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Saturday, 15 October 2011






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Farewell, beautiful people!

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.

Target audience

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 deed.

Policy frame

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 count.

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.

www.malindawords.blogspot.com (msenevira@gmail.com)


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