Monday, December 4, 2023

A road travelled well but miles to go


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August 10, 1945. One man’s vision and conviction, and of course, enterprise birthed The Shillong Times weekly. Thousands of miles away, a community, massacred by America’s show of prowess, was trying to salvage what was left of life after nuclear bombing only four days before, and muster courage and strength for a long and difficult recuperation. The two events, of completely different magnitude, would go on to reshape the lives of people of the respective places and become part of history.
S.B. Chaudhuri, a doyen of journalism and a man of great principles, started The Shillong Times as a weekly to give shape to the dreams and aspirations of the people of the hills and connect them to the rest of India. It was a difficult time, not only for Chaudhuri but also for the entire country in the pre-independence era. The world around was also in turmoil. The weekly newspaper in a small hill city was a significant step forward in its own way.
“Inspiration above all, came from the hills peoples themselves by way of a sizeable readership which The Shillong Times could very soon build up – more reckonably in the Mizoram, Garo and the Khasi-Jaintia Hills,” Chaudhuri wrote on the 25th anniversary of the newspaper. By then, he was no more in the helm of things and Meghalaya was still fighting for its individual identity.
Chaudhuri had another dream, of making the weekly edition a daily one but that was a bigger challenge and yet he took it with aplomb. Despite having a substantial readership, lack of facilities, communications problem and financial constraint made the task even more onerous. “On the top of it all was the apathy, if not antipathy of the Government of the day,” he wrote.
So the broadsheet daily, which started in the twelfth year that is 1957, had per force reverted to weekly format. The newspaper initially came out from its office in Laitumkhrah.
Chaudhuri, through honest and fearless journalism, had set a bar for The Shillong Times to follow in the years to come.
In 1961, Parsva Nath Chaudhuri bought the newspaper and the press from the founder editor-proprietor and took over the editorial reins. His ideals as a journalist were as strongly rooted as those of the newspaper’s founder editor.
In 1970, The Shillong Times, despite great trials and tribulations, completed 25 years and the silver jubilee was celebrated in a modest but befitting manner.
The hill people’s struggles to break away from the fetters of a united Assam state would pay dividends two years later and Williamson Sangma would become the first chief minister of Meghalaya in 1972. But the struggle would be far from over for the new state that had the task to boost the fledgling economy and embark on a sustainable growth trajectory.
It was a similar situation for the newspaper that had to not only keep up the fight in the face of adversities but also do justice to its readers in the hills.
Its new editor, who was a true Gandhian, considered the newspaper not as a tool to earn profits but as a medium to serve the community.
During his tenure as the editor, the hill state movement gained steam and despite being a Congressman and the pressure from both the Assam government and the Centre, Parsva Nath Chaudhuri extended support to the aspirations of the local tribes. He would later become a member of the first elected legislative assembly of the state.
Braj Kumar Nehru, the then governor of undivided Assam and Nagaland, inaugurated the silver jubilee function.
Among the dignitaries who were present on the occasion were Meghalaya Minister SDD Nichols Roy and Assam minister LP Goswami.
In his message, Chief Minister Wiliam A Sangma said, “It is a pleasure to learn that The Shillong Times has completed twenty-five years of publication. This jubilee is an occasion for joy and pride for all of us. Those of us who have been associated with The Shillong Times over the years have always found the newspaper sincere and genuinely devoted to the cause of the region. I wish the jubilee celebrations all success and hope that in the future, the newspaper will grow from strength to strength.”
And so it did. The newspaper won over every challenge on its stride and bloomed over the years. It not only created an identity for itself but also for the hill tribes of the state.
It was especially through this newspaper that the rest of India got acquainted with the problems and prospects of the state and the aspirations and achievements of its people. Though a quintessentially local news daily, The Shillong Times connected the dots in the region to present a wider perspective of the North East.
By the time it reached the fiftieth mark on its journey in 1995, The Shillong Times was a name in itself. The editorial helm had by then passed on to Manas Chaudhuri after the untimely death of his father in 1978.
August 15, 1991, only four years before the golden jubilee celebrations, the newspaper switched to the modern computer typesetting and offset printing technique. It had also transformed itself from a tabloid daily to a broadsheet newspaper.
It then spread its wings to the Garo Hills on November 9, 1992, taking news every morning on the doorsteps of dedicated readers there.
On August 10, 1994, the then Meghalaya Governor Madhukar Dighe inaugurated the golden jubilee celebrations by lighting a lamp at the State Central Library where the panel discussion on ‘The Changing Face of Shillong’ was held. At least one event a month was organised till August 1996 to mark the one-year jubilation.
There were seminars, symposia, panel discussions, a court martial, musical nights, talks by eminent personalities, workshops for creative writers and quiz contests among the array of events. The Shillong Times also put up a monument in Tura dedicated to the people who took part in the Hill State Movement.
A jubilee souvenir was also published with write-ups on the history of the state, the Northeastern region, personal accounts and insurgency in the region, among other subjects. It was, indeed, a golden moment.
As the journey continued, The Shillong Times was determined to reach the platinum milestone.
In 2004, the 60th anniversary celebrations were inaugurated, this time in Guwahati, by the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, who was also an MP from Assam.
The Shillong Times had already ended its black-and-white years and added colours to its presentation. The celebration was grand. By then, the grandeur of the daily publication was already known in the region as well as the rest of the country.
The Shillong Times continues to serve the community looking up to the ideals of both S.B. Chaudhuri and Parsva Nath Chaudhuri.
It has never dithered from telling the truth and has definitely not wobbled in the face of challenges.
It has witnessed the worst communal strife in the state, a government ban on advertisements and intimidation from the belligerent, but nothing could affect its professional commitment and unwavering objectivity.
Now, on its 75th anniversary, the leading English daily of Meghalaya and second largest newspaper in the region renews its promise to hold on to the core values and move on to create another history in time.

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