A newspaper with only good news. A concept difficult to digest but that is exactly what 61 year old DV Sridharan offers. His news site has only good news, positive news, news about the unsung heroes of India and news about all those who contribute something to the country.
It is interesting to listen to Sridharan narrate the story of how he, a marine engineer who worked with the merchant navy from a very young age and lived all his productive years roaming all around the world finally ended up collecting news about the heroes of India, meeting them and writing about them.
Visiting various parts of the world in the early days of India's independence was not exactly a pleasant experience for an Indian, says Sridharan. "I come from a time when it was humiliating to be a marine engineer. When I went to sea, India was going through a famine. I used to load food in our ships and the foreigners used to say, 'give this to the starving Indians."
Years later, when he decided to settle down in India, he felt so proud and elated because "from a starving country, we have become a country that produces surplus food", but he did not see that kind of elation among the people he met here.
"I was surrounded by people who said, everyone in India was corrupt, any official can be bought, everyone has a price, etc. I looked at the comments as an insult. I cannot be bought so also millions of other Indians. It also puzzled me, if everything about India is so wrong, how have we been going for 5000 years. Then, I thought, perhaps I was hearing the wrong voices." Sridharan also became cynical, not about India but about people who made such comments.
That set him on a journey to understand India. The first destination was the Narmada valley. On his train journey, he met a brother and sister, children of a railway ticket examiner. Both were teenagers. Soon, he came to know that the 17 year old boy wanted to join the army. "Till then, most of the youngsters I had met wanted to finish their studies and go to America. And, here was a young boy who wanted to join the Indian army and serve the country! The young girl told me she would never leave her beautiful place. I got the feeling that they were the microbes who make India grow."
Those two youngsters inspired him so much that the moment he came back from the trip, he decided to start goodnewsindia.com where only good and positive news appears. That was in 1999.
Initially he sent emails to his cynical friends about the good news stories he posted on his site. When he installed a counter for visitors on his page, to his amazement, he saw the counter jumping! He wrote to Yahoo! and within a week, they catalogued him. The day, Yahoo! did that, he had around 700 visitors! In no time, his site became popular.
From then on, the site has constantly been growing and at the moment, the site has an average 1600 page views a day. He has achieved this without spending a single penny on advertising. Sridharan maintains the site with absolutely no financial backing from anyone even though he spends around Rs.3000- 5000 per story. So far, he has travelled all over Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Kerala covering about 30,000 kms.
He is a one man army now; with only his Toyota Qualis, and an Apple computer to help him. He designs the site, meets the heroes of India, writes about them, takes pictures with his digital camera, writes two main stories and six supplementary stories a month, uploads them, publishes and replies to all the mail. Whenever a new story appears, all those who have subscribed to the site get a three line alert stating that a new story has been published.
His modus operandi is like this. He makes a scrap book of all the positive stories that appear in the newspapers and magazines. Once he has a list of stories to be done from a particular region, he packs his bag, puts it in his car and off he goes; all alone.
But his grouse is that not a single newspaper gives the address of the people they write about. "I don't know why they do so. So, I give the full address, e mail address, phone numbers and sometimes even the direction to reach them in my site. I want my readers to connect to these heroes. Another thing I have noticed is, heroes generally get only a corner in a newspaper."
Sridharan describes his heroes as those who have the courage to stand up and do something for India. "For example, I went to meet an eight year old girl in Indore who went from shop to shop, sang and collected money during the Kargil war and sent the amount to the army. After that, she did the same and got heart surgery done on 12 children! These are my heroes. These are the microbes of India."
Many of his readers offer him money but he politely tells them, 'I can manage now.' But he is fully aware that a day would come when he would not be able to travel the way he does now. "I am 61. I may have to go a little commercial at some point. I would like to have stringers representing north, east, north east and central India."
Travelling 30,000 kms in India and meeting many unsung heroes have made him realise that Indians operate in different layers. According to him, one layer doesn't know India at all. "They are the people who hire a cab to the airport to catch a flight to Germany or the USA and come back after a business trip. Their life will never go beyond the hotel they live in and the club they go to. Only the other layers live in and know India."
To his amazement, he found that almost all his visitors are non-resident Indians. They write to him, "We are glad because at last somebody is writing about positive things. We are tired of reading about the gloom and doom predicted by newspapers."
Sridharan who discovers positive stories about India has some positive comments about his readers too. "India's IT success was because of the people from the middle income group and they come from very humble families. When they go to America and make a success, they remember the microbes of India and they connect with India. They are positive and India's big success is going to come from this young group. They are my audience. There is no hope for my generation. We have become cynical but the younger generation is positive and ready to do anything for the country."
Photographs by Sreeram Selvaraj