In the absolute silence enforced by the invisible coronavirus, the thub-thub of my own chest has become a metronome of interesting revelations. I recall how small odours of spices were infused by a clutch of magazines for emerging middle-class readers in the early years of the post-independent era. Rich in contents and editorial gravitas, these magazines had promoted a sub-culture of creative writing. Promoting a sense of social responsibility among diverse readership, those publications accorded some sense of recognition to those like me who wrote in the domestic patois. During the ’70s, the Mirror had emerged as a monthly magazine with wholesome reading for the entire family. For a sports buff who spent hours in the library digging facts on country’s hockey laurels, the magazine gave a maiden opportunity for me to share the fact that Roop Singh, brother of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, had scored more goals in 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. It had proved a stepping stone for me to get published in other leading magazines of the time, monthly Imprint and the premier Illustrated Weekly of India.
When concerns of the youth had begun to extend beyond domesticity, magazines like Youth Times and JS (Junior Statesman) had helped shape expressions of both conservative and elitist voices of the young generation. Immensely engaging, these publications gave the youth a thrilling ride to deflate their windbag egotism. Guiding young collegiate to situate themselves in the bewildering realities of changing times, Anees Jung edited young minds’ warped accounts in Youth Times while irresistible Desmond Doig captured lyrical enthusiasm of his readers in JS.
With a special appetite for the printed word gaining currency, there was a perceptible shift in the cultural tectonic plate across most middle-income households. Vying for a share in emerging readership, competition among publishing houses had led to a variety of magazines on offer for the discerning readers. Sarika to quench literary thirst; Madhuri for film freaks; Nandan for the adolescents, and Dharamyug for the seniors were monthly acquisitions for most Hindi-speaking households. Curiously, reading had emerged as a consumptive habit for a vibrant society.
As I recount hazy images of the befuddled past, I realize how a learning and sharing landscape abuzz with a distinct sense of responsive sensibility towards each other has been long lost. While then editors would guide and nurture budding writers, in the present times building email connectivity with editors is a rarity. I recall how snail mails from editor M D Japheth accepting my articles in Mirror were encouraging; and Anees Jung guiding me to focus more on flow than parading the narrative with heavy words in Youth Times had left an indelible mark on my writings ever since.
Although there is much on offer to read now and that too free, it is the subtle bonding with the magazines that has disappeared from our lives. As I lament the demise of several magazines that shaped my world view, I vividly remember how a magazine folded before it could publish two of my articles. Such was the impact of advertisement revenue drying up that Contour, a magazine published by the Hindustan Times group, closed a few months after its launch in the late ’80s. For a freelance writer, it meant missing out on a favourite dinner!.
The niche magazines that created a social and cultural connect with the times could not bear the aversion of financial backers. It led to life coming to a pause for many like me, denying us the space we needed to grow and flourish.
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)