MANGALURU: If indeed, journalism is the first rough draft of history, then a Mangaluru teacher has been a dedicated preserver of such drafts in his corner of the world. Since 1960, Umesh Rao has collected newspapers and other publications as a hobby, but looking at them now, they reflect the ideas, events, political intrigue, preoccupations, and even sensationalism of times when there was little else that served as a record for future generations.
For instance, the lead story in Nirmala Sandhya Vani, an eveninger, on February 23, 1979, on a proposed steel plant to be set up in Mangaluru in collaboration with French technical experts. Another newspaper carries a photograph of an erstwhile Congress giant from the coast - Janardhana Poojary - and asks if he will join the BJP.
The sheer number of newspaper titles that Umesh has copies of, indicate just how many diverse voices, information, and perspectives found their way to the public before media consolidation and the decline of the newspaper industry in a globalised world -- and now the pandemic -- narrowed it down to a trickle. His collection has literally taken over his house in Yekkar (about 20km from Mangaluru in Dakshina Kannada district), and comprises over 3,000 editions of newspapers and periodicals mostly in Kannada, and a smaller number in Bengali, Hindi, and Konkani.
It also includes copies of newspapers from across the country, such as The Statesman, the Hitavada, The Free Press Journal and Dainik Bhaskar. He also has a valuable collection of copies of around 45 discontinued publications in Tulu, a major language of coastal Karnataka whose speakers use the Kannada alphabet to write as the script of the language has been lost to antiquity. Although he has never travelled abroad, some of his students have, and oblige him with copies of newspapers available in the places they visit. Thus, he has around 500 copies of international newspapers such as China Daily, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and The Weekend Australian.
Born in Yekkar near Bajpe, Umesh did his schooling in Kateel. He completed pre-university and graduation from St Aloysius College in Mangaluru, and then obtained a Bachelor of Education from Manipal College in Udupi. He began his career as a teacher at Kateel Durgaparameshwari High School, and went on to serve as vice principal for around 33 years before retiring. He now lives with his sister Sukanya, and they both look after his collection.
“My dream is to have these exhibited at a museum but that requires a lot of money and I have no financial support. The collection will help researchers, students, and journalists if we preserve them in museums,” says the 74-year-old, who is also the recipient of the best teacher award in Dakshina Kannada district. Kannada University in Hampi had once sought his newspapers, but he declined. He has exhibited them on occasion, such as in schools and colleges, an event organised by the Press Club in 2015. He has, however, stopped doing that as people tend to damage the paper.
“They don’t know the value of newspapers. Hence, to preserve them, I have stopped exhibiting them outside. Anybody who’s interested in these old, rare newspapers, can visit my house and take a look,” he says. Regular visitors include batches of journalism students from Mangalore University, and journalists who are curious about his collection.
The teacher in Umesh urges people to read newspapers. “It will enrich their knowledge. It is a good hobby. Due to TV and radio, there are fewer newspapers now. Even the number of people who buy and read newspapers has come down drastically. People must subscribe to at least one or two newspapers so that it will help children’s education,” he says. Professor Jayaram Shetty, former principal of the school in Kateel, says that besides being an excellent teacher, Umesh Rao is a role model for many. “He encouraged students to read and write articles and poems, and instilled interest in literature.” Umesh’s hobby has become his life and given it purpose. He continues to collect them with the hope that they will one day have a permanent home.
First editions include:
- Mangaluru Samachara, the first Kannada newspaper
- Prajamatha, Kannada weekly, published in 1937
- Mungaru, coastal newspaper
- Sudha, Kannada weekly