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American Researcher explores the life and times of 'the father of the Indian newspaper'

Kolkata, Jul22(UNI) Had it not been for a failed business venture and debts that got James Augustus Hicky incarcerated, 'the father of the Indian newspaper' wouldn't have thought of publishing Bengal Gazette, also the first English newspaper.
These and many more interesting revelations are made by Andrew Otis, a former Fulbright Fellow, in his book 'Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper' that traces the journey of the first 'printed newspaper of Asia' from its conception to its final days.
Talking to an audience at the American Centre, Kolkata, recently, Otis said,"James Hickey was bankrupt and needed something that could rescue him from the situation. This is when he decided to utilise the experience he had earned working as an apprentice at the age of 13 at a printing press."
"While money was the prime motive behind Bengal Gazette, another was revenge. Hicky wanted to take revenge on several people, who had in some way challenged him or harmed him," Otis, who has written the book after five years of extensive research said. "Interestingly, one of them was Warren Hastings, the the first governor general of British India,"he added.
According to Otis, Hicky employed people (all white) to collect and write news, which was obvious as his target audience was the European community in Calcutta. Being the only newspaper, there was no dearth of advertisements, but he filled his columns with gossip stories and made fun of the rich and powerful. As there were no guidelines to regulate what he could write and what he couldn't, he flayed the East India Company for it's corruption and failures.
Hicky's vitriolic colums were not taken too kindly by the East India Company, and a rival newspaper managed to gain the government's patronage and challenged Hicky's and his newspaper's existence.
'Indian Gazette' apparently did not indulge in criticism of the East India Company's governance, exactly what Hastings would have wanted to counter Hicky's continuous onsluaght. Indian Gazette was allowed circulation through Post Office free of postage, while a court order banned the delivery of Bengal Gazette through Post Offices.
Following this, Hicky decided to take on Hastings, Otis said. On many occasions he pointed out how nepotism was used in securing lucrative contracts, and doing so he openly meddlled with Warren Hastings, whose friend Elijah Impey had secured a lucrative contract.
"After battle of Plassey in 1757, the British wanted to extract as much money as possible. Hicky talked about Clive forging documents and taking over Bengal by fraud. Twenty years later another man named Raja Nanda Kumar was executed for allegedly forging documents. Hickey pointed out the glaring disparity between the way the government treated the British and the natives,"Otis said.
"While Clive was treated as war hero in England, a victory that was achieved by treachery and forged contracts than military prowess, Nanda Kumar a native was hanged for the same irregularity, Hicky had written in his weekly,"Otis said.
"When a military commander sabotaged his printing contracts, he wrote about the concubines of the commander. A missionary cancelled his contract, so he wrote against the missionary," Otis said, adding,"He was a man of temper and 'a wild Irish' whose actions were governed more by anger than by wisdom."
An angry Hastings finally seized and closed Hicky's press, two years after its birth in 1782, and arrested him.
While most writings in India, often project Hicky as a journalist who dared to speak against the rich and the powerful, Otis sees him as a man who did most of it out of malice and revenge.
A PhD student of Journalism at the University of Maryland, in the U.S, Otis, calls his book 'a piece of journalism'. He was inspired to write the book when he stumbled upon the memoirs of Hicky's lawyer --- William Hicky, in a library in US while researching on another topic."I found this man's character extremely interesting, and decided to find more about him and his newspaper," Otis revealed.
While Hicky was released from jail later, he could never get his newspaper business running."He probably died in his sixties on his way to China in a ship," Otis said.
'Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper' is available on all major book stores and e-commerce platforms.
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