WHEN we began publishing in May 1992--400 fortnights ago--we answered this question from this space. (If you did not read it, look it up on our website.) We concluded "It is therefore our readers who will decide to make or break this magazine, whether the need we feel is indeed widely felt." Our survival and growth, without financial backing of a media house, is testament to the demand for what we do. Whether this magazine measures up to its mandate or not is a question each reader and writer of our magazine must answer on his or her own terms. But there is no disputing the space we occupy.
It is ours. We belong. Thank you.
The space itself, though, has changed over the past 16 years. For one, India has become a nation of young people. This has changed, in varied ways, the world of communication. There is now an entire generation that feels alienated by the language and terminology of the 1970s and the 1980s--the idiom of 1970s, driven as it was by the political upheavals then, pervades almost all serious discussions in India's media and public life. The 1980s saw the forces unleashed in the previous decade go out and engage with the country afresh. That was then. India's youth today, especially in cities and towns, considers politics and government bad words. One look at idols of urban youth today throws up lists of apolitical personalities--more accurately, public figures, preferably achievers, who seem apolitical.
Yet it is this generation, this burgeoning middle class market, that offers opportunity. The media, the world of advertising, industry, political parties and the civil-than-thou society are all trying to come to terms with this 'segment' of the market (we still call it a part of our society). At our magazine, advertising managers and the need to sell more copies do not dictate editorial decisions. But we, too, can sense the tide.
We notice the change, particularly, in the letters we receive, and the way our younger colleagues react to the news business. Our younger readers get put off by negativity--they are young, after all, and hope is not a mere slogan to them. Their tastes and aspirations are shaped by the whole world entering India with the opening up of the economy, the coming of satellite television, with a range of consumer products that were the privilege of a small international travelling class before the 1990s.
If we do not address this section of society, it would make a travesty of the mandate we set ourselves, 400 fortnights ago. But we cannot essentially change who we are--more than any other reason, for the sake of our loyal older readership that has stuck it out with us and given us the space we have. So, how are we to negotiate these demands? Are these demands negotiable?
We believe they are. All publications that survive over time find new contexts, new relevances. If the mandate of our magazine is to "fill a critical information gap" rather than "capture a share of the information market", the gap is there as it was in May 1992. Some would argue the gap has widened, some would say it has narrowed--depending on how they view the glass half-full of water. But there is no disputing the information gap. The biggest example is news on agriculture. If you desire accurate and diverse news of India's farmers and agriculture, your best bet is the commodities pages of business papers--written for those looking to make an investment that can get them good returns.
The only change is that environment has now become a legitimate beat in news bureaus, like science had become in the 1980s. This has ensured that science and environment get more coverage, but they are subjects to be covered, not ways of understanding our world. If you follow only TV news channels and newspapers that call themselves mainstream, you are very likely missing out on a large chunk of India that is alive, that has its successes and failures, that lives and dies, buys and sells, celebrates and mourns, earns and spends. Some of India's most dramatic stories lie there, and there are no reporters chasing them.
Like in every other issue of this magazine, you will find some of those stories in our current one. But we decided to use an editorial filter for this one issue, the first of 2009 page 16 onwards is good news only. These are not feelgood stories--we did not go out on a limb to find them for the sake of our happiness and that of our readers. They were on our to-do list, and we decided to put them all together in one issue. The cover feature on agriculture becoming profitable in Andhra Pradesh is a story we have followed without fail for five years--with general elections coming up next year, we hope political parties would see the opportunity in helping farmers earn better, and that farmers would vote those who can give them more than empty promises.
The residents of gated communities in havens of New India like Gurgaon would do well to consider Magarpatta, a township built and managed by farmers. Then again, there would be those who question whether Magarpatta can be held as a development model. To them, we have only this to say we peddle no perfect models, we only tell stories. If a poor locality in Bhuj treats its sewage with common sense, we report their story; we do not go and ask them what they have to say about, say, globalization.
So sit back, relax and have a read. If you like what you read--or don't--write us a letter.