There have been recent, somewhat unconfirmed reports that Kolkata’s venerable media institution, The Statesman, has sold its palatial building, a heritage property, for a promoter to build a mall within it. Being a heritage property, the builder is unlikely to be able to change the beautiful facade, but will definitely destroy what is within, including more than a hundred years of literary and journalistic heritage. It is sad and shameful.
However, the mall rumour had been there earlier as well, when it was said that Ravindra Kumar, the editor and owner of this great institution, had signed a deal with Emaar of West Asia to build an international mall. Considering the low-key Kolkata market, that did not fructify. Now this new rumour and the name of a very shady Kolkata promoter group are being bandied about in this regard.
We will have to see what happens, but social media is agog and there have been ruminations, especially from all who have been in any way associated with The Statesman at any point of their lives, saying what a good daily it was. The problem is that The Statesman is still being published. It is not dead, not yet. It has been shod of all its glory, all its mannerisms and aura, the building has been denuded from inside – even the extraordinary wood panels have been stripped off and sold – and every ounce of the magnificent spirit of this culturally opulent institution has been sucked out and destroyed in a completely shameless manner. And everybody knows who is responsible: definitely not the markets and not The Telegraph either.
In fact, when the infant The Telegraph reached the circulation of The Statesman, its movers – owner Aveek Sarkar and editor MJ Akbar – had hired a huge hoarding just opposite the magnificent facade of The Statesman and had one line in it: Salaam Statesman. Frankly, as Akbar told his wards at The Telegraph, it was an honour and a privilege. It was also because The Statesman was busy doing slow hara-kiri or it simply would not have been possible for The Telegraph to take over the mantle, in a city that breathes and lives in its past.
So, the story within the story is that The Statesman is still alive; on its last legs, but alive. Sometimes you see it on the stands in Kolkata, some people still read it. The standards have slipped, the news is pungent, the English itself is pathetic – Calcuttans, those days, grew up with The Statesman’s English; the daily taught more syllables and usages than any school the city could – and the presentation is less than pedestrian. But it is there. What happens after an obscene mall comes up around those haloed corridors nobody can say, but as of now, there is time left, yet, for the obituary of the country’s greatest English language newspaper to be written.
Let’s hope such evil does not happen.