Illuminated Kochi office of Mathrubhumi | Photo: Mathrubhumi
On March 17, 1923, the evening despite being unusually calm considering the national mood then, a small building on the Robinson Road in Kozhikode was buzzing with activity. A group of people who dedicated their lives for the freedom of the country under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi were scripting history.
The team of Congressmen led by its state president KP Kesava Menon were about to print the first edition of the Mathrubhumi newspaper, which heralded a new chapter in the political and cultural life of the malayalis.
As the media house has turned 100 since its formation in 1923, we bring to you the story of Mathrubhumi.
A section of Congress leaders was agitated over the fact that the campaign of the party was not being taken up by the existing newspapers.They decided to crowdfund a new press. After much deliberations, the Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Company was established on February 15, 1922. KP Kesava Menon, K Madhavan Nair, TV Sundaraiyar, Ambalakkattu Karunakara Menon, Kuroor Neelakandan Namboothiripad, P Achuthan and Dr AR Menon were the directors when the company was first registered. They elected Kesava Menon as the first Managing Director.
The company was born, but it had no funds to function. They aimed to sell 20,000 shares of Rs 5 to raise the capital. However, it was no easy job as even the supporters of the Congress party were reluctant to buy one. Congress was in an almost idle state in the northern region of present Kerala after the Malabar rebellion. Menon wrote to many Malayalis outside Kerala to buy the shares. Meanwhile, many like-minded people pitched in to increase the sales as much as possible. Yet, the target still remained elusive.
After struggling for almost a year, the team bought a press and a building for Mathrubhumi in 1923. It cost Rs 21,500. However, they had only Rs 7,500 with them. Menon sought time to clear the dues of Rs 14,000. The M Press Victoria Press and the house were situated on Robinson Road, presently known as the KP Kesava Menon Road.
The press was not sufficient to print newspapers. Mathrubhumi then bought an old cylinder press from Vidyavilasam Press that was functioning on the same street. It served the company till 1930.
The company had spent all their money by then. After much discussion, the directors decided that they should start printing immediately though they were cash-strapped. The board unanimously appointed KP Kesava Menon as the editor. Madhava Nair took up the managerial position. Their salaries were Rs 150 and Rs 125, respectively. At least, on the papers.
It was decided that the first edition would be released on March 18, 1923, to mark the first anniversary of the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi. Though the scheduled publishing days of the paper were Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, March 18 was a Sunday.
Menon was aided by P Ravunni Menon, KV Kunjunni Menon, Kozhippurathu Madhava Menon, and TP Chanthukutti Kidavu in the editorial matters. Among them, only Kunjunni Menon had some kind of experience in writing for the media. The press staff too were inexperienced. But they were determined to script history.
THE BIRTH OF MATHRUBHUMI
On March 17, everyone reached the office a bit early. Kesava Menon had a rough idea of the 10-page newspaper. He had also prepared a vision statement of the paper. After setting the characters and correcting the proof copy, foreman Chathukutti started to turn the machine by hand by 4 in the morning.
Menon left for home with the first copy of Mathrubhumi. He, in his autobiography 'Kazhinja Kaalam', says that his family members reacted as if they saw a newborn when they viewed the paper for the first time.
The vision statement written by Kesava Menon was universal. It stood for the entire humanity. It declared solidarity with the suffering people across the world and it proclaimed its intense desire to fight for the freedom of the country . It reminded the readers of the duty of human life and called for changing society into a better world. It said Mathrubhumi would always be committed to the upliftment of the downtrodden. The paper also recognised the need for a unified Kerala. It expressed pride in the diverse nature of the country and pledged to sustain it. It also stated that all humans are equal and the paper will be impartial to the core.
Mathrubhumi was born into a turbulent period, into the midst of the struggles for independence. The newspaper is also a product of the renaissance movements in the early 1900s in Kerala. The works of leaders like Mahatma Ayyankali, Sree Narayana Guru, Kumaranasan, Sahodaran Ayyappan, Vakkom Maulavi, and VT Bhattathiripad set the ground for its mission and vision.
Mathrubhumi never wavered in its relentless fight against the colonial forces. It didn't even spare its Managing Director in its mission of speaking truth to power. The Madras High Court had sent notice to K Madhavan Nair, the MD of Mathrubhumi, seeking explanations for not ending his barristership as he was active in the civil disobedience movement. During the hearing, he argued that he was not a part of the movement. Mathrubhumi then wrote an editorial criticising the position taken by Madhavan nair. The paper made it crystal clear that he shouldn't have made that comment when he was actively involved in the fight for independence.In response,Madhavan Nair pointed out that even though he was personally hurt by the criticism of the newspaper for which he had dedicated his life, it was an act impartiality and reflected the kind of freedom that the paper exercised Another editorial ending the debate was published in the next edition.
The paper gradually grew in terms of content and subscription. More columns, reports from correspondents in Mumbai, London, and Malaysia, local news from different parts of Kerala, and were printed regularly. Kerala was witnessing the historical march of a newspaper that soon became part and parcel of its day to day existence.