City Landmark – Central News Agency, Connaught Place
Mother of news stands.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Before he became the prime minister, Manmohan Singh was a regular. Painter MF Husain too would be sighed here. But this place in Connaught Place is more than its famous patrons. It is like no other place in Delhi. Here is a shrine to the pre-digital era. A time when all the newspaper readers were offline subscribers, and read their news from the printed paper, when they diligently wrote handwritten letters to the editor, when they made clippings of interesting news articles and had them laminated for posterity.
Central News Agency is one of Delhi’s oldest companies distributing Indian as well as foreign newspapers in the country. Founded by Balak Ram Puri in 1936, it is so iconic that nobody needs to sing fresh peans for it. But you ought to visit it with a new perspective, to see the aesthetics of the old world that it continues to possess in its furnishings, layout and furniture.
Start with the tall newspaper rack beside the display window. You won’t see it anywhere else. It’s like one of those dinner plates stacked in a stand in a hotel buffet, except that here, each rack contains a newspaper. The adjacent magazine stand is the size of the entire huge wall. The wooden brackets are stacked with very many magazines. The sight is poignant, especially to a Connaught Place regular who has seen so many longtime news stands in the area changing their business to the trade of mobile phone covers.
The back area is even more incredible, with its long wooden tables and racks stacked with even more newspapers. The wooden cabinets are filled with files and folders. Ceiling fans hang from the high roof by long rods. The wall panellings are of dark wood. This afternoon, staffers Uma Rajput and Twinkle Sharma are stationed on their respective desks. So is the venerable Madan Mohan, working here since 1973. A matted staircase is going up to an attic.
All is silent except for the sound of ceiling fans. The various newspapers (in many languages) are lying at their appointed places. The graceful Nita Puri, the founder’s 75-year-old daughter, is out of the shop but expected back any moment. The super-old metallic tijori (must see!) is still hanging onto its original name—New Era. The world here is appearing as reassuringly enduring as the certainty of tomorrow’s print edition.
A print edition shrine