It’s a mag, mag world

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May 18th, 2010 J Jagannath

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 embedded magazine culture 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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8 Responses to “It’s a mag, mag world”

  1. Ajit Says:

    I couldnt figure out from your clues “one min bombay walk, magazine store”. In which direction from Churchgate is this place and close to what?

  2. Jagannath Says:

    @M: Thanks so much for reading me

    @RG: I know what you mean by the lack of time for reading books part. It beats me how people say they don’t have time to read when every American president has been known to read at least 40 books in a year. If Amartya Sen can read why can’t lesser mortals like us? Your JustBooks initiative is very commendable. I wish to visit you sometime soon.

  3. RG Says:

    Nice little piece uninhibitedly sharing your joy at reading good stuff. As a collector of quotes I loved the one at the end. My favourite piece of career advice to those who (pitiably) lament their “lack of time to read books” is to at least read magazine articles online or off. A regular dose of articles provides perspectives that books on the same subject may not. Readers in Navi Mumbai can now access many mags including The Economist and Nat Geo for Rs. 50/- a month at the newly opened Just Books library at Nerul East.

  4. M Says:

    Written in curiously funny way.. your blogs are a pleasing read always…

  5. Jagannath Says:

    @swapna: I’ve never set my foot in the British Council and finally when I did I came to know that the entire library is now available online and that tangibility has been thrown out of the window. I used to dig the Magazines store on Church Street. That was the place that introduced me to Sight and Sound, Wire, Wired, New York Review of Books and Cineaste. They were a tad costly even for back issue standards but really worth it. Btw, Economist is available at only Rs 10 at the place I am talking about. Quite a steal, eh! You might like this: http://nyrm.org/2010/05/12/how-does-the-economist-do-it/

    @Omigosh: Open started with a bang and is now nearing the proverbial whimper. Indian magazines just don’t deserve the time of discerning readers.

    @Banerjee: It’s not only about the web, check whatever city you are in, these magazines should be available for a song. Back issues notwithstanding!

  6. Banerjee Says:

    I wasnt even aware of these mags .. thanx for sharing.. shall check them out.. thats what I love about the web too.. each day u discover so many new things..

  7. Omigosh Says:

    Most mags in India suck. Boss, what a discovery!!
    Welcome to the club of sufferers. There’s this monthly called OPEN tho’, trying to aim a little higher. Outlook is occasionally very bold in defying set understandings as well. Otherwise, SNORE SNORE SNORE

  8. Swapna Says:

    (1) I suppose you must have already taken a British Council membership. It has seen better days but it’s still worth it … books + newspapers + magazines (Economist,Empire, Vogue, GQ) + DVDs (I love those Brit crime series) + audio/video (poetry,classical,rare rock) … I used to take a family membership, carry a sack load of stuff to last 2-3 weeks
    (2) There are some good cheap shops for mags on the route from Fountain to Rhythm House.
    (3) There is something similar to Select bookshop (Bangalore) - I think it’s called Old & Second-hand Bookshop (I think it’s at Khala Ghoda).

    But, I found it tough to get second-hand “unknown” books in Mumbai. Still miss the shop on Church Street (Bangalore) - got the Henning Mankell’s Wallander series there before it was available in India, and of course loved the guy because he used to give me a glass of free chai too :-) feedng the poor and read-ie, I guess.
    I am waiting for the day when I can afford to buy The Economist…then the rest…

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