Pakistan

The era of “Quetta Times”


Parsi people in Pakistan were originally from Iran, descendants for the Zoroastrians, who migrated to South Asia in the early 19th century. Around 200 Parsi families settled in Quetta, bringing with them experience in agriculture from Yazd, Iran. Despite frequent reports of unrest in the area where they settled, Parsis have mostly lived peacefully in Pakistan since partition. They are known as a learned community and many of their educational institutions are amongst the top schools in Karachi.

After moving from Iran, Parsis quickly settled down and took up farming. Soon after this in 1881, Nawsarwanji Mancharji, a Parsi businessman, planned to open a printing press with the name Victoria Press. Later, Dadabhai Golwala started the Albert Press, which published the first ever English newspaper in the city, called the Quetta Times. The newspaper started as a way to inform British Army officials about the happenings in the country as they did not have any means of getting news in their own language.

Victoria Press and Albert Press owners, who were first cousins, decided to shut down Victoria Press while the Albert Press continued its work. Former Senator Roshan Khursheed Barcuha, the only Parsi still living in Quetta, said the cousins started the press with a single machine that used to cut the newspapers manually since there was no electricity when the businesses started.

“Quetta Times had its own charm. It was printed like a magazine with good length and narrow width and an amazing feel of its paper. Parsis has this habit since beginning [of] deliver[ing] the best to keep their name up amongst the competitors,” Barcuha said. Her father-in-law was one of the founders of the publication. She said the Quetta Times was a celebrated source of information and was even given as a gift among family members in the same way people today might bring someone fruit or sweets when they visit their home.

 

When the Albert Press building was damaged in 1935, as was the Victoria Press, Mr. Dadabhai's grandson-in-law, Shawak Rustomji, restored the building. The management of the news agency remained in the family. When Rustamji died, his wife Gul Rustamji took over the business and ran it until 1990 when she sold it and moved abroad with her sons[BJ1] .

At that time, the readership of the newspaper had already started to decline since the British Army was no longer its main customer base. Television and radio had also taken over as the main source of news. Many Parsis migrated out of Quetta and other parts of Pakistan as freedom of speech came under threat and the security situation for minorities in the region deteriorated.

The situation became especially tenuous for journalists in Balochistan, making it hard to keep a publication like the Quetta Times operating as it always had. After Rustamji’s death, the family could no longer manage it properly and it eventually went out of business.

Although the newspaper died out, its legacy remains an important part of Parsi history in Quetta. Initially, Barcuha said all writers, contributors and editors were from the Parsi community. They had representatives from Quetta to Sukkur, which were areas where many Parsis lived. She said the newspaper was especially valued by British Army officers who used it to get up-to-date news from the city in a format they were used to from their country.

“Whatever used to happen in the city or outside areas was published without any outside pressure, Barcuha said. “It was the best source of news.”

Without advertising and marketing pressures, Barcuha said the publishers were able to fill the newspaper only with quality information related to Quetta and surrounding areas. She remembers the appeal of the high-quality materials used to make the paper, which differed from the kerosene smell of its competitors. Even after decades, Barcuha said the bindings of books from the publisher never got damaged. “My school fellows always used to ask me for such favors to get their books bind from our press and then I used to request [it from] my uncle.”

Copies of the newspaper were sent to schools free of costs and were kept in libraries so children could read them for leisure and as reference materials. Copies of the Quetta Times were even gifted to winners in newspaper and speech competitions. Barcuha said these examples show that the Quetta Times was more than just a newspaper, it was a tool for spreading the addiction of learning and reading within the community. She argues there are few other examples of communities in Pakistan working at such a high level of influence.

Barcuha said her father-in-law used to share memories of people reading the Quetta Times at nearby tea stalls, and at bookstores, which were one of few sources of entertainment for people before radio and television became popular. She said Sunday used to be the most exciting day for newspaper readers since the Sunday paper had special stories and articles for kids. “At that time, [the] postmaster used to deliver newspaper to every home and office.”

Compared to the way newspapers were viewed back then, Barcuha said there’s a lack of appreciation for newspapers and books. “The only time I see books are during zoom meetings where old citizens had good book collections and small libraries made in their offices or sitting areas,” she said. Barcuha wishes to re-invent the Quetta Times if she gets honest team who would take it over properly. But she worries her vision for the newspaper would be lost on this generation.


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