What do magazines tell you about a country on its 63rd anniversary of independence? The ones that arrive under our front door in the first week of the month form a random, diverse pile. Most are complimentary copies that the senders hope will be glanced at, a couple are subscribed to. Almost all are niche. And much more than the mainline weeklies trying desperately every week to produce cover stories that will sell, these reflect the many Indias within the Republic, and their state of being — good, bad and ugly.
Gfiles is a reminder that the bureaucracy is India's most entrenched estate, now vast enough to have its own magazine, "written, designed and produced for India's civil services". Each issue tells you which bureaucrat is getting posted where and, hold your breath, which IAS and IPS officers have birthdays coming up that month. Bureaucrats talk about governance issues, unions spill the beans on ministers they are taking on. This month's cover documents over 10 pages how the civil aviation minister Praful Patel took decisions that favoured private carriers and bankrupted the national carrier. And how land was given for the new airports. Don't know if the minister is planning to sue them. There is another two pages on Mr. A. Raja's messy domain.
Then there is Down to Earth, which has been around much longer than the others, delving into the many contentious issues that surround the country's progress. Apart from the state of land, water and air, it looks at policies and laws which are going to affect these. What are the realities of India's energy plans, including nuclear energy? There are governance issues: what is happening with forest conservation models? What is happening on drug prices and how will that affect the public health care system? What are individual states doing in this regard? It also tells you what battles farmers are fighting around the country, that the Food and Drug administration in Maharashtra is taking Complan to court over its claims, and what's wrong with the draft bill on Land Titling.
If how a country governs itself is partly about laws, Combat Law does not paint a pretty picture. It is a human rights and law bimonthly whose focus in August is on domestic violence, the lacunae in the Domestic Violence Act, what is right with it, and how such laws have evolved abroad. It examines, over 11 pages, the judicial record on the Bhopal catastrophe and how it has hastened the decline in standards of judicial decisions. Elsewhere there are ugly tales from the home of Operation Green Hunt. Magazines like this are for the record, intended as a basis for action, they are not agonising as all of the mainstream media is, about the limits of reader interest.
And then there is Civil Society, looking at what Indians are doing for themselves, documenting a growing sector and its concerns. It sermonises about financial inclusion and tries to be reader friendly with recipes and eco-tourism destinations. And presents stories of change-making groups and individuals from Bundlekhand, south coastal Gujarat, Kolkata, Tamil Nadu, and from a UP village.
Himal is not Indian, it is South Asian in terms of professed identity, and published from Nepal. Indians work for it and write for it, several contributors in the current issue are from India writing on issues that affect the country, including a cover story on sex work. But there are as many features from elsewhere: Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan. A magazine with a subcontinental take also presents Indian democracy with its warts to its neighbours.
Taken together, all of the above tell you that India at 63 is not a celebratory story. But they capture the country's myriad challenges, and a little bit of its promise.
The last two on my list definitely view the country through more upbeat lens. There's Marie Claire where the only Indians who figure are well groomed and beautiful. That is when you can find glimpses of people through all the glossy pages of pictures of beauty potions. And the problems are refreshingly different. Not toxins in your food, not malnourishment on account of hunger, but how to eat less to maintain your weight. Yes, India is a poor country, but don't eat your child's leftovers, they are bad for you. How to ensure that body piercing and tattoos will not harm you. How to get your mashed potatoes right. Like Outlook magazine's 2 am people, Marie Claire brings you those Indians who live on another planet. And a few on this one. There is a feature on women porters at Bhavnagar's railway station.
Afaqs Reporter covers media and marketing, both so much a part of what shapes the India which lives in the 21st century. It is about the men and women who see fellow Indians through the lens of consumers and brands. It tracks entrepreneurs in the less fashionable states who are eyeing media, it looks at issues that are becoming important in consuming India. Such as marketing responsibly to children and how companies propose to do this. It looks at the growing number of Indians served by matrimonial services and how the companies that cater to them advertise themselves. It is about the India which consumes media, and the Indians who make the media they consume.