How Sanskrit journalism is slowly hogging headlines

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By 2017-11-05

By Manoj Sharma

Vinay Jha, 30, is a reporter with a daily newspaper and a rather peculiar part of his job is to explain to the subjects of his stories what he has written about them. It is 4 pm and he has just started writing one of the five stories he has to file when he gets a call from someone he interviewed a few days ago. He opens the digital copy of a back issue of the paper on his computer and starts reading out the article to the caller. At the end of the five-minute call, Jha looks a bit irritated. "People are so curious to know how their quotes sound in Sanskrit," he says.

Jha works for Srijan Vani, a daily newspaper in Sanskrit published from Delhi. But Jha, who speaks a mix of Hindi and Sanskrit, is quick to point out that working for a Sanskrit newspaper has its upside too. "People may not know much about our newspaper, but they are more than willing to talk to us for stories. Contrary to popular perception, Sanskrit is as lucid as any language, and one can write all kinds of stories in it," says Jha.

His editor, Meera Mishra, who, as the paper's print line points out, is also owner and printer of the paper, looks pretty happy with the way her reporter narrates the virtues of Sanskrit. "We do a lot of Bollywood and sports features too," she says, showing us the last page of her newspaper with pictures of actresses. "Sanskrit journalism is slowly picking up."

Mishra may not be exaggerating. The last few years have seen the launch of quite a few Sanskrit newspapers, what with a whole new readership for the language comprising people who have learnt the language in the increasing number of Sanskrit schools, colleges and universities over the past decade.

And many papers such as Srijan Vani, Sanskrit Vani and Sanskrit Samvad are published from Delhi. They offer eclectic fare that includes a mix of national and international news. And some like Srijan Vani even offer Bollywood gossip.
Most are run by family members of the founders with minuscule staff. Srijan Vani has six people, including Meera's husband Rakesh Kumar Mishra. They run the paper from the second floor of a nondescript building in east Delhi's Pandav Nagar. The editor's office is a 5 ft X ft 5 room that has an iron book shelf with dust-laden files. Displayed under a thick glass pane on her desk are visiting cards of many IAS officers and MPs. "They all have interest in the promotion of the language," says Meera Mishra.

The owners say the circulation of these papers — they follow a subscription-based model — ranges from 1,000 to 15,000. The readership comprises students in Sanskrit schools, colleges and universities; research scholars, and common people interested in the language.

"There is a new buzz around Sanskrit and a new market for Sanskrit newspapers what with the growing number of people learning the language," says Jeevan Sharma, 28, editor, Sanskrit Vani, published from Ibrahim Pur village in North-West Delhi. The fortnightly newspaper, which his family started three years ago, is printed on thick glazed paper.

Besides news, it offers analysis, quizzes and general knowledge.
For Meera Mishra, the idea behind the paper was 'to prove that Sanskrit is not just a language of prayers and religious ceremonies but a very refined language of science and journalism'. For Ved Prakash Sharma, managing editor, Sanskrit Samvad, a fortnightly published from east Delhi's Bhajanpura, his paper is a literary project. "There was so much happening in Sanskrit yet nothing much was being reported in the mainstream media. My primary objective is to promote Sanskrit literature and help in the development of the language," says Sharma.

He is happy the circulation of the paper—edited and published by his wife Manju Sharma—has grown from 1,000 to 5,000 copies in five years. "When we started we were unsure if we will at all grow," says Sharma with satisfaction.

The growing number of Sanskrit newspapers is fuelling the demand for trained Sanskrit journalists. As of now, there are very few journalists who can write in Sanskrit. The publications depend on freelancers–Sanskrit students, teachers, scholars—for contributory articles.

But that may change soon. Last year, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, a Delhi-based deemed University, started a first-of-its-kind one-year diploma course in Sanskrit journalism. The first batch of 25 students completed the course this year. The university is set to launch an advanced course in Sanskrit journalism in partnership with Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), which includes digital training. "We realised Sanskrit is now becoming a language of mass communication and there is a need for trained Sanskrit journalists. Many of our students have already got jobs," says Kamla Bhardwaj, dean, student welfare. "The new TV and radio programmes, print and digital publications in Sanskrit have opened up avenues for aspiring Sanskrit journalists".

Sandeep Semwal, one of the 25 students who attended the Vidyapeeth's course this year, says there are a lot of youngsters, mostly from villages and small towns, who want to take up Sanskrit journalism. "But I think it will take time before it reaches a stage where a newspaper becomes financially viable and can pay their journalists well," he says. "As of now, a lot of youngsters who study Sanskrit prefer to take up teaching," he says.

Not many know that there is also a registered association of Sanskrit journalists with about 70 members. Its general secretary, Baldevanand Sagar, 65, says the association works for the welfare of Sanskrit journalists and securing their rights. He points out that Sanskrit journalism's history goes back to 1866, when the first journal in Sanskrit, 'Kashi Vidya Sudhanidhi' or 'The Pandit', was published in Varanasi. "What we are witnessing right now is a slow revival of Sanskrit journalism. And the good thing is that the revival is being spearheaded by youngsters. A majority of members in our association are young people," says Sagar, who has been a well-known Sanskrit news broadcaster with All India Radio. "I am sure in the coming years, Sanskrit journalists will enjoy the same status as Hindi and English journalists."

The number of Sanskrit newspapers may be growing but most are struggling financially. And they blame it on the lack of support from both corporates and the government. "Wherever we go for advertisements, our low circulation comes in the way," says Jeevan Sharma.

Meera Mishra says she is running her newspaper with the support of non-government organisations that work to promote Sanskrit. "At times, the financial crunch is so bad we fail to bring out the print issue and have to send PDF files to our subscribers. But I am sure the time is not far when Sanskrit journalism will flourish," says Mishra as she leaves her cabin for her evening editorial meeting.
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