WAY back in the 1930s and on to the middle of the 20th century, the United States and Britain had some brilliant weeklies. One remembers magazines like The Atlantic, Saturday Review, The New Statesman and Nation and a few others whose editors were held in the highest esteem. One, of course, cannot forget the Henry Luce productions like Life, Time and Fortune. It was Life, more than any other journal, that made photo journalism truly popular. Life became an institution in itself. India, then, had hardly any magazine of note. In the twenties, Kamakshi Natarajan brought forth The Indian Social Reformer. After his passing away, his son, J Natarajan tried to continue it, but it had gone out of fashion. Mahatma Gandhi was doing in real life what K Natarajan was doing through the media, which is not to belittle that great leader.
From Calcutta came Ramanand Chatterjee’s Modern Review. This was for intellectuals and liberals and had occasional contributors from the elite like Jawaharlal Nehru. But that too, had its life-time. From Madras, we had My Magazine and Merry Magazine, awfully produced but provide opportunities for budding writers to exhibit their talent. Mysindia, a weekly edited by an Englishman was published from Mysore. Among the most popular Sunday weeklies was one from old Madras, Sunday Times edited by one MS Kamath who Made Ramana Maharshi widely known. In Bombay, while the daily Bombay Chronicle was edited by Syed Abdulla Brelvi, the more popular Sunday Chronicle was edited by RK Prabhu. The Sunday edition was famous for its Last Page written by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, a 100 per cent nationalist who was later to pay his attention to film production.
There were a few other journals which blossomed in the post-independence period like R K Karanjia’s Blitz, but they belong to a different category. They naturally served a purpose for the times before they went out of circulation like-to provide another example, Baburao Patel’s delightful Filmindia. Baburao was literally the father of Cinematic Journalism in India. Of course, one cannot forget the Illustrated Weekly of India which by any reckoning was the best of the lot and had a national circulation envious of the Gods. In the early eighties it celebrated its centenary anniversary. All this is to remind one that while most of them are no longer there, we today have journals of great excellence like Frontline, Outlook, India Today, each excelling the other in one or other department. The Economic & Political Weekly had hardly any competition from any publisher let alone in India, but in the world at large.
One of the newest entrants into the field of journalistic excellence is Eternal India now hardly two years old but, I would like to submit, should be must reading to anyone who wants to know what is happening in the country in depth. The latest issue (May 10) is especially to be recommended for four article: Aspects of Internals Security by Lt Gen (Retd) AS Alkat, Development of Telangana by T H Chowdary, who is Director of Centre for Telecom Management Studies, Religion and Job Reservation by Arif Mohammad Khan, a former Union Cabinet Minister, but the most fascinating of all is a study of Dharampal’s Indiginous Indian Education by AL Prajapati. And this, for a special reason. One will remember the growth of the anti-Brahmin Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu, on the ground that the brahmins, during the British period all but monopolised government jobs, in its time, the most coveted. Was it always like that? It wasn’t. In earlier days, in most areas, especially in Madras Presidency, the Brahmin scholars formed “a very small proportion of those studying at schools” except in disciplines of Theology, Metaphysics, Ethics and the Law”. But the disciplines of Astronomy and Medical Science seem to have been studied by scholars from a variety of backgrounds and castes, as the author notes. In Malabar, for instance (the period of time is not mentioned) out of 808 students studying Astronomy, only 78 were brahmins and out of the 194 studying medicine, only 31 were Brahmins. Incidentally, in Rajahmundary five of the scholars in the Institute of Higher Learning were shudras.
According to other Madras Presidency surveys, the best students studying surgery were from the caste of barbers. Brahmins were nowhere in the picture. The figures quoted in a variety of job offerings etc suggest that the role of the Brahmins was minimum in almost all of them. Government jobs formed only a small part of all the jobs available in the country, a point mostly forgotten by anti-brahmins, no doubt purposely. One suspects the caste system precluded brahmins from many highly paid professional jobs like temple building, carving out canals etc, even studying surgery since it was unacceptable for brahmins to touch dead bodies.
But to come back to the present times. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh gives his first press conference in one year which was attended, one is told, by over six hundred reporters, which one finds unbelievable. This columnist does not profess to have read all the newspapers in India, but going by regional papers, the press conference was well reported but instead of summarising the answers given by the Prime Minister, the media could have reported the proceedings verbatim, presenting both questions and answers as they were asked and replied. One would also like to know who asked which question. So many of our dailies are devoted to presenting social events that political reporting has been reduced to a joke. Time was when newspapers like The Hindu would give two full pages of parliamentary proceedings. In Bombay, The Times of India also gave detailed coverage not only of Parliament but of the Bombay Legislative Assembly and even the Bombay Municipal Corporation. In the era of ‘breaking news’ and ‘Instant news’ those wise ways are no longer fashionable. It is the reader who is deprived of information and the totality of information to arrive at major judgements. That is the best way to destroy democracy.