If you drop in at the office of Tarnaka Times — a community journal published at Tarnaka in Hyderabad — at the fag end of a month, a “volunteering” exercise will be “thrust” on you.
You will be politely asked to fold a few newsletters.
“Three neat folds, and then push it into the envelope, seal it and then paste a stamp,” Rao V.B.J. Chelikani, founding editor of the newsletter, instructs me.
There is a steep deadline to be met — around 3,200 copies of Tarnaka Times to be sent before the third of every month. Any pair of helping hands is welcome — it doesn’t matter if you are just a visitor, who will be co-opted as a volunteer.
The community journal is the voice of different resident welfare associations, a majority of them from Tarnaka, and some from other metros. In other words, it does not restrict itself to matters concerning the locality, but discusses subjects that could be of interest to a residents’ group in any part of the country.
“Citizens’ participation is our agenda, and it starts with helping the newsletters reach the intended recipients on time,” says 79-year-old Chelikani, who retired from UNESCO.
In 2000, Tarnaka Times started as a four-page in-house magazine of the Standing Committee of Tarnaka Residents’ Welfare Associations (SCOWTRA), a conglomeration of 18 RWAs. Nearly 600 copies were distributed initially.
Today, it has grown beyond expectations.
“We have improved in quality and content and our base has widened. Tarnaka Times is now a national chronicle of civil society,” says Chelikani.
The newsletter usually has eight pages, but sometimes expands to 12 pages. More than 3,000 copies are printed every month, and since 2017, the journal is also being offered digitally at www.tarnakatimes.com. It has some presence on Twitter — @TarnakaTimes.
Unlike most other neighbourhood papers or newsletters, this one is not sustained by advertisement revenue, points out Chelikani. It is driven primarily by the subscription model. The annual subscription fee is ₹200. The product is largely ad-free and runs with the contribution of RWAs.
“We spend nearly ₹20,000 every month towards printing, postal charges and other expenses,” says Chelikani, adding that 20% of the expenses is met by members. An eight-member team, a majority in their 70s, helps Chelikani bring out the journal month after month.
Finding content is not a challenge for the team, as it is all about highlighting issues that are of interest to residents’ group.
Chelikani is the founding member of the Confederation of Resident Welfare Associations, president of the International Foundation for Human Development and member of the Forum for Senior Citizens.
“We try to get as many groups to participate in articles as possible,” says Jagannatha Swamy, a volunteer who helps by collecting news from various RWAs and editing the stories.
One of the striking features of the journal is the space it provides for a wide variety of issues.
Flipping through the latest issue, one comes upon an article in which Gita Dendukuri from Hyderabad writes about how women leaders in RWAs are on the rise, illustrating the idea with examples drawn from many parts of Hyderabad. Another article, this one by a resident of Bengaluru, discusses the role of RWAs in maintaining lakes and how the city has already set an example in this matter.
Chelikani recalls the role the newsletter played in the revival of “ward sabhas”, where residents to get to meet with local officials and elected representatives.
“We ensured ‘ward sabhas’ were held in Tarnaka. Later, inspired by what had been done in Tarnaka, a few groups in Noida pushed the authorities to start ward-level meetings there.”