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Thursday, August 19, 2010

"The Afternoon Despatch & Courier", the newspaper closest to my heart

The newspaper I helped to launch in Bombay in March 1985 is still the closest one to my heart, though I enjoyed my time with Mid Day, Bombay (where I began my career); Khaleej Times, Dubai (where I launched special sections and where I first learnt to work with computers); and CIO magazine, Bangalore (I helped to launch this magazine in India for TMG in 1999. TMG also ran a national technology channel for which I was a news anchor for some time and also a chat show host).

BEHRAM CONTRACTOR
I CONSIDER MYSELF privileged to have been given the opportunity to work with the brilliantly talented team, led by Behram "Busybee" Contractor, that launched The Afternoon Despatch & Courier on March 25, 1985. At the time it was Bombay's fourth evening paper, and our competitors were the formidable Mid Day (which we had quit to start a newspaper "owned" by journalists), The Evening News of India, from the Times of India stable, and Free Press Bulletin, owned by the Free Press Journal group.

I remember being asked by a good friend who was concerned about my future: "What kind of research have you people done? Have you carried out any surveys? Is there room in Bombay for one more eveninger?"

We had all left Mid Day sometime in January. And we were planning to launch The Afternoon a few weeks later, in March.

Did we have time for surveys? No.

But what we had going for us was belief. The belief that we had a lot going for us.

What we had going for us was gut instinct. Not for a moment did any of us think that it couldn't be done.

What we had going for us was confidence. We knew we were good at what we were doing.

Above all, what we had going for us was an editor all Bombay loved and respected, and 30 or 40 people — from office assistants to experienced journalists — who believed in the idea of a newspaper that would be run without any interference from "owners".

Sure, there were problems on the way, mainly financial, but all of us stuck to our task. And not too long after it was launched, The Afternoon became the city's No. 2 newspaper because both Evening News and Free Press Bulletin, unable to stand the competition, closed down.


Twenty-five years on, The Afternoon and Mid Day (the latter now owned by the Dainik Jagran group) are still the only English evening newspapers in Mumbai. The Afternoon, now led by the redoubtable Carol Andrade, is back on its feet after a particularly troubling phase and it continues to make its presence felt. And afternoondc.in is a great example of how the sensibilities, tastes, and needs of readers can be incorporated into a newspaper website.

Five months ago, on March 25, The Afternoon's 25th anniversary, I was thinking back to those frenetic early days. So guys, this one is for you: Behram Contractor, Mr Kanangi, Carol Andrade, Shashi Jadhav, Mark Manuel, Archie D'Cruz, Sabbas Joseph, Leo Manickam, Suresh Baliga, Mobin Pandit, Sharad Kotnis, Glen D'Souza, Anthony D'Silva, Arvind Kulkarni, Tara Patel, Menka Shivdasani, Conrad Prabhu, Anthony Azavedo, Jerry D'Souza, Dinshaw Dotivala, Mario Miranda, E.P. Vijaykumar, P.S. Rajan, Elias Hendricks, Prabhu, Jadhav, Ramdas, Vasant, Hari, Prashant, and many others who made such vital contributions to our great newspaper experiment. Salud!
  • Read Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta's tribute to Behram Contractor: "My friend Behram".
  • Read Carol Andrade's take on faith in Open magazine: "My Kinda God". 
    PAPER VIEW: One of my best friends, Sunil Maurya, and his daughter, Ankita, are engrossed in reading The Afternoon. This picture was taken sometime in the Eighties in the Mumbai suburb of Borivli, where Sunil lived before he and his family moved to the US. I am indebted to Ankita for giving me permission to use this photograph, which I discovered recently on her Facebook timeline.

UPDATE (June 21, 2013): Commitscion Natasha Rego (Class of 2014) lived up to my expectations (and perhaps exceeded hers) when she filed this brilliant story for The Afternoon: 10/10 for a newspaper story written by an intern from Commits.

2 comments:

  1. How could I forget that day!

    Just a a couple of weeks before he left to start ADC I had met Behram at Mid-Day the paper he was editing, and the paper I would soon with just a skeleton staff to put it together and a strike looming large on the horizon.

    Behram, as usual, was busy as a bee and had little time for some of the new recruits that had been hired to replace the ones that had bid goodbye to help Busybee the ADC up and running. But he did take a liking to me (don't ask me why) and we got on rather well, so much so he made it clear that if anybody was to occupy his dinky cabin when he left, it would be yours truly. It was one of the best compliments I have ever received.

    But that was Behram. A quite man but a also a man about town who knew almost every nook and gulley of a city of 8 million (now 18m) and the best places to eat.

    There was so much I could have learned from him. He was to the manor born. His deadpan sense of humor laced with frequent doses of truth telling won him Bombay's hearts and minds, including mine.

    The ADC proved to be a tough competitor and a great read. But even Behram and his ADC could not beat Mid-Day in circulation. How could they! After all, it was his deft writing, incredible networking and his multi-talented team who walked out with him, that created Mid-Day in the first place!

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  2. It must have been a privilege working with a legendary like Mario Miranda. I got his book Goa With Love as a souvenir from Goa. His cartoons are timeless.

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