarts such as Acharya Atre and Ahilya Rangnekar got prominence in our May 1 coverage — not just today’s headline-grabbing netas.”
I have little to add except to emphasise Purandare’s last point. Besides Bollywood’s caricatures, which the reader has already noted, the state’s politicians are also to blame for some people’s distorted view of Marathi culture.
The parochialism and violence of the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena as well as the cynical milking of Mumbai by successive generations of politicians from the Congress and its offshoots have not helped. Along with celebrating Marathi culture, HT must therefore not cease to highlight this deplorable side of the state’s political life.