The Navroz died too soon

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The Navroz died too soon. Else this year it would have completed a centenary. For 72 years it had served its constituency without fear of antagonising powerful constituents or bowing to commercial gods. Two generations had helmed this small weekly paper with 24×7 dedication. There wasn’t a third. For this i plead guilty, seduced as i was by the infinitely larger, more glamorous platforms of the Times Group. Eduljee Kanga’s idealistic dream was inspired by the still-fetal freedom struggle, but though he thought national, he sensibly acted hyperlocal. His paper would cater for  all the  Gujarati-speaking minorities of Calcutta, a rainbow coalition of several Gujarati sects,  Bohras, Khojas, Kutchhi Memons and his own Parsis.

It was a given that Eduljee’s son would take over this proudly straplined ‘Eastern India’s only Gujarati journal’. Problem was that young Navel was only English-educated. He circumvented this by abandoning his Anglo-Indian girlfriends and dutifully marrying a ‘Gujarati-medium’ bride from the western hamlet of Navsari. The simple, matric-pass teenager, whose life had been circumscribed by home, school and the Meherji Rana library, metamorphosed into the Navroz’s much-respected editor – and nurturer of literary talent.

Jaloo and Navel Kanga were at their desks from morn till night. It helped that they lived at their workplace. Or it didn’t. People would barge in even late at night with insertions for the paper or printing jobwork. My sentimental dad refused to raise rates to current realities gently telling my distraught mum that Shri X, Y-Ji had been Navroz’s well-wishers ‘Pappa na time thi.’ End of argument.

This organic owner/editor-reader bond grew from old-fashioned integrity. A community’s size doesn’t matter when it comes to intrigue and tensions. Or the number of religious, cultural and do-gooder institutions. In fact, our Calcutta minorities were also far away from the mother lode. They needed myriad points of affirmation. The Navroz reported, commented, dispassionately analysed, and pumped up pride with pix of little trophy-winners. In the process, it unself-consciously strengthened the primeval glue that is community.

My most goose-bumped memory is of each early Dhanteras muharat hour. Traditionally dressed Gujaratis would arrive, and as reverentially accept the first copies  of the  highly literary Diwali annual presented to them by my parents; they’d sweated blood over it the past month. The ritual began  with my grandfather, honouring support offered during the vulnerable years of his dream. Palpably, Navroz and its ‘Kanga dampati’ were niched in their constituency’s heart. Which is why pride mitigates my guilt over not continuing this legacy.

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Alec Smart said: “Mr Bumble said, ‘The law is an ass’. Will the 40 lakh rejected people say ‘The NRC is an Assam’?”

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