The funniest thing about the closure of JS is that it hasn’t really closed down. It is one of the best-kept secrets of Indian publishing, because, ever since the magazine stopped coming out in August 1977, it hasn’t closed in people’s minds.
I think it is incredible that it has survived in everyone’s memories, and I still have people coming upto me and saying, “Why did JS close down?” and I say, “For you it obviously hasn’t because you still remember it.” They remember it vividly enough to ask me: “Do you recall that article you wrote?” or such-and-such-a-piece that Dubby did? I worked on these pieces, but even I can’t remember them.
The important thing about JS wasn’t its closure, but its impact. It is hard to describe what working on JS was like, but it certainly was a euphoric experience. There wasn’t a single moment when you could sit back and think of what you were doing—it was one crazy, roller-coaster ride.
Initially, there were four of us working on JS: Papa Menon, Dubby Bhagat, myself, and of course, Desmond Doig, who was the great godfather. We were just out of college, I had just turned 20, and we did everything ourselves. In between writing and editing, we’d be lugging these huge zinc blocks around—we didn’t even have a peon then. We used to work for fairly long hours, and for the first six weeks that I was employed there, I didn’t even get paid! But that didn’t seem to matter much.
We received tremendous response to whatever we did, and JS magazine in its own special way helped to form the Indian teenager. We did not have readers, we had fans. It has become a sort of cliche since then—but JS invented that cliche: “JS wasn’t just a magazine, it was a happening.” People really got involved, mainly because it provided a platform for young people. For the first time, young adults could read and talk to themselves through the pages of a magazine. We welcomed contributions from everyone. These were young people who were getting their first break in professional journalism.
For example, Shashi Tharoor was one of our discoveries. When he was 12 years old, he contributed his first short story. And I still remember M.J. Akbar when he came to me in his short pants—he was on his way home from Calcutta Boys School. He had a sparse moustache that barely covered his acne, and he said: “I have a short story for you, sir.” He was clutching his exercise book in which he had written the story, and he tore it out and handed it to me.
Advertising, too, was no problem, as companies had just discovered the buying power of young people. That buying power has of course increased by leaps and bounds over the past two decades.
JS was ahead of its time. With The Statesman already showing signs of age, I don’t think it was the right launching pad for a revolutionary product like JS. In the end, it was simply bad management that brought the curtain down.