Klank klank klank. The teaspoon knocks on the wall of my grandma’s slightly chipped mint green enamel mug with blue lining as I stir my hot milo. I give the chocolate malt drink a gentle blow, take a small sip, and place the sweltry mug carefully back on the dining table. The clock hands point at 10 and 12, signifying it’s now ten in the morning. A stack of half-folded wood pulp papers sits at the corner of the table. Noticeably creased on the edges, it seems like it has been read. Some pen scribbles — random numbers — on the front page confirm it. Well, it’s late morning so I guess mother would have read it — I reason with myself. I take hold of that slightly worn newspaper, flip through the pages while waiting for my breakfast to be ready. Ah newspaper. Who reads it anymore these days? Such…novelty.
The sky’s dark. The street lamp gives the road outside a little light. A couple of neighbours are up early before sunrise, deduced by the lit-up homes. One neighbour just got into his car, getting ready for the rat race of the day. The ignition of the car engine breaks the cricket-filled silence. From the bend of the road, the sound of an automobile can be heard fast approaching. Upon entering the lane, the Indian uncle now visible in sight, slows down his motorcycle. With years of experience and perfect dexterity, he manoeuvres his two-wheeled vehicle with his left hand and tosses the newspapers into the individual homes with the other. Each band-tied bundle of papers lands perfectly into the yard of the homes, to the envy of even professional frisbee players. Thump! It hits the back of father’s car and lands right beside, waiting for mother to pick it up at a moment. And the newspaper uncle is nowhere to be seen any longer, swooshing off to the next lane in darkness.
Licking the tip of my finger, I turn the newspaper to the next page. Or rather, the previous page. I start my reading order from the back. Sports. The back page serves as the headliner for me more than the front. I can even tell you the order of the various sports being reported. Starting from the back is the local sports scene, mainly badminton, sometimes squash or bowling, but never missing the Malaysia football drama. It moves on to the English Premier League, and occasionally the other Big Five Football Leagues in Europe. Right at the peripherals are the other less popular sports — basketball, golf, boxing and F1. Nothing more than a quarter of a page, as usual. And that concludes the sports section.
How did I get into reading newspapers in the first place? For a start, we didn’t get our news online back then. I read newspapers before Google was invented. Reporters did their job like they still do today — rushing off to crime scenes when called upon, pushing their way through fellow comrades to ask a question hoping for a reply, waiting on the phone for the next big story, converting the scribbles of notes into a piece worthy to be published. Editors collect the half-baked masterpieces, cross-reference them for accuracies, correct the grammatical mistakes with a sigh, change the choice of overly-used vocabularies, and craft the art into perfection. Designers put the articles into their right places, edit the photos to the right sizes, and ensure there’s no room for mistakes with a few gazes. All these done by midnight, hoping to cover as many new stories as possible, before sending to the press for printing, getting them out hot from the oven in the wee hours of the morning before the newspaper uncle gets his stock and does his rounds. All these in a day’s work, and it goes on repeat in the newspaper production playlist.
My breakfast’s ready and I resume the day’s reading. I turn to the next section like how I flip TV channels. Newspapers were the waves to surf on before the invention of cable tellies and the world wide web. Comics, entertainment, gadget reviews, readers’ corner, cooking recipes, lifestyle and tabloids fill up the fun fractions. Meanwhile, the local community news, global scandals, political wings, business watch, environmental issues and classified ads take the skippable and boring bits — at least to me. There you go, the daily newspaper from cover to cover. It’s now 11.00 am, my meal and reading are done, and so is the paper’s shelf life…or is it not?
Newspapers have multi functional usage that can rival the Victorinox swiss knife. Makcik Kiah uses it to wrap her spicy hot nasi lemak every morning. Mr Lee uses it to wrap his shiny dishware that he just bought from Ikea. Mother uses it to wrap her meat and vegetables to be kept in the refrigerator. I use it to wrap the broken vase that got knocked off by a stray football that I kicked. Newspapers topped the most utilised wrapping paper charts for 300 years in a row. It also appears in the must-have list for all janitors. Apart from being the best scrubbing tool to clean windows, sliding doors, mirrors and glasses, newspapers serve as floor covering, dirt mat, pet poop bag and car seat protector. Little children collect newspapers to transform them to papier-mâché to build volcanoes for their science project. In a youth camp program preparation, newspaper is the second most sought-after games prop, losing only to water by a very fine margin. Its benefits go beyond just being the day’s publication.
I place the newspaper at its rightful place, at the corner in the storeroom beside the toilet rolls stocked for times in need, nicely arranged on top of yesterday’s print. The stack of daily tidings is now about five handbreadths, the length from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger — the metric system of all old newspapers dealers. Every now and then, the old newspaper uncle in his red lorry can be heard calling out for business from the comfort of the sofa. Just like the Indian newspaper uncle in the morning, he appears from the corner, driving his mini lorry at 20km/h while blasting out on his loudhailer: Old newspapers! Sao gao po zhi! Surat khabar lama! Mother hears it from her kitchen, quickly rushes out abandoning the half-cut carrots to stop the loud spoken Chinese uncle before he disappears for the next couple of months. Mr. Old Newspaper comes in and with his big hand measures the height of the newspaper tower. He counts three handbreadths, while mother bargains for five. They settle for four. The collection is taken away, the corner is vacant, and the count is reset to zero.
With the exponential growth of technology, hard copy newspapers have been curtailed into extinction. Yesterday’s news that is read every morning is now available as early as…yesterday. News travels fast, travels even faster today. Information is passed not by word of mouth or written notes of alphabets but rather in computable bytes and invisible waves. Live updates fill the screen every second and current headlines are made available at the tip of the finger. The early bird catches the worm has never rung so true in today’s world when it comes to the lowdowns. As digital communication speeds up, the press printing machinery slows down. The distribution uncle now finds other things to deliver and dispatch. Mr. Old Newspaper starts a small recycling centre business in the neighbourhood. A 10-inch gadget snugs itself in my palm as I finish off my morning milo. Flipping is replaced with swipes. Dog ears are labelled as bookmarks. Turning pages is taken over by browsing sites. What used to be a daily occurrence, is now just a scarce novelty.
The newspaper novelty.