Murugeson had been the earliest distributor of The Star in Lumut when the newspaper was first published in 1971. His son said, “When he started out as a vendor in the early 50s, a newspaper only cost 5 sen and was shared by several families”.
In the intervening years, other publications have entered the market. The papers have sections and are several pages long. The cost of each is many times what it was in 1971. Online newspapers have also taken off, leading to a decline in printed newspaper sales.
Murugeson was special because he had scored two ‘firsts’: He was one of our country’s pioneer newspaper vendors; he was also 100 years old. But it is his message that we should treasure most. Murugeson used to stress the importance of reading to his nine children.
People like Murugeson are a dwindling breed. At one time, they were a familiar sight on our roads, with papers piled high behind them, almost dwarfing them.
I didn’t know Murugeson, but I do know our newspaper vendor very well. His name is Morgan and he took over from his father who is too old to ride the motorbike and so mans their family-run shop.
Morgan rises before dawn, collects newspapers from distributors and delivers them to subscribers, every morning, come rain or shine. Vendors, like him, promptly bring the news to us, at the breakfast table.
Although Morgan would never reveal the actual figure for the newspapers he sells, he would hint that it was in the thousands, “Oh, ribu-ribu ada”. The ‘territory’ he covers probably means he chalks up around 15-20 km per day.
Morgan doesn’t just deliver newspapers. His other unofficial role is to relay ‘neighbourhood information’. He would know if Miss “X” was staying over at her boy-friend’s or if Mrs “Y’s” son was still having marital problems, or if the wife of Mr “X” was away – the telltale sign was the ‘visitor’s’ car which blocked Morgan’s access to the letter box.
Morgan always finds time for a quick gossip but he is equally informed about developments taking place in the country and is able to make an acute analysis of current events.
Unfortunately, most of us are unaware and unappreciative of the contributions that our newspaper vendors make. These men may not have any tertiary qualifications but they are good, honest and hardworking.
They are up around 4 a.m., in all sorts of weather, to collect their newspapers from the appointed distribution centres. After pre-sorting them, they are off on their rounds.
By 9 a.m. they will take a short break for breakfast but resume work to deliver the afternoon papers, the distribution of magazines and other publications, like the Ipoh Echo, for a small number of clients. Their work is only over in the afternoon, after which time they may go home to spend time with the family, or in Morgan’s case, help out in the shop.
At the end of the month, they issue the invoice to each household and collect payment. Some households promptly settle the bill; others require a few additional visits.
Morgan tells me that the stresses in his job are high as some of his colleagues elsewhere have been victims of street gangs who target them in the early morning. He says that business is also slow as more people are sourcing their news on-line.
He rarely goes on vacation and says that he has only four days of holiday each year. When asked if he would choose another vocation if he had the choice, he says, “I wouldn’t change anything”.
The older generation like my parents, are not internet-savvy and consider Morgan’s service invaluable. The newspaper he delivers is their lifeline to the outside world.
Our family considers Morgan special. Our continued friendship, which started off with his father and now him, extends to festival days. Morgan’s wife, Maliga, who makes excellent putu mayam (string hoppers), supplies our household with this delicacy for Hari Raya or birthday parties.
Who says newspaper vendors are only good for news?