Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It’s a mag, mag world

It is a typical Bombay minute away from Churchgate station and is almost like the Harry Potter 9-3/4 platform— visible but elusive even before you could fathom its existence. I am talking about a magazine store that has been the biggest find of my six months’ humble existence in Bombay. I get the latest issues of foreign magazines like, New Yorker, Wired, Empire, The New Republic, Spin, Rolling Stone, Downbeat, Prospect, FourFourTWo, New York, Q, Atlantic, Spectator, Monocle and, at the risk of being branded a jubiliant name dropper, many more. That too, wait for it, within the price range of Rs 20-150.

For the uninitiated, I am making a killing here. Why? Well, foreign magazines are prohibitively priced in India because of overhead costs like shipping, courier and what not.

Thus, the latest Wired will be available at Rs 500 at any Crossword store, Esquire at Rs 600, Monocle at Rs 850. You get the drift. Considering the chump change I get in the form of salary, I can’t afford all these magazines even at my death bed. However, I would love to hoard them. I read any of these magazines and their writing would rival the compelling narrative of any novel worth its salt.

You may read all these magazines cover-to-cover on the net without any undue pressure on your conscience. However, the designing of these magazines is done in such a way that your heart would pine for a print edition rather than their digital cousins. You pick up an Empire magazine, which is the best film magazine after Cahiers Du cinema, and just see how much happens on every page. They don’t slap the content and a picture in the middle, which New Yorker does and is justified in doing so for the last 85 years. The sense of humour in Empire and Q is all pervasive to the extent that even the picture captions are a hoot and, mind you, the intellectual value is never diluted. I don’t understand a single music term but I consider reading the interviews in Rolling Stone and Spin almost an on-the-job training.

Spectator introduced me to probably the most insouciant movie critic called Deborah Ross. Her personalised reviews opened a whole new world of movie criticism that doesn’t necessarily tip a hat at Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert. It’s fascinating to know how magazine culture is embedded in the westerners’ DNA. I don’t know if we all came from Gogol’s overcoat, but as a cinephile I can certainly attest to the fact that the best cinema came from Cahiers Du Cinema with the likes of Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, nouvelle vague, starting from there. The kind of stories the western magazines come up with while giving a big middle-fingered salute to hard news can be some delicious food of thought for the news-obsessed magazines that are available in India.

Our magazines insert all kind of forks in that eight-inch pie called news magazines. The features are downright risible and expecting insight on any issue would be optimism on steroids. Except Caravan, which shows a semblance of audacity to cock a snook at hard news, our magazines have a lot of soul searching to do. I am not saying I’ve become a better writer after poring through these magazines’ delicious prose. I still remain, and would continue to remain, someone who, as my former professor once said, “can’t write to save his life”. However, I find it almost epiphanic that I can add an extra dimension to an American president’s quote, “I am not educated but I read magazines”.


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