Vachanalays or newspaper reading centres, where locals read the papers and discuss the day’s news, have been a familiar sight in (and an integral part of) most neighbourhoods in Bombay.
Usually sponsored by the local ward of a political party or a mitra mandal (friends’ group), these informal newspaper points are stocked with the major Marathi newspapers, but several of them also do have Hindi, Gujarati and English newspapers depending on their location.
As can be seen in the second picture from the top (click on the picture to view a larger frame), there are designated slots for different newspaper brands. Readers are expected to place the paper back in them after perusing their daily poison.
The Shiv Sena, their electoral allies, and the groups associated with these parties maintain the largest number of these vachanalays in Bombay and there is sufficient academic indication that they helped the party mobilise the masses, especially in their initial days.
MNS, the Shiv Sena offshoot which too tried to set up vachanalays, however did not find the same success.
Some political parties, like the Republican Party of India (Athavale) even allow their vachanalays to be used by enterprising vendors to sell newspapers.
But in recent years, the vachanalays are slowly going out of fashion in most parts of the metropolis as people prefer to buy their own newspapers. Plus, there is the growing spread and reach of television and telephony. Or maybe there is just diminishning interest in reading newspapers.
The adman cum photographer M.S. Gopal, who runs the excellent Mumbai Paused blog that captures slices of urbs prima in Indus, has shot some pictures of vachanalays in Bombay. And they bring home the social intercourse that newspapers have created in the public space, thanks to the political parties.
View M.S. Gopal’s Bangalore pictures: Mains and Crosses
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