We had some new furniture delivered the other day. As will happen with deliveries, some chinks and scratches appeared on the varnished surface as an inevitable part of the delivery process. The store sent a very gentlemanly elderly man to paint over the chinks. He had a can of spray with him. He cleaned the surface with sandpaper, readied the spout over the scratched area and asked me a very normal question.
“Can you give me some newspapers?”
I was taken aback but was fairly confident I could. I looked all over however but couldn’t produce anything larger than some oversized junk mail to spread on the floor.
Along came the realization that newspapers had already disappeared from my daily existence. The phasing out had sort of sneaked up on me so silently that I wasn’t even aware of such an important change!
There was a whole culture associated with reading papers, a social sign system if you will, that’s just gone or is soon scheduled to go!
So what else is gone from my life with the print newspaper? Here’s a few things that are on their way out:
Some fairly regular interchanges between various family members: “Where is the Sunday section of the paper”? “I put it back.” ” No you didn’t.” “I certainly did.” “No you didn’t!” “Oh, here it is! But who mixed up all the pages”! “Not me!” “Nothing in this house is ever in order. I’m always the one arranging things. It must be you.” “No you.” ” No, you!” And so on.
Discovery of traces of personalities recorded in newspapers: A discreet circle in pencil around a job ad on the paper on the table. You realize someone close to you has lost his job. A particularly frustrating aunt had come to visit when you were out. A rectangular piece of the paper is missing where a coupon had been. A clever wordsmith was waiting for a haircut right in your chair where you’re waiting now. He’d filled in the crosswords section.
Those movie plot devices: Someone chances upon a carelessly left old newspaper that reveals something. A cutout from an old paper in an old attic tells all. In Bengali movies a picture on a thoga (paper envelope usually made of newspapers that carries food items) glanced at casually reveals that the villain is still alive under an assumed name. The detective watches his subject from behind the morning paper. Those plot devices will have to go soon.
Those neighbour-watching moments: Newspapers piling up outside a neighbours’ door? That family must be on vacation! How come they are able to afford so many more vacations than us? The wife isn’t even working anymore! It’s noon and the Roys still haven’t woken up to bring their paper in! Now they party late!
Conversations with newspaper boys and delivery men: In India, the newspaper delivery men come to collect their money every month and when they do, they recommend new papers and magazines or new festival related publications. They must be on their way out though I hope not soon! I’ve never lived in a house in the US where I’ve had newspapers delivered by boys on bikes but I’ve seen too many films to not miss them. They must be going too.
Memories in parks and trains: I’ve associated newspapers with parks and trains for a long time. If I didn’t want to have grass stains on my clothes, I’d spread a newspaper. If the train was dirty on a long journey, I’d spread a newspaper to sit on. I’d spread out food on a sheet of paper to eat while travelling. In India, people would be eating peanuts or spicy mixtures in parks made out of paper cones made of newspapers sold by street vendors. The sal leaf cones of yesteryear were replaced by newspaper cones in my parents’ generation. Now paper will be replaced in its turn.
Experiences to remember: Chancing upon a yellowed cutout carefully saved by your grandmother in an old book will never happen again. Simply struggling to hold onto the newspaper against the wind and running after stray pages blowing around! That’s almost already a thing of the past. The long, drawn out, nasal voice of the old-newspaper collector walking through the streets of Calcutta with a huge, tall sack on his head full of newspapers shouting khaaataaaaa-boi-kaagezzzz (exercise booksssss-booksss-paperzzzzzz) will no longer be heard in a day soon to come. Does he know that?
As I finished this post though, I thought of reading and writing rituals in ages past. I thought of Elizabeth Bennet walking around the room with Darcy’s sister in Pride and Prejudice while Darcy sat in a corner to write his letters. A moment around which attraction, rivalry, jealousy and writing all converged. I thought of his ink bottle and his quill and the preparations he (or his servants) must have needed to complete beforehand to write. Get paper, get ink pellets, dissolve them, light the candle and who knows what else. I thought of the fountain pen, the descendant of the quill and its passing.
Perhaps eventually all things must pass and that is how they are meant to live. In our memories.
Dear Readers: Some of your comments on last night’s post (Reading print newspapers) made me think of this post. Thank you!