The Musalman: The Last Handwritten Newspaper in the World

Tucked away in the crowd­ed south­ern Indi­an city of Chen­nai, in the shad­ow of the Wal­la­jah Mosque, is an unflat­ter­ing build­ing. But what hap­pens inside the build­ing is remark­able. Every day since 1927, a ded­i­cat­ed team has worked tire­less­ly to cre­ate a hand­writ­ten news­pa­per, The Musalman (in Urdu: مسلمان). Today, there’s a team of six work­ers who work on the news­pa­per dai­ly. Four of the work­ers are known as kat­i­bs, writ­ers ded­i­cat­ed to the ancient art of Urdu cal­lig­ra­phy. They have the most mod­est of facil­i­ties: two wall fans, three light bulbs, and one tube light in an 800-square-foot build­ing. But watch­ing the video, you learn how this news­pa­per has sur­vived for three gen­er­a­tions — every­one who works there is absolute­ly devot­ed to the task. In fact, they are pre­pared to work on The Musalman until their “last breath,” an unde­ni­able pas­sion.

In the mod­ern era where almost every pub­lished work is cre­at­ed dig­i­tal­ly, it is refresh­ing to see the tra­di­tion of cal­lig­ra­phy endure with The Musalman. We can only hope the rest of us can appre­ci­ate The Musalman’s his­to­ry and its efforts to sur­vive as much as its ded­i­cat­ed read­ers do.

To learn more about The Musalman, read this Times of India sto­ry. For more about the world’s hand­writ­ten news­pa­pers, please see this post on Brain­Pick­ings.

Eugene Buchko is a blog­ger and pho­tog­ra­ph­er liv­ing in Atlanta, GA. He main­tains a pho­to­blog, Eru­dite Expres­sions, and writes about what he reads on his read­ing blog.


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Comments (5)
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  • Dsale says:

    I don’t get it…not even a hand-crank press? Is it because they can’t get type set in Urdu?

    • Nicabod says:

      Urdu is writ­ten in a vari­ety of Ara­bic called Nastaliq, which can be quite beau­ti­ful, but hideous­ly dif­fi­cult to type­set. It would be total­ly impos­si­ble to type­set with met­al type. In recent years, after years of effort, it became pos­si­ble to type­set it by com­put­er, but requir­ing human help. The char­ac­ter reper­tore includes very rough­ly ten thou­sand strings of let­ters that are quite imprac­ti­cal to type­set using indi­vid­ual letters.nnThe text is quite beau­ti­ful.

  • journalist jane says:

    It is print­ed off — but the orig­i­nal is hand­writ­ten in cal­lig­ra­phy. Watch the video — you see the press about 5 min­utes in!

  • Ola shaikh says:

    How can i get the copy of this hand writ­ten news paper“The Musalman”?

  • Urdu News says:

    You’re doing a great job Man, Keep it up.

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