By Martand Jha:
If you cannot find any newspaper, magazine or a journal then Central News Agency (CNA) is the place to go which is situated in Connaught Place in Delhi.
The place was started way back in 1936 by a government official Balak Ram Puri, who was an avid reader and wanted to inculcate the habit of reading among others. “Before starting the agency in Shimla, Puri went door to door to sell books and magazines,” informs Santosh Puri, the Director of the agency. It was then decided by B. R. Puri to have a place in the capital where all the mainstream newspapers, magazines, books and even some journals would be available.
Even before Independence, CNA delivered its services to people living in Lutyens Delhi who were mostly big politicians and the British. After Independence in 1947, various ministries were formed, foreign embassies began to operate in Delhi as well Indian embassies started opening up in various nations. CNA started giving direct subscriptions to all these places which continue till today. For reaching out to more customers CNA operates from 9 different locations in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, London and New York. The headquarters are in Delhi.
At present, CNA is one of the Delhi’s biggest and oldest companies that distribute Indian as well as foreign newspapers in the capital. Newspapers from various vernacular languages like Bengali, Malayalam, Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi etc. are available here. “People from other states in Delhi are regular customers of this place as they want to read newspapers from their states,” a CNA staff member says.
One can find approximately 500 magazines, both national and international here. The agency doesn’t sell hot-selling magazines of the day like most of the booksellers do but provides a space to magazines related to literature, theatre, environment, armed forces etc. which caters to only a select audience. “I was having a hard time finding magazines like ‘Navneet’ and research journals like EPW wherever I went. But I got both here,” says a customer.
The agency is staffed by more than 300 people in total including 25 who are posted at the headquarters in Delhi. It gets calls throughout the day from individuals, groups and institutions for getting subscriptions for newspapers, magazines and journals. People from remote areas of India where books are not available easily call here regularly for bulk orders of books and journals. CNA also puts up a stock of newspapers from the past one month so that people who are looking for recent vital information can refer to the stock easily.
When asked whether the idea of keeping a month’s stock was feasible in the age of internet where one can easily look up the archives, Nita Puri, another Director of CNA replies that in spite of the internet providing archival services, people go there regularly to look for vital information of the past one month. After each month, the stock is returned to respective publishers. But she agrees that due to the internet, sales have reduced considerably. People of the younger generation especially are usually not among CNA customers which was not the case until a few decades ago. Now, only some UPSC and CAT aspirants can be seen visiting this place.
To sustain itself in the internet age, CNA also went online to attract the newer generation. Today, almost all vital operations here are automated. Also, the number of subscribers in Delhi are between three to five thousand. They read their morning newspapers which is supplied to them with the help of 30 cycle wallahs, a biker and three vans which take the newspapers from CNA’s wholesale office in Gole Market at 3:30 a.m. in the morning and deliver their services till 9 a.m. in the areas of Central Delhi, Greater Kailash and Vasant Vihar.
The three vans are then sent to IGI airport to collect the bundles of various foreign newspapers, journals and magazines delivered from quite a few nations across the globe. The bundles are then distributed to all the embassies and to the Ministry of External Affairs in the afternoon.
In its history of 80 years, CNA has seen many prominent personalities visiting the place which includes former Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh. Various politicians still visit the place when Parliament is in session.
According to Santosh Puri, the director of CNA, the experience over the years has been very fulfilling and satisfying for her as she believes her organisation has provided a unique service to the layman for decades and will continue to do so even in future despite its decreasing popularity with time. There still remain many admirers of the place both in India and abroad who would not like to see this place shut down.
Featured image for representation only. Credit: Tengku Bahar/AFP/Getty Images.