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'The Musalman' - World's only handwritten newspaper which is 90-years-old and sells at 75 paise
Did you know that in this day and age when just about every other kid can been seen hooked on to his smartphone browsing for information, there's a newspaper which is still written by hand!

Yes, you read that right, 'The Musalaman' is a 90-year-old Urdu daily which gets published from the southern Indian city of Chennai even today. The newspaper is trying hard to survive in this technology driven era.

The Musalman, a family-run venture, was started by Syed Azatullah in 1927 with the idea of giving a voice to Muslims. After his death, his son Syed Fazlullah became the second editor of the newspaper and began running the show. The Musalman is now run by Syed Arifullah, Fazlullah's son, who is in his mid-30s and became its third editor after his father's demise. An educated man, Arifullah holds 13 degrees and has been at the helm of affairs for almost a decade.

The first things you notice at the Udru daily's office located in a tight lane next to Chennai's iconic Wallajah Mosque are heaps of paper, ink bottles and pens used in calligraphy. And yes, it's perhaps world's only newspaper office where you would struggle to come across a computer, as the entire paper is painstakingly handwritten before it goes to print instead of the conventional and modern method of using desktop publishing.

Every day, the office begins at 10 am and two translators set the news in Urdu which is then handwritten by 3 calligraphers, known as katibs using calligraphy pens and ink. After this whole process is completed in two hours, the paper goes to print at around 1 pm and finally reaches its 21,000 readers by the evening.

Arifullah himself selects the articles to be published in the 4-page newspaper. Much on the lines of The Economist, the newspaper does not have bylines.

Selling at a cheap price of 75 paise per copy, The Musalman is India's cheapest newspaper which translates into the fact the Arifullah's income comes from the press and not from selling the newspaper.

Although the newspaper covers all sorts of stories, the focus generally remains on opinions rather than news. Arifullah says, "We don't carry breaking news. It's very difficult to rewrite entire pages, so we stopped."

The newspaper also carries a few advertisements in Urdu and English, of tour operators, furniture, jewellery etc. along with some government tenders. The front page is reserved for top stories and international news. The editorial is published on page two and the remaining two pages are dedicated to local news and advertisements. However, the paper's Monday edition has a different format where the content focuses mainly on Quran and Islamic history.

Unlike other newspapers The Musalman has no plans of going online, as Arifullah feels that the paper's uniqueness lies in being handwritten, deviating from which would kill the legacy.

The newspaper has readers spread across the country. "Delhi, Kolkata... families who have been subscribing to the newspaper for generations. We send them the paper by courier. It's a very personal process," says Arifullah.

Calligraphy, which is the soul of The Musalman is a dying art in today's technology-driven print media. The katibs who regularly found employment with Urdu publishing houses have now become dispensable. The last government institute, the Industrial Training Institute in Srinagar, which taught Urdu calligraphy, in May last year wound up the course as it had no takers.

In the meanwhile, Arifullah continues to carry the legacy forward, in hope that perhaps someday, thing will change and The Musalman would be given a new lease of life, but until then, it's business as usual for India's cheapest handwritten Urdu daily.

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