Meera Prasad

On March 16, 2013 the erudite town of Kottayam woke up to a momentous event in the history of the state and the nation. Malayala Manorama, Kerala’s No. 1 newspaper that brands itself as ‘the harbinger of sunshine’ in Malayalee homes every morning, was celebrating its 125th anniversary.

After its establishment on March 14th, 1888, the newspaper started printing in Kottayam on March 22nd, 1890 – a few hundred copies, to start with. Today, 125 eventful years later that showcases an almost unparalleled story of courage and conviction, Malayala Manorama has earned the distinction of being the largest regional language newspaper in India. Indeed, celebrations were in order. Yet it was done with understated elegance that’s typically Manorama’s style. Gracing the occasion was India’s most important person himself – the President of India Mr Pranab Mukherjee, who declared the quasquicentennial year celebrations open. He unveiled the plaque at Malayala Manorama’s Kodimatha printing press premises in Kottayam before an august audience comprising VVIPs and VIPs from all walks of life, celebrities, readers of the newspaper, agents and the Manorama family.

The mood was celebratory at the venue. After the President and the other dignitaries reached the dais, the Southern Naval Command’s 20-member Symphony Orchestra, among the top naval bands in India, played the National Anthem.

What followed was a feast for the eyes and musical splendour for the ears. The invocation was a song, the lyrics for which were penned by O.N.V. Kurup, Kerala’s very own celebrated poet and writer. The audience remained enthralled as the musical couple L.Subramaniam and Kavitha Krishnamurthy sang the prayer – Kavitha singing in her soft, lilting voice, “Sadhyamanugrahamaruluka bhuvanam sakalam nirayum prakashame...” (Kindly bless us O Light encompassing the whole earth...) accompanied skillfully by her husband L.Subramaniam, a Malayalee himself, on the violin.

The Chief Editor of Malayala Manorama, Mr Mammen Mathew, welcomed the gathering in a voice booming with pride and charged with emotion. “We have crossed another milestone in the eventful history of Malayala Manorama. Journalism with a human touch is our beacon and we pledge there will be no dilution in our mission.”

In his inaugural address the President said, “Malayala Manorama practised responsible journalism and has always stood for the people and with them in the battle against injustice. During India’s freedom struggle, the enterprise was forced to shut down publication of the newspaper for nine long years. But the management and the loyal workforce refused to be cowed into submission by the foreign yoke despite huge losses for the company.”

He spoke about Manorama’s astute corporate social responsibility and the leadership the enterprise has taken in Kerala’s education, health and development sectors, by not just reporting events in the newspaper, but by contributing magnanimously for the state’s uplift as well. And its social responsibility remains pan-Indian, he said.

In the Visitors’ Diary he wrote: “Let Malayala Manorama be the strong central pillar that upholds the nation and leads society on the right track.”

The Governor H.R.Bharadwaj in his address recalled Mahatma Gandhi’s words that a newspaper is the heartbeat of the nation and extolled Manorama for giving expression to the voice of the downtrodden. Sharing the same sentiments Union Minister Kapil Sibal applauded regional language dailies for being significant factors of social change.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy struck a chord with the audience when he got personal on his bond with the institution. “Manorama is like my tharavadu (ancestral home) and Mathukuttychayan (as the late K.M. Mathew was fondly called) was the father-figure in my life who admonished and encouraged me as I took baby steps into the political domain.” It is amazing how Manorama still retains its youthful vigour in every page of the newspaper, he added.

Kerala’s Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan put it succinctly: “The history of Kerala and Malayala Manorama are intertwined. One does not exist without the other.” Mr Jose K. Mani, Member of Parliament, remembered the founding fathers of the institution who by the lofty values they upheld and their acts of sacrifice have given the newspaper character and an identity that are its greatest assets even today. “In an atmosphere vitiated by communal differences and religious intolerance, Malayala Manorama has always practised freedom of expression and tolerance,” he pointed out.

The Indian Postal Service released a commemorative stamp valued at Rs. 5 on the occasion which was displayed before the gathering by the President.

Without a doubt the highlight of the evening was the musical extravaganza by India’s most noteworthy choir, the Shillong Chamber Choir (SCC). They held the audience in their thrall with their foot-tapping music. They sang single numbers and medleys covering a broad spectrum of all-time favourites. It culminated with the incredible ‘Indian Train Journey’ – their take on the sights and sounds in a railway station set to music.

As the dignitaries and guests departed mesmerised by the evening, they took back with them a slice of life called Malayala Manorama.