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Daily Thanthi 75 – what a record spreading interest in news, literacy

During 1960-62, I was working at the Madras Christian College. I also had the responsibility as deputy warden of one of the hostels, the St Thomas’s Hall. It demanded my being a resident.  Several days I used to visit my parents at Mambalam and rush back to Tambaram in the early hours. 

I used to come across an unusual sight. Several rickshaw pullers (yes, those were the days of hand rickshaws) sitting around one of their literate colleagues reading aloud news from Daily Thanthi. The language was simple, direct and in easy-to-understand Tamil.  The credit for spreading interest in the news should go to S B Adithanar (SBA) founder - editor of Daily Thanthi. (Daily Telegraph).

Adithanar who graduated in law in London made a monumental contribution to kindling interest in news and through it the spread of literacy. He launched the paper in 1942 during the Second World War. Newsprint imports were then difficult and availability scarce. Enterprising Aditanar set up facilities for making paper out of straw and other local material for printing his newspaper. 

SBA’s focus was on presenting news that would be intelligible and interesting to the common man not necessarily literate. At that time Swadesamitran and Dinamani were the popular Tamil dailies that presented news in Sanskritised Tamil. The readership was restricted to the literate,  upper caste Tamils-Brahmins, Mudaliars, Pillais and Chettiars, who were literate and could follow the sanskritised Tamil. 

The genius of Adithnar lay in his constant endeavour to simplify the presentation. He introduced bold big type fonts for headlines and dramatised presentations by spoken Tamil. He also trained generations of journalists, sub-editors and proof-readers, continually simplifying the language. He used to provide them with a handbook of such simple words and their usage. I heard of his visiting the press in late hours asking the worker whether he understood the headline used and, if not, simplified it. 

In quick time DT emerged as the most significant Tamil daily and the most circulated newspaper. Today it has 17 editions including Mumbai, Bengaluru and Dubai with a circulation of over 17 lakh copies. 

SBA was actively involved in politics and floated a new party.  Later he merged this with the DMK and functioned as a minister and later as the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. I had covered the assembly for a few years and used to admire Adithanar commencing the proceedings of the day with the recitation of a Thirukkural couplet. This practice continues to this day. 

SBA’s son Sivanthi expanded the business manifold. His son Balasubramanian continues this work. Today, Thanthi has broadened into an English edition DtNext offered at just Rs. 2. The group took over the television business, earlier run by NDTV and The Hindu. A brilliant team of journalists Hariharan, Ashok Varshney and others led by Rangaraj Pandey, has helped Thanthiv TV emerge  the most popular Tamil channel. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the platinum jubilee of DT and paid glowing tributes to the remarkable contributions of this premium paper.

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