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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 1, December 22, 2012 [Annual 2012]

Mainstream: An Enlightening Half-Century

Thursday 3 January 2013, by Anees Chishti


Fifty years is a long period for any forum
to survive and move from strength to strength. Mainstream can look with great pride to its role in the five decades of its existence, particularly because it started publication without big money support and could sustain only with the help of a small group of conscious individuals. The group kept getting larger and larger with each passing month and year, without any worthwhile revenue coming by way of advertisements. The beginnings were almost entirely marked by voluntary efforts of the lovers of Mainstream.

It is my privilege to say that I have been associated with this beautiful magazine in some way or the other almost since its birth. The warmth for it has only grown with the passage of time during the fifty years I have lived in the Capital. It was launched exactly one month after I came to Delhi from Aligarh to pursue my higher studies. I was in search of an opportunity to be associated with a forum to begin a career in journalism, a vocation I had decided to take up despite my formal education in the scientific discipline.

It was at the suggestion of a senior journalist friend, M.B. Lal of the Statesman, that I dared to climb up the stars in Connaught Circus M-Block to reach the office of Mainstream with a piece on art that I had somehow prepared and desperately wanted published. I had come to know of Mainstream while it was in its first year of publication during my frequent visits to the the Central News Agency in Connaught Circus and the first Annual Number was so intimidating with contributions from some of the best known names in writing and scholarship that I would not have dared to consider it as a possible forum for the beginning of my career as a journalist but for Mr Lal’s encouraging suggestion.

My first piece was glanced through by a generous and very likeable gentleman who told me that he would pass it on to the concerned person to have a look at it and take a decision about its publication. My surprise knew no bounds when I saw the next issue of Mains-tream carrying my article with its title prominently displayed on the cover page, even before I could make an inquiry about the fate of my article. I came to know later that the gentleman I
had met at the Mainstream office was Nikhil Chakravartty who was the moving force behind the journal even though he was not then designated as the Editor. A team of dedicated journalists and academics were working, most of them voluntarily, to make Mainstream a success under Nikhilda’s wings as it were. Soon I became a frequent contributor to the journal and subsequently had the privilege of working as its Assistant Editor for sometime. The pleasure of writing for Mainstream came to be even more than one could imagine. You write a piece on the legendary cartoonist, Shankar, and none other than Pothen Joseph, one of the best friends of the cartoonist, quotes it as the foreword to his own tribute to Shankar in his weekly column; write a tribute to scientist J.B.S. Haldane and the chief of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, in your first meeting, praises you for the sensitivity of the article; nervously make efforts to introduce yourself to Romesh Thapar, the celebrated editor of the Seminar monthly and another idol of mine, for some writing assignment, and get the bewildering response: “Yes, I read your articles in Mainstream!” Such experiences kept on happening making the revelation of the wide range of very distinguished persons reading Mainstream, then a new journal.
I found the environment very friendly and cooperative, congenial for journalistic work, and Nikhilda and his colleagues like the late C.N. Chitta Ranjan and D.R. Goyal were out to locate and encourage new talents, an effort that made Mainstream extremely refreshing and enlightening.

Special articles on politics, economics, current affairs and aesthetics were among the main features. But effort was also made to go deep into issues pertaining to science and its politics, probe the work being done in the institutions of scientific research and examine its utility in the realms of industry and allied fields. This was a distinguishing feature of the journal since the beginning and it is a matter of great satisfaction that under the editorship of Sumit Chakravartty this tradition is being carried forward admirably.

Mainstream has gone through periods of hardships and crises that are known to those associated with it since the beginning. But it has always stood by its commitment to the ideals that it had pledged to hold dear and promote despite the vicissitudes that it had to encounter from time to time.

Content-wise, the rise of Mainstream can be traced to the very beginning of its publication. A high point was the first Annual Number which had articles from some of the best brains of enlightened India. Among the many contri-butions in that issue, one would remember the piece by the veteran journalist, editor of National Herald, M. Chalapathi Rau, on covering Parliament. He had watched the greats of India’s parliamentary history from the press gallery and presented a very lively picture of parliamentary proceedings, something perhaps no other parliamentary correspondent of that time could do. To my knowledge, many perceptive readers of analytical articles on Indian politics and society started reading Mainstream after the publication of the first Annual Number. And, the stage, as it were, set for a large audience of this little magazine. No wonder, it has got the large readership it has now.

Another landmark was, in the late nineteen sixties, when Mainstream had exposed the unfair practices of a leading business house with a profound collection of documents supporting the exposure. As it happened, within a day of the release of this issue all news stands in Delhi had exhausted copies of Mainstream. The natural reaction was that the explosive material about the monopoly business house was the object of curiosity of readers who were not subscribers of the journal. But, a little probe about circulation pattern revealed that many of the new stands had copies sold in bulk. Further investigation revealed that the concerned business house got panicky by the material presented and the credibility of the journal and made efforts to buy the entire lot in the market before it could reach new readers. Similar buying spree was reported from some other big cities where Mainstream had become quite popular.

There was some talk of reprinting and circulating some extra copies for those who were denied the chance to read that issue of the magazine. I do not remember if some additional copies were printed but I do remember that there was a lot of noise in Parliament where some influential members raised the issue citing Mainstream as the source. I feel that it was a very important landmark for Mainstream from the point of view of investigative journalism. Innumerable instances this type have been there during the last fifty years.

Mainstream has been in the forefront of campaigns of progressive nature. It was, in fact, the objective of the launch of Mainstream to promote progressive and rationalist trends among conscious Indians. Helping the cause of Left unity was its primary concern. Unfortu-nately, within two months of its launch came the Chinese attack on Indian borders and the anti-Left forces got the chance to launch an attack on the Left in India. I consider this phase of Mainstream as a very important challenge and Mainstream, under the leadership of Nikhilda, rose to the occasion and through articles and reports from well-known journalists and commentators, it held a very important section of the Left in India together and proved to be a great morale booster for the Left then under attack by the reactionary forces. That strand of journalism is being followed even now and the journal has stood its ground despite some criticism of its stand on some recent developments in West Bengal, for instance, and it has proved to have been right. 

A setback of sorts for Mainstream, was a libel case against it for a piece in the ‘Scrapbook’ column of Mainstream, that was very popular among journalists and academics alike. Mainstream did not bow down and fought the case in the court. As a result D.R. Goyal, then editor of Mainstream, had to undergo a prison sentence. But Goyal’s and Mainstream’s commitment was strengthened and not weakened after the period he spent in the Yerwada jail. The readers of Mainstream appreciated the journal’s commitment to what appeared in its pages instead of apologising and avoiding prison. 

But the most trying time was during the Emergency declared by the Indira Gandhi Government in June 1975. Most newspapers and periodicals had chosen to toe the government’s diktats and submit their editorial matter to the almost despotic H.D. D’Penha of the Press Information Bureau for censorship. Nikhilda refused to comply with the government’s censorship orders and when it became impossible to continue publishing without censorship Mainstream chose to suspend publication. It was a dark but glorious hour for Mainstream for having refused to bend before the whims of the government. Nikhilda’s piece in the issue declaring suspension of publication brought tears to the eyes of many who had shared the ideals and commitments of the journal over the years. The rest is history.

Under the title; ‘Goodbye to All That’, Nikhilda wrote on Christmas day of 1976: “There comes a moment in the life of a paper, as in the life of many an individual, when the sense of purpose is in danger of being lost by the constraints of circumstances. Such a moment has come today for Mainstream, after more than fourteen years of toil and tribulations, of success as well as setbacks.”

He went on: 

Times have changed, and with them, the values. The political process, its semantics and its very style and purpose, pose questions which Time alone can answer. And to face such an extraordinary situation requires courage—courage not of the foolhardy but of the patient and the silently alert. Battles may be lost but wars are won by firm adherence to clear perspective. In this week of the birth of Christ, it is well to remember his words:

“Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.
Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be and find it.”
...There is no room for depression. As winter has come, spring cannot be far behind. And with the first sproutings of spring shall Mainstream reappear.
We shall overcome
And we overcame and Mainstream did appear and continues to appear in its fiftieth year.

Looking back on the fifty years of Mainstream, one feels satisfaction that the journal not only continues to enjoy the popularity that it had in the past, but it is finding new frontiers of success and progress. Mainstream under Sumit Chakravartty has, apart from the high standard of articles and analyses carried in the journal, is very highly regarded for publishing documents of vital importance, and has added much value to the material contained in the journal. This feature is attracting a very large number of younger readers and researchers to Mainstream.
Mainstream has always been a crusader against the monster of communalism And, today, the need for fight against this menace is perhaps greater than ever before. Today’s Mainstream reflects its commitment against communalism as powerfully as before and one hopes it would continue to wage its struggle against commu-nalism and for the strengthening of our secular fabric with the same zeal and vigour in future.

Concern for the masses of India was a hallmark of Mainstream when it was founded. It has become more important to guard the interests of the masses today while any number of diversionary and anti-people steps are being taken in the name of ‘globalisation’ and ‘economic reforms’. One hopes that Mainstream would continue to give prime importance to the interests of the common man and woman, as it is doing now.

 Nothing can be more laudatory for any forum than the feeling that it has lived up to the ideals and expectations with which it was originally conceived. And, fifty years after the birth of Mainstream one finds that it is as relevant and powerful a medium as it was in the years gone by. In fact, its voice is being heard in a much wider area now than before. And, one sincerely hopes that with the passage of time its following would continue to grow and the journal would continue to enlighten a growing number of readers in India and abroad.

Fifty years! Looking back, it does not seem to be too long a period:

perhaps only yesterday, or a week or fortnight ago. Spending long Tuesday night hours, correcting galley proofs, sitting in a small room at Kesar Kiari Printing Press near Bara Hindu Rao surrounded by racks loaded with tons of lead in the form of type faces to be used for hand composing of pages of Mainstream to be ready for printing by the morning. Small delights like savouring delicious mutton curry and tandoori rotis from a dhaba, in good company, at times with the loved one who was later to become the life-partner. Thanks, Mainstream, for these delights!
Looking at Mainstream, displayed in the best known news stands from Thiruvanthapuram and Bangalore to Delhi, from Kolkata to Mumbai, all those fifty years seem to be a dream, a delightful dream, indeed!

The author is a veteran writer and journalist who was associated with Mainstream as its Assistant Editor in its early years.

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