Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee


Role of the Vernacular Press in shaping the idea of India

Last week I was invited by Kolkata based Bhawanipur Educational Society College to take part in a panel discussion on Vernacular Press on the occasion of 200 years of Vernacular journalism in India. It was in 1818 that the first vernacular language newspaper was published from Kolkata. I spoke on the role of vernacular press in shaping the idea of India.

Let me first elaborate on what do I mean by the idea of India. The history of the geographical entity now called India dates back to 3rd millennium BCE. Over time this land has been inhabited by people coming from different regions for different reasons. As they lived here, their cultural practices, language permeated in the land and there were considerable intermingling of culture, which gradually gave rise to some traits which were imbibed over generations across the country. These traits coagulated into what I call the constructs of the idea of India. These are:

  • Cross cultural overlaps
  • Celebration of human plurality
  • Ideology of immersive cultural aspirations
  • Living with multiple Identity

The points that I tried to make in my deliberation were:

  1. In pre-independence period vernacular language media, besides helping the freedom movement played an important role in creating a feeling of pan-Indian nationalism.
  2. Persons from different regions speaking different languages played vital role in developing media in different language speaking areas, thereby checking the linguistic jingoism.
  3. In the last decade a dangerous trend is gradually emerging among the vernacular language media: playing to the gallery of its own language readers. This somehow is beginning to impact the national unity and national institutions. Vernacular media must take cognizance of this trend and seriously introspect and begin course correction.
  4. As technology advances, it has become easy to be hyper local in content with a global reach of readers/viewers. Vernacular languages are also using this technology to reach people of that language, spread all over the world. Without an intrinsic openness and 360 degree world view, this might lead to a linguistic and regional ‘ghettoisation‘.

Rest in Peace, my friends

Chandrabhanu Pattnaik and Radhanath Mahapatra- both died on the same day, 9 May 2018 in the same city, Bhubaneswar. One succumbed to Cancer, the other fell prey to heart ailments. One was 60, the other was 56. Radhanath Mahapatrae would have turned 57 in another week. Both were my colleagues in Sambad, an Odia daily in which all of us began our career as journalists. Chandrabhanu (I used to call him him Bhai, elder brother in Odia) Pattnaik  and me- we joined on the same day in Sambad in 1984.

Chandrabhanu Pattnaik and Radhanath Mahapatra both were fine journalists and fine human beings. Chandrabhanu Bhai was closer to me  because both of us were teaching English literature before we joined Sambad and  quite often we used to work in the same desk. We worked together for over a decade before he left to start his own venture and I switched once again to teaching.

He started a news magazine titled Satabdi, which created a bench mark in Magazine journalism in Odisha till a certain point. He joined one of the oldest Odia daily Samaja and became its editor. His stint in Samaja as the editor was short but eventful. For some time he dabbled in television journalism and even hosted a talk show. Then Cancer struck. He battled it bravely. And just when it seemed like he was winning and getting back to his groove, his journey came to an abrupt end.

Radhanath Mahapatra, son of well-known play wright Bhubaneswar Mahapatra from the beginning of his career concentrated on films and television and made a name for himself as a sensible film-critic. After Sambad he worked in several Odia dailies including Dharitri, Samaya, Prameya and Nitidina. He also worked with a television channel, Taranga.  He was an erudite writer, translator and lyricist. He was the founder member of Orissa Cine Critic Association.
I’ll miss them both. Rest in peace, my friends.

Science and Technology Day

11 May is celebrated as National Science and Technology Day. It is being commemorated to memorize the anniversary of Shakti, the Pokhran nuclear test held on 11 May 1998.

Though often we talk about science and technology as a synonym of the other, there is considerable difference between the two. The purpose of technology is to use knowledge learned through science to make products that benefit society. Its purpose is to make tasks simpler for humans to perform. This also allows us to be able to conduct business faster and increase profits and production.

New technology has historically had unpredictable and unprecedented impacts upon society. A new term “general-purpose technology”, or GPT, has seen extensive use in recent treatments of the role of technology in economic growth, and is usually reserved for changes that transform both household life and the ways in which firms conduct business.

Steam, electricity, internal combustion, and information technology (IT) are often classified as GPTs for this reason. They affected the whole economy. Consider Printing machine. Invented in mid fifteenth century by Gutenburg (1395 – February 3, 1468) democratised knowledge. Consider telephone. With the invention of the telephone in 1876, its uses were thought to be limited to businessmen alone and socialization by phone was even discouraged. However, within half a century it revolutionised the way human beings communicated. Consider mobile phone.  Along with Internet it has emerged as the prime instrument of communication and gradually foraging into other areas like audio-visual  entertainment and gaming.  People are taking to technology at an increasingly faster rate.

Technology impacts society- in more ways than it shows.  Therefore, it is important for the technocrats to think about the technology they are or will develop.

Tail piece: True Patriot

Wife saw the fridge full of Kingfisher beer bottles kept by husband.

She asked: “What is this for?”

Husband’s humble answer: “I’m doing what the banks and the Govt could not do… freezing the properties of Vijay Mallya. “After freezing, I will also liquidate these assets.”


A true patriot is never off-duty.

(Courtesy: Social Media)


Journalist-turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee also writes fiction. English translation of his Odia novel Shakti is being published shortly.

Comments are closed.