It was I believe in January 2000. I received an email from a friend,
copied to others including some close friends. Ayca Cubukcu, then an
undergraduate at Cornell University, addressed the recipients as
‘Beautiful People’. She wrote in indignation and with hope.
The cause of her agitation was a mischievous news report in the
campus newspaper, Cornell Daily Sun. I can’t remember what it was about,
but there was blatant and utterly unacceptable misrepresentation. Ayca
had a proposal. She wanted us to help her start a newspaper. It was to
be called, she suggested, ‘The Cornell Nightly Moon’.
We met at a cafe in Collegetown, Ithaca, called ‘Stella’s’. If it was
to be in opposition then it should be ‘Ithaca Nightly Moon,’ someone
pointed, referring to the political economy that frames town space and
the university. Someone observed that we just didn’t have the resources
to produce a newspaper on a daily basis. A monthly, then, someone
suggested and all agreed. We moved quickly to content, leaving name to
be decided later.
We talked of target audience. Someone said ‘we have to accept the
fact that some people in this world are destined to be shoe-makers’.
That led to a lively discussion on the worth of shoes and shoe-makers,
and of course the relevant under-valuation and exploitation. The entire
political economy of global capitalism was laid out thick and in detail
then and there. The majority sided with the shoe-maker. This gave a name
for the paper.
The Cobbler was a popular monthly newspaper solely dependent on
contributions and a few advertisements from friendly and politically
conscious small businesses in the town.
I left Ithaca after the fourth issue came out and the paper ran for
several months longer. There were arguments, disagreements, tantrums,
walk-outs and embraces. There was photography and poetry, serious pieces
and things to laugh about. The Cobbler made the ‘left’ campus paper,
‘The Progressive’ more progressive. It had space for everyone who gets
left out or needed space to say things there was nowhere to articulate.
There was nothing ‘beautiful’ about ‘The Beautiful People’ except
perhaps that they kept doors open, knew how to laugh and were not
ashamed to cry. We covered issues, local and global.
I remember a day in early June 2000, just before I left Ithaca. Ayca
and I were attending the memorial service of Jean Finley, a long-time
and indefatigable activist who produced hundreds of shows for the local
cable station, even though chronic kidney disease had condemned her to a
wheelchair. She went about in this wheelchair, attending protests,
distributing leaflets and keeping people cheerful. Ayca and I had talked
about dedicating the next issue of The Cobbler to Jean. I received a
copy in the post.
It had Jean’s portrait as cover with a simple headline: ‘For Jean’.
That day, at the memorial service, a young man came on stage to speak a
few words. He said he needed someone to hold his hand. The young man was
in a wheelchair. I only remember one thing he said: ‘Jean made it ok for
people like me’. And he wept.
The Cobbler was about people like that. I remember the beautiful
people. Ayca, Maceo, Michael, Balam, Mutaamba, Carson and Molly. Chad,
Raj, Dia, Lehlohonolo, Andrea, Mecke, Gerard, Joaquin, Andrew and Aaron
came on board at different times and with varying intensities. Katie and
Neil Golder, Paul Glover, the extended Grady family and many other good
people in that quaint and spirited township helped with word and in
I remember all these beautiful people today. They’ve all moved on to
different planets where I am sure they make flowers bloom on barren
ground simply because they choose to walk, even as their feet bleed. I
remember them today because that was my first close association with a
newspaper. Back then I was a doctoral student. I duly dropped out and
came home. I wandered into newspapers courtesy an invitation from the
Editor of the Sunday Island, Manik de Silva to whom I owe much.
I remember all these people because they helped create in my mind a
sense of what making a newspaper is all about. It takes a lot of people,
and a lot of heart. It takes people, let me repeat, and not all of them
are journalists. I got to know more when I joined the Sunday Island. The
typesetters, proofreaders, subeditors, tea-boys, drivers and others also
It’s different perhaps for a freelancer, for we are non-contact or
less-contact contributors. Today, writing these lines for what will be
my last ‘Morning Inspection’, I remember the chairman, the editors who
have me space, the subeditors who cleaned my copy, the illustrators and
others who picked appropriate photographs to decorate the particular
article, my dear friend Errol Alphonso, alas no more, who crafted my
copy (which I seldom went over) and others whose names and designations
I will never know. I remember the beautiful people relevant to ‘The
Morning Inspection’, the readers and those whose lives I wrote about.
And I remember the beautiful people my friend Ayca sent that email
to, more than a decade ago. It is all about heart, they taught me,
especially Ayca, and heart is never imprisoned, not by newspaper, policy
frame, word limit, tragedy or triumph. That’s a thought that brought me
to newspapers and it is with that thought that I leave, two years and
over 500 articles later. Farewell, all.