Malayala Manorama is a daily newspaper in Malayalam language which is published in the state of Kerala, India. According to World Association of Newspapers, it holds a position as top 26th most circulating newspaper in the world (third largest circulating newspapers in India behind The Times of India and Dainik Jagran and most widely read daily and number one in Kerala. It was first published as a weekly on 14 March 1890, and currently has a readership of over 20 million (with a circulation base of over 1.9 million copies). The Malayalam word “manorama” roughly translates to “entertainer”. The Week (India), an Indian weekly, is also brought out by the Manorama Group. Manorama Yearbook is another yearly publication by the Kottayam–Kozhikode-based Manorama Group. It has 32 publications all over India in five languages (English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Bengali).
One bright morning, more than a century ago, the first joint stock publishing company of India came into being. It was founded by Kandathil Varghese Mappillai at Kottayam, a small town in the princely state of Travancore, on March 14, 1888. The name Malayala Manorama came out of an elite brainstorming. The great poets Kerala Varma, Valiakoyhithampuran and Vilvattathu Raghavan Nambiar coined it, almost. It turned out to be an enchanting, enduring name. The company started with one hundred shares of Rs Imo each. The investors paid in four equal instalments. The first instalment was good enough to buy a press. It was a small treadle press, a Hopkinson & Cope, made in London. The pedal-powered press was installed in a vacant building, which would later become a cathedral. A local craftsman, Konthi Achari, was hired to make quality Malayalam types for the imported press. It was a herculean task. Being phonetic, the Malayalam script had 800 characters. Kandathil Varghese Mappillai was only 31 when he founded Malayala Manorama. He was an accomplished writer, a high thinker and a very enterprising.
At 21, he had worked for a year as editor of Kerala Mitram, a Malayalam newspaper run by a Gujarati businessman called Devji Bhimji, in Kochi. His mother despaired over his perilous journey by canoe to Kochi from his home in Tiruvalla which took one full week to complete. He quit the paper out of love for her, and became a shroff [treasury officer] like his father. Unlike his father, he had no head for figures. His head was full of dreams of starting a newspaper and publishing poems. He quit as shroff and found a teaching job. He taught Malayalam at C.M.S. College high school, Kottayam, an early cradle of English education in India. Kandathil Varghese Mappillai launched Malayala Manorama white he was a teacher. Even the Maharajah of Travancore, Sree Moolam Tirunal, held him in high esteem. The maharajah gave Manorama the Royal Coat of Arms. With a slight modification, it adorns the newspaper’s logo, to this day. It was a precious gift from a ruler who established the first legislative council in India in 1888. It was a year of enlightenment. It was in 1888 that the reformer Sree Narayana Guru consecrated a Shiva at Aruvippuram.
The daring act wrested for non-caste Hindus the right to worship Hindu gods. Kandathil Varghese Mappillai campaigned, through editorials, for human rights and greater powers for the legislature. He sparked many a political debate. And he spent reams on literature, throwing the pages of Manorama open to the finest poets and writers. Soon after its birth, Manorama triggered a war over alliteration. It was the fiercest literary debate in the history of Malayalam. The rival phalanxes were led by the great poet Kerala Varma and his renowned nephew Rajaraja Varma. Literature was intoxicating stuff those days. In 1891 Kandathil Varghese Mappillai formed a literary club, Bhashaposhini Sabha. It brought together the tallest poets and writers from Travancore and Cochin states and the British-ruled Malabar. Locking creative horns, they shed awkward angularities of dialects. It helped develop the language and break barriers of caste. The Sabha held keen literary contests. Once, the challenge K. C. Mammen Mappillai built into Manorama the kind of grit and determination Indian journalism had only seen rarely. He maintained the secular and literary tradition set by his uncle.
And he infused it with a new vigour, setting a lively style, starting columns for women and children, and initiating debates on politics and industry. Opening windows to the world outside, he made Manorama a powerful catalyst of social change. He straddled diverse fields. He was a teacher, writer, legislator, social reformer, banker, farmer, planter, industrialist, insurance baron… He lived a full life many times over in 80 years. The National & Quiton Bank under his chairmanship was one of the largest banks in India in the 1930’s. To break him, the Diwan [prime minister] of Travancore Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar broke his bank by engineering a run on it in 1938. Malayala Manorama was sealed on September 1938, after it reported how the police assaulted and shot people agitating for civil rights. Later, K.C. Mammen Mappillai was jailed, and all his property confiscated. He walked out of jail two years later. His brother K.C. Eapen, who was jailed with him, was carried home dead. K.C. Mammen Mappillai built Manorama all over again after the country attained freedom. It eventually became the best-read newspaper in India. Inaugurating Manorama’s belated diamond jubilee.
The New Guardian of India Insurance Company, which he founded, had an enviable reputation. Popularising rubber cultivation, he gave Kerala’s economy a new bounce. Rubber became the economic backbone of Kerala’s midlands. The champion of rubber was a man of steel in the Sree Moolam Legislative Assembly and in the stormy conflicts in Kerala’s Syrian Christian Church. He played a pivotal role in the Abstention Movement and several other mass initiatives for civil rights and responsible government. Everywhere his voice throbbed with the spirit of freedom. For nine long years Malayala Manorama lay in chains. It was a heavy price paid for freedom of expression. The 1930’s were tempestuous years of India’s struggle for freedom. Malayala Manorama was in the forefront of the struggle in the princely state of Travancore. The paper was actively involved in the civil rights agitation, the formation of the Travancore State Congress and the historic campaign for responsible government. K.C. Mammen Mappillai’s trenchant writings and public speeches invited the wrath of the all-powerful Diwan Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar.
The Diwan believed that Manorama was bankrolling the State Congress. He banned Manorama for its candid reporting on police firings and atrocities against people demanding democratic rights at Neyyattinkara on September 1, 1938. On September 1938, armed police confiscated the Manorama office in Kottayam and sealed its doors. As Malayala Manorama was struggling to break out of its nine-year-long banishment, a 50-year-old former professor came forward to strengthen K.C. Mammen Mappillai’s aged elbows. It was his eldest son, K.M. Cherian. He teamed up with his father as managing editor. It was Cherian who paved the way for Manorama’s magnificent comeback. On K.C. Mammen Mappillai’s death, K.M. Cherian took over as chief editor in 1954. His immediate goal was the emotional integration of the people of Travancore, Cochin and Malabar, which were uniting to form the state of Kerala. K.M. Cherian was chairman of Press Trust of India and president of the Indian Newspaper Society. He received several national honours, including the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan. He died on March 14, 1973. If Kandathil Varghese Mappillai conceived Manorama and K.C. Mammen Mappillai moulded its character, K.M. Cherian breathed new life into it. And he won it national glory.
He won acclaim for the admirable effort. He cherished lofty ideals and kept his father’s last dictum close to his heart. But it was a struggle running the impecunious institution. And there was severe challenge from militant trade unionists. K.M. Cherian had immense faith in his employees. “If you don’t want this institution to survive, I also don’t want it,” he told them. They came around and stood by him. When a former professor felt lonely at the top, he called in a former coffee planter. K.M. Cherian sent an SOS to his younger brother K.M. Mathew after the death of their father in 1954. He needed an able lieutenant. Manorama was lurching from one crisis to another. It was far behind four other newspapers in circulation in its home town. K.M. Mathew had proved his mettle as a coffee estate manager in Karnataka and was running a successful business in Mumbai. At 37, he had little experience in running a newspaper. He was, however, long on courage. After all, he had survived the trauma of his family’s sudden downfall when he was 21.
He joined Manorama as general manager in 1954 and held the reins with a steady hand. He soon became managing editor. K.M. Mathew’s style-of journalism and management-had a magical effect on Manorama’s fortunes war, but on helping frantic expatriates return to Kerala? His initiatives often went beyond the pale of conventional journalism. Once he built a hundred houses for the poor. Then he rebuilt villages in distant Maharashtra and Gujarat. And he gave poor heart patients a new lease of life. K.M. Mathew liked to build and heal. He triggered a host of development projects in Kerala by initiating a series of seminars on industry. At the same time, he launched several campaigns for protection of the environment. In the 1980’ he set an easy-to-read writing style for the mass circulated Manorama Weekly. It sustained the reading habit of neo-literate adults. Down to earth, he honoured the farmer- with a biannual award and a monthly magazine. He has won several awards himself, including the Padma Shushan. And the B.D. Goenka Award for excellence in journalism.
Under his inspiring leadership Manorama steadily gained strength and launched an edition from Kozhikode in 1966. K.M. Cherian also started a few other successful publications. The circulation of the newspaper soared from 30,000 to 300,000. And that of Manorama Weekly, which he had revived in 1956, rose to 329,000. Manorama’s first printing machine, a Hopkinson & Cope from London, was a hardy hand press. It cranked out 500 copies the day Manorama was born. It never once failed the printer and still looks good. Not all machines of later vintage were that tame. They would act up once in a while. Manorama has come a long way since then. It is a wired world out there- a world of LANs, WANs, BINUSCANs, PDFs, SAN boxes and XML compliant systems. It has always relied on appropriate technology. In 1981 it graduated from letter press printing to offset printing by installing French-made Creuso Loire Gazette typesetter presses in Kottayam. Not long afterwards, it installed telephoto transmitters and digital scanners for colour separations.
When K.M. Cherian died in 1973, K.M. Mathew succeeded him as chief editor. He nurtured Manorama and made it branch out like a giant banyan tree. Almost every publication from the Malayala Manorama group became the largest setting in India. K.M. Mathew is best known for his caring, nurturing brand of journalism. While spurring Manorama into circulation conquests and spawning other best-selling publications he practised an endearing brand of journalism-journalism with a human touch. Who else would have sent a team of reporters to the border of war-torn Kuwait and asked them to concentrate, not on the K.M. Mathew regularly sharpened Manorama’s managerial and technological edge. And he honed its news-gathering skills. But he excelled himself in building emotional bonds with the readers, giving them information with the human touch. Malayala Manorama began spreading its wings two decades after freedom. The first flutter was heard in Kozhikode, where it started an edition in 1966 the year it celebrated its platinum jubilee. Two more editions appeared in the next twenty years. Kochi edition got rolling in 1979 and Thiruvananthapuram in 1987.
Thiruvananthapuram was a facsimile edition- a first in India, for non-English newspapers. K.M. Mathew was a thorough professional who reposed faith in systems and training- and family values. He trained himself before he trained others. K.M. Mathew travelled the world, attending workshops, studying publishing trends, buying new technology, and making lifelong friends. He spent three months at Columbia University in 1968, absorbing the best of journalism practices. He headed the Indian Newspaper Society, Press Trust of India and the Audit Bureau of Circulations. He was a member of the first Press Council of India. K.M. Mathew brought the first Asian programme of the International Press Institute to Kottayam. He sought out professional advice, and regularly restructured the newsroom and back rooms.
He appointed the youngest news editor in India. Chasing professional excellence, K.M. Mathew sent many of his journalists and executives for training abroad. And he brought seasoned newsroom coaches from all over the world to hone skills in Manorama. He ‘imported’ renowned newspaper consultants and designers like Edwin Taylor, Peter Lim, Peter Ong and Mario Garcia. K.M. Mathew groomed competent professionals from within the family to help him run Manorama. Until 1981, his nephew Mammen Varghese assisted him as general manager. His father, K.M. Varghese Mappillai, was general manager of Manorama during the ten eventful years from 1929 to the closure of the paper in 1938. And he was there to help launch the paper in 1947.
Mammen Varghese helped K.M. Mathew launch M.M. Publications. He is today the Chief Editor of Manorama Weekly. Another nephew, K.O. Kurian, was the printer and publisher of Manorama Weekly until his death in 2007. Mammen Mathew, the eldest son of K.M. Mathew, is the editor and managing director. He worked in British and American Newspapers before joining Manorama. The first Asian to become Trustee of Reuters, Mammen Mathew was president of the Indian Newspaper Society and Editors Guild of India. He received the Padma Shri and the Rajiv Gandhi award for excellence in journalism. Another son, Philip Mathew, is the managing editor. He was chairman of the Press Trust of India, the Press Institute of India and the Audit Bureau of Circulations. A year after Malayala Manorama became a daily newspaper it gave birth to an organisation for the youth and children. It is called Akhila Kerala Balajana Sakhyam. Founded in 1929, the Sakhyam aims at the full flowering of children’s talents.
It unleashes creative energy and builds leadership qualities. It was K.C. Mammen Mappillai’s baby. And he nourished it through the columns of Malayala Manorama. He exhorted the teenagers in one of the columns: “Be broadminded. And believe that your country is your community.” They followed him, and Mahatma Gandhi himself wrote about them in his newspaper Harijan. Over the years, the Sakhyam has grown into the largest non-political democratic organisation in Asia with their motto as “We Serve”. It has a branch in almost every village in Kerala. The members, in the age group of 6-18, elect leaders to run the Sakhyam. In the process they breathe in the spirit of democratic discipline. It has become a great movement, glowing with creativity and positive energy. While developing physical, mental and aesthetic abilities, the Sakhyam initiates the children to community work. The whole approach is constructive.