Meet the people who bring newspaper to your doorstep

Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By
Oct 17, 2018 11:11 AM IST

Welcome to the world of newspaper vendors, the faceless soldiers who beat all odds, be it rain, cold, or delays, to deliver newspapers at your doorstep for a mere ₹1500 a month.

The streets are still covered in a blanket of dark and most residents are deep in slumber, but there is hectic activity at several spots of the tricity. Men, young and old, are busy bundling loads of different newspapers with a speed born out of daily practice. They are racing to finish their job before the tricity awakes. How else will people get to savour their paper with bed-tea?

Welcome to the world of newspaper vendors, the faceless soldiers who beat all the odds and race against time to finish their job while the rest of the world is deep in slumber(Photo: Subhashree Nanda/Karun Sharma/HT)
Welcome to the world of newspaper vendors, the faceless soldiers who beat all the odds and race against time to finish their job while the rest of the world is deep in slumber(Photo: Subhashree Nanda/Karun Sharma/HT)

Welcome to the world of newspaper vendors, the faceless soldiers who beat all odds, be it rain, cold, or delays, to deliver newspapers at your doorstep for a mere 1500 a month.

Life of a carrier

Lalit Kumar Malhotra, 66, a newspaper vendor with a white French beard, has been rising before the sun at 4.30am for the past four decades. Malhotra, who has his spot in the Sector 15 market, started working at the age of eight.

“Ever since, I have not missed a single day of work.”

All these years, his cycle has been his trusty companion. Today it’s part of his job and identity. Fitness, he says, is a byproduct of this job.

“It is a daily workout. This is the only job with no retirement blues. My father, a former newspaper vendor, is fit at 93.”

Malhotra, who retired from the health department recently, can chronicle the changes newspapers have seen over the years.

“Initially the pullouts used to come separately, now they are one copy.” Ask him if social media has changed anything, he shrugs, “Nothing can beat the addiction of holding a newspaper early in the morning.”

But people have changed. “There was a time when a customer asked me to take shelter at his home when it started raining furiously, I don’t know whether people will do that anymore.”

The secret of Malhotra’s success lies in multiple white sheets scribbled with a zillion numbers, neatly separated by sharp lines. He says, “This file has all data from the day I started.”

The challenges

Madan Sharma, 52, president of the vendor association, Samachar Patr Vitreta Sangh (SPVS) rues that newspaper readership is falling.

“With the advent of social media, the news is just a click away,” says Sharma, who has been in the business for 28 years and claims to knows all the families he services. SPVS has 370 registered vendors who employ over 1,000 beat boys to deliver over 3.5 lakh newspapers a day.

When I started, he says, a cup of tea, tyre puncture repair, a samosa and a newspaper, all cost 2. Now, the price of everything has gone up except for the newspaper.

“We have gone backwards in the business. We get the same 25% commission per newspaper that we got two decades ago.”

‘A day of our own’

Arun Kumar, 33, SPVS general secretary, who is busy separating bundles of different newspaper on the Sector 15 pavement, says vendors must be sharp and systematic. “It is important to remember which newspaper goes to which house, there is no scope of mix-ups.”

“Press is the fourth pillar of democracy and we are their first pillar,” says Kumar, who is into the business of adhesive solutions.

Kumar says, “We celebrate Newspaper Carrier Day on October 15 as it is the birth anniversary of former president APJ Abdul Kalam, who also started off as a vendor.”

The worst enemies in their line of work, he says, are rain and biting cold. “We have already braved one of them, on to the winters now,” he signs off.

The man who peddled his way to success

Additional solicitor general of India and former Chandigarh MP Satya Pal Jain, needs no introduction. With a decorated career spanning decades, Jain has held important positions in power chambers. But, not many are aware of his humble beginnings which have had a profound impact on his journey so far.

Jain’s father Rup Lal Jain was a newspaper agent in Kharar. He was in Class 8 when his father developed a lung problem which later converted into chronic bronchitis.

“We are four brothers. When my father fell ill, I was still in school. Doctors had advised him complete bed rest, so we started helping him in newspaper distribution,” says Jain

Reminiscing the older times, he says, “At that time, newspapers used to be transported from Mumbai and Delhi via Kalka-Howrah Express to the railway station in old Panchkula, from there a fellow newspaper vendor used to get all the bundles and drop at Kharar bus stand. So, we used to get the newspapers from the bus.”

“We would eagerly wait for the arrival of first bus as it had all the stock. Sometimes, we used to climb on the back of the bus to get the newspaper, following which we used to place them at our shop under a neem tree at the bus stand,” says Jain, who worked as vendor for eight years.

“The distribution work started from 5 am, took two hours, covering houses and shops, following which I used to rush back home to get ready for school. Back then, a newspaper used to cost 8 naya paisa,” he informs.

“After finishing school, I used to go back to the shop again to sell newspapers. Those were the good old days of Kundan, Sarika, Chandamama, Nandan,” he says with excitement, adding, I was always excited to read Chandamama first. After reading it, I used to wrap it back neatly.

Talking about fond memories, he says, “I still remember the day when former Punjab chief minister, justice, Gurnam Singh stopped his car to buy newspapers. From then on, he regularly used to visit and talk to me.”

Blessed with a photogenic memory, Jain remembers all the houses in Chandigarh from where he has sold newspapers.

“After my father got a distribution agency in Chandigarh, I used to take newspapers from Sector 22 and go to Sector 15 to distribute it among hawkers. By this time I was in college. Those were the days when Emergency was declared. Due to the blackout, the taxis used to start late, in turn affecting the entire process. As a result, I used to be late for my first English period. One day, my teacher, Professor Batra, scolded me in the class due to frequent delays. However, when I told him about delivering the newspapers, he was supportive,” he says.

“After finishing my law degree, when I entered the district court first time for a case, the judge and I looked at each other trying to recollect. After the hearing, he called me to his chamber. It was then I realised that I used to deliver newspapers at his house as a boy. He had become a judge and I an advocate, life came full circle in that moment,” he says.

Sharing an emotional childhood memory, Jain says, “To earn extra and pay rent ( 4/month) my mother and we siblings used to make bags out of the newspaper covers till midnight.”

Jain who wears the badge of his past proudly, agrees that there are many taboos attached with the profession. “Society has never thought about or respected this section. People refer to beat boys as ‘oye’ (oye munde gal sunn). They also have a name,” he says.

“It is difficult to get up early on a daily basis especially when you are ill. Vendors only get holidays four days in year (Independence Day, Republic Day, Diwali, Holi),”he says.

“Your right to information depends upon the services provided by these people. They should be recognised and provided social security for that,” he says.

In his message to the vendors, he says, “Article 51 lays down the duties of citizens, one of which is to strive for excellence. So, be it a peon, house maker or a journalist, make the best out of everything. If god has written it in your luck to be a newspaper vendor, accept it with grace and dignity and give it your best. Who knows one day you be at a higher position.”


    Shilpa Ambardar is a senior content producer. She edits for Patna and Ranchi news desk. Previously, she was attached with the Chandigarh and Ludhiana news desks of Hindustan Times.

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