HE WAKES up for work at 3am almost every day of the year and closes shop only at 7pm, with a four-hour break in-between.
This has been R. Ganesh Raj’s routine for the past 45 years, except for a short period when he enrolled for a degree programme at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 1988.
The 51-year-old Ganesh, whose friends say that he fell in love with newspapers even before he knew ABC, is in no hurry to change this.
“I was only five in 1973 when I started lending my father and older brother a hand to sort out newspapers as they arrived in lorries in the wee hours of the morning.
“And until today, the smell of just-printed newspapers is like a welcome breeze every morning, ” said the newspaper agent.
If there is one drawback, Ganesh said, it was getting his hands blackened by the fresh ink while sorting out the newspapers for distribution to vendors.
“I have always been quick with my hands and even won a competition as the fastest inserter of supplements or pullouts into the main paper at a vendors’ dinner in the 1990s.
“I acquired this skill because in those days, most newspapers had pullouts and supplements that needed to be inserted into the main paper daily, ” he said.
Ganesh, who now runs his late father’s 75-year-old business with brother T.R. Chandran, said he would not change his vocation for anything despite the long back-breaking hours.
“There is a special joy in being up in the wee hours of the morning.
“The only sound you hear is newspapers being unbundled and the chatter of vendors waiting to collect their copies, ” he said.
He added that with many readers migrating to the online platform, business had become slower now.
In his daily routine, Ganesh only stops at 10am for a break. He returns to man the counter at 3pm and continues working until closing time.
“I consider myself very fortunate as I am able to read the Malay, English and Tamil papers while I work.
“Apart from improving my general knowledge, I am also a source of news for many vendors and customers, ” he said.
He said the golden era for newspapers was between the 1980s and 2000, when sales skyrocketed.
“Since there was no Internet or smartphones then, we had to keep our ears open on happenings in and outside the country so that we could increase orders if there was news breaking later in the day, ” he recalled, citing as examples the murders of former Umno man Datuk Mohd Taha and beauty queen Jean Perera Sinnappa, as well as the Mona Fandey murder trial and the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from Umno.
“Those days were much
busier as we used to have afternoon newspapers that would arrive in Seremban around 1pm, just in time for the lunch crowd.
“We used to do roaring business, especially during major sports events such as the FIFA World Cup and the English Premier League when matches were played past midnight Malaysian time, ” he said.
Ganesh said his journey as a newspaper agent had been truly fulfilling and enjoyable.
“It has been such a joy because we used to be in a business where we were among the first to get the news, ” he said, adding that his father was one of the oldest newspaper agents in the country and the biggest distributor of Tamil newspapers such as Tamil Nesan, Tamil Malar, Nanban and Osai in the state.
As a newspaper agent, Ganesh is used to “being in the line of fire” when newspaper companies increased their prices.
“In those days, even if there was a 10sen increase, we would get angry looks from customers.
“In fact, we had a tough time fielding queries from customers when The Star, which was fast gaining popularity in the 1980s, was temporarily shut down by the government in 1987, ” he said.
The vendors, most of whom have been around for more than 20 years, are also like family to Ganesh and Chandran.
“I marvel at their discipline and commitment.
“But I must admit they are a dying breed as not many youths are interested in taking up the job, ” said Ganesh, adding that some agents had even resorted to hiring foreigners.
Just like any business, a newspaper agent has his own set of challenges.
“We have problems when it rains as deliveries are delayed when the entire distribution network grinds to a halt” said Ganesh.
He takes the long hours in his stride.
“As I have been doing this for more than four decades, I am unable to do anything about my biological clock.
“I can be away abroad holidaying, but I will be up at sharp 3am Malaysian time, ” he said with a smile.
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