Asha Sridhar meets a hobbyist who has collected over 250 news clippings over the past 21 years
Since the time Vijay Shekhar was 12 years old, he read the newspaper religiously every morning, and like many children his age, he did not really understand what he was reading. On May 22, 1991, when newspapers announced that Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, 17-year-old Vijay decided to keep a copy of the day's paper for the first time.
“I was shaken,” he says. Since the last 21 years, he says he has collected over 250 news clippings of what he considered “breaking news”, one among which is ‘as old as free India'. “The first copy I collected was the May 22, 1991 copy of the Hindi newspaper “Awaaz” because The Statesman only had a Calcutta edition then, which reached Jamshedpur in the afternoon,” says Vijay who lived in Jamshedpur back then.
While delicately laying out the brittle page which reads, ‘Rajiv Gandhi killed in blast', he has an epiphany. “When I look back at all the newspaper clippings I have collected, I notice how almost 60 per cent of the clippings announce sad events like death and killings and only 40 per cent are about cheerful events like cricket victories,” he says defining what he considers “happy” and “sad”.
The headlines of various newspapers that span two decades, read somewhat like this — ‘Giani Zail Singh is dead', ‘Moraji Desai passes away', ‘275 die in train collision at Ferozabad', ‘Milk drinking idol creates country-wide frenzy', ‘Kalam rockets into presidential orbit', ‘ITS WAR ON MUMBAI' and ‘Bye, bye small change', among many others.
Filing newspaper clippings one after another in black and blue plastic folders, is perhaps, his way of arranging history, of binding together disparate events which he has been witness to. He wants his hobby to help him look back at these clippings, and say, “So this is how it happened”.
While there are glaring omissions to his collection, like the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and the appointment of the country's first woman president, among many others, he has not missed a single eclipse. “Either these events did not move me or I did not think they were consequential,” he says about the omissions. “Some of the omissions I regret making,” he adds.
His most ‘prized possession' however, is the original August 15, 1947 issue of The Statesman, which he got from the editor C.R. Irani after writing several letters and making several visits to the office in Calcutta. “During the Calcutta Book Fair in 2003, The Statesman came out with a booklet called ‘pages from the past' which was a compilation of important front pages. It struck me that if I tried hard, I could get the original copy of the Independence Day issue. I tried for close to three months and was given the Delhi edition of their August 15, 1947 issue,” he says admiring the copy that has a du Maurier advertisement on the right hand side that reads, ‘There'll never be a better cigarette'. “I love telling people that I have a paper that is as old as free India,” he says.
He has also preserved newspapers that came out on January 1, 2000 and January 1, 2001. “There was some confusion about when the millennium began, so to be on the safer side, I've kept both,” he says with a strange sense of delight. Having lived in many cities, he collected clippings from whichever newspapers he read at that time. “A newspaper is something that comes to every home. When you store a clipping that everyone will eventually forget about, you are preserving history,” he says.