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The Times of India: the legacy stretching over a hundred years

It is not uncommon to spot a Times of India newspaper in Indian households, where each morning might open with this daily, the legacy of which dates back to the age when Bahadur Shah Zafar still flaunted his royal authority. Founded even before the Revolt of 1857, the newspaper was born as The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce by a British Syndicate of eleven firms to be published every Wednesday and Saturday for the British residents of western India. While the newspaper has experienced several changes in name and ownership since then, its popularity has only enhanced over the years and the readership has stood the test of loyalty for over 178 years.


An evolution The Times of India has brought in several innovations steeped in creativity, some of which have survived the test of time and continue to be seen in the newspapers printed today, such as the editorial page, which has fascinated a large number of readers given its variety and witty articles that move away from the regular humdrum of daily news. The page has undergone transformations and has lost many of its elements, including Current Topics, which highlighted the events that were making news, A Hundred Years Ago, which took the readers back to an event on the same day but a different century and Letters, which involved messages from readers responding to published articles and illustrations, and these can now only be witnessed in vintage newspaper collections. The daily can also be distinguished by its historical association with comic strips included for the enjoyment of the readers, such as Hubert by Dick Wingert and Mandrake the Magician by Lee Falk, which used to be featured on a daily basis, along with a Crossword; other comics were seen on the Sunday Review, which was a separate editorial sold along with the normal newspaper on Sundays, and it included one page titled Humour Astrology Leisure, which showcased the horoscope, a crossword and strips like Tiger, Wizard of Id, Hagar the Horrible and Beetle Bailey.


The Times of India was founded on November 3, 1838 as a semi-weekly publication, with Raobahadur Narayan Dinanath Velkar as the director and J.E. Brennan as the editor, reporting news from Britain, the subcontinent and the rest of the world, and became a daily newspaper in 1850; ten years later Robert Knight, an inspiring journalist of the 19th century, merged the paper with Bombay Standard, changing the name to Bombay Times and Standard. In 1892, the then editor of the newspaper, T.J. Bennett partnered with F.M. Coleman to establish the joint stock company, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. (BCCL), which was later bought by the sugar magnate Ramkrishna Dalmia in 1946 Rs 20 million, thus passing the legacy into Indian hands. When Dalmiya got caught in an embezzlement case, the company passed onto the hands of Shanti Prasad Jain, Dalmiya’s son-in-law and a businessman from Uttar Pradesh, and since then BCCL has been owned by the Jain family and has further expanded with its other publications- Navbharat Times (1947), Filmfare (1952), Femina (1959), The Economic Times (1961), and the like. The Times of India has a long list of notable names associated with it, including the editor Sham Lal, the columnist and cartoonist Jug Suraiya, the cartoonist RK Laxman and the columnist Swaminathan Aiyar; currently, it has a readership of over 13.4 million, making it the top English-language daily in India.


The semi-bald man with tufts of hair flying out from behind the ears, wearing the iconic checked shirt and a white dhoti, and rounded spectacles before his eyes, is a familiar sight for many who are fond of reading, and even collecting political comics. R.K. Laxman, the cartoonist behind this illustration of the Common Man, had not always worked at the Times of India but he did shoot to immense fame under this newspaper. A man fascinated with illustrations since the very beginning, Laxman began dabbling in the art by serving as a cartoonist for local newspapers and magazines, and landed his first full-time time job at the Free Press Journal, Bombay, alongside Bal Thackeray, who later became a political leader. In 1951, he joined the Times of India and started illustrating political news articles, and also created his own comic strip series under the name of You Said It, which embellished the front page of the newspaper through the 20th and 21st century up till his death in 2015. His political caricatures earned him a lot of love and admiration for being witty and tongue-in-cheek, but never malevolent, perennially guided by the common perspective of Indians; his cartoons have continued to add colour and flavour in varying proportions to the Times of India and have left an indelible mark on the hearts of people across the country, many of whom browse through the daily just for a glimpse into the world presented by R.K. Laxman.

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