On August 10, 1942 18-year-old MK Karunanidhi sat down with his friends to write a leaflet to be distributed in Tiruvarur. The times were turbulent, what with India being dragged into World War II. Even getting the necessary paper for the task proved to be challenging. But he persevered and put out several copies of what became the first ever edition of the Murasoli, a publication that marked its platinum jubilee on Thursday.
In the last 75 years, Murasoli has metamorphosed from a leaflet to weekly tabloid and finally into a daily broadsheet. To showcase the growth of the paper that boasts of a circulation of 70,000 copies, the Murasoli team has organised an exhibition at its office at Kodambakkam in Chennai.
At the entrance of the building is a statue of 'Murasoli' Maran, a DMK leader and former editor whose name became synonymous with that of the paper.
The first sight the exhibition offers is a larger than life statue of a man tackling a bull, in a pose that has for decades been associated to the 'veeravalaiyaatu', Jallikattu, which is the paper’s logo.
As soon as you enter the air-conditioned building you come across a treadle, a traditional machine used for the printing of newspapers. It was this machine that came to use when the paper transformed into a weekly in 1948. "It used to be a very tedious job," says Ravi, who works at Murasoli's printing press. "During those times, it would take 30 people three hours to finish a single page. Now, the machine does it in six minutes," he laughs.
The stensil used to print the Murasoli title still bears remnants of red paint and Ravi proudly points to it.
The exhibits occupy two columns and a row of the building. In addition to snippets of the newspaper, there is an audio-visual room and a screening theatre that shows the history of the paper.
Karunanidhi would often refer to the publication as his first born and the effort he put in to keep it running, shows how invested he was. In the 1950s, his work in theatre and cinema brought him to Tamil Nadu's capital Madras. Till then, the printing of the paper was not very consistent. But in 1954, Murasoli came to the city.
"Kalaignar sold the dialogues that he had written for Manohara, a film to make the money," says Pollachi Umapathy, the organiser of the exhibition. "He thought he would sell only about 5000 copies overall but the dialogues were so strong that they were leaving the shelves like hot cakes. It had to be constantly reprinted," he adds.
He paid Rs 35 to rent out his first office space in Royapettah and the newspaper started to do exceedingly well. Karunanidhi who wrote under the pen name Cheran, incorporated large doses of satire in the publication and used it against his political opponents.
The name ‘Murasoli’ means a war cry, according to the organiser and Karunanidhi used it to pull up and shout out against his ideological and political opponents. From articles on Dravidian movement and anti-Brahminism, the mouthpiece’s outlook has over the years shifted, being used as a vehicle by the DMK to hit out at its arch-rival the AIADMK.
The paper has carried several cartoons to convey messages - several of them relevant even today.
Karunanidhi would often write notes, poems and stories highlighting the present political scenario in the country. They would be signed as MK.
In 1960, the paper became a daily and continued to report vastly on the anti-Hindi agitation that was underway in the state. While the weekly was not over 10 pages, the daily moved from four to six and now prints no less than ten pages.
At the same time, the office shifted to Thousand lights, a hotspot for protests in the city back then. "While this made it accessible for political meetings and leaders to visit, it also meant we were the target of opposition parties who wouldn't leave without throwing a stone or two at us," says Pollachi Umapathy. This led to the team shifting to the Kodambakkam office in 1966. But as fate would have it, in 1991, the building was vandalised and parts of it set on fire.
According to the display, this was done over some false rumours spread over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Trouble didn't stop there, a year later, the paper's editor Selvam was imprisoned for fifteen days for publishing remarks that were expunged from the state Assembly. According to the organiser, "The editions went out before news that the statement was struck down was released." A replica of Selvam being made to stand in Assembly was also present in the exhibition.
But the Murasoli, is not known to be easily intimidated. In fact, in 1975 when Emergency had been declared, they dared to even make fun of the Congress Government. "Every article you wrote was checked back then and Kalaignar became very angry about this," says Pollachi Umapathy, laughing. "So he put out editions where the top stories were - 'Ladies finger is good for health, Oil will reduce body heat 'You can reach America in half an hour from Chennai'."
That the DMK patriach is well-respected, is seen in the writings of several prominent personalities about him.
The room that Karunanidhi used to use, now has a statue of him seated there.
But it not just laurels but even the more disturbing moments that have been showcased in this exhibition.
Over the years the paper has remained in the hands of the Murasoli Trust and thereby within the family, with even its editors — Murasoli Maran and Selvam — being chosen from Karunanidhi's kin.
From a mere notice meant to spread the Dravidian ideology, it has become a legacy that the DMK patriarch will leave behind for generations to refer to.
The exhibition will be open for public viewing for the next two months.