Newspaper clippings of major events — that's what Vijay Shekhar has been collecting since Rajiv Gandhi's assassination
Vijay Shekhar's study table is strewn with newspaper reports of major tragedies in the last 21 years — to name just a few, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi (May 1991); the Bhuj earthquake (January 2001); the 9/11 terrorist strike (September 2001); the crash of the Columbia space shuttle that killed Kalpana Chawla (February 2003); and the 26/11 attack on Mumbai (November 2008).
While presenting his collection — numbering around 250 — the 37-year-old reveals he has been putting away news clippings of major events from 1991. “Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in Sriperumbudur started it all. As a 17-year-old, I was deeply shaken by the news. Watching the enveloping gloom, I realised the tragedy will be etched in the mind of the nation,” explains Vijay, a PR professional. “The majority of the cuttings relates to tragic events of national and international significance. Nothing grips people's imagination as powerfully as tragedies that have wider ramifications.”
Happy news too
Reports of joyful news also figure in his pile of papers, including India's cricket World Cup victory in 2011. His cuttings based on this triumph are different from the rest. “I have not taken the trouble to collect a pile of reports about a single major event, except for this victory. In the last 21 years, I have lived in Jamshedpur, Pune, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai, and I have always relied on the leading newspapers — that I subscribed to on a daily basis — in each of these cities for clippings. For the news of India clinching the World Cup, I gathered reports in newspapers from across the country. Through friends and relatives, I managed to collect around 30 clippings, and created a dossier.”
Another back-bending effort is the collection of whole editions where fateful events were recorded. “In 2003, when I was a resident of Kolkata, I attended its annual book fair. At The Statesman stall, a book containing copies of the front pages of old editions that captured unforgettable events — including the WWII bombing of Nagasaki and the Indian Independence — caught my eye.” Meeting with the editor of the newspaper, Vijay explained his hobby to him and managed to get the full copies of previous editions that reported some of these events.
Vijay's collection is partly dictated by personal preferences. Apart from collecting clippings only from newspapers in English and Hindi — these being the only languages that he can both read and write in — Vijay has ignored news reports that have rocked the world. He decided not to collect reports of Princess Diana's accident and death in 1997, which was a source of sustained media attention. Also missing are accounts of the Babri Masjid demolition. “The significance of the event did not register in my young mind — I was in my teens then,” says Vijay regretfully.
Going though the fascicle of cuttings, it's evident he has been getting more objective in the judgment of what constitutes historically significant news.