Karwendelhaus is a lodge in the mountains north of Innsbruck in Austria, and as the sun settled down in the alpine valley to the west, I scribbled the concept of Himal on a notepad. That is essentially where Himal was born, back in June 1986, as a Himalayan magazine.
It has always been a struggle, and it is a struggle still, to bring out a magazine that seeks to define new boundaries for journalism by going ‘regional’, where there is no loyalty base to provide foundational support. This is why readers over the years have found Himal experimenting with content layout and frequency. It might have been disconcerting, but we have always been forgiven by readers who know what we have been up against in putting out a magazine that seeks to define a regional journalism that is idealistic yet hard-headedly non-romantic.
Returning to New York where I was working at the United Nations, I found my spouse Shanta more than willing to move back to Nepal with the magazine, just as soon as her PhD was defended. I took leave and prepared the first issue, which came out in May 1987. To publish the magazine, I sought the help of my brother Kunda, then editor of InterPress Service, based in Colombo. The prototype issue of Himal was published at the Sarvodaya Press in that city.
The subsequent issues of Himal were laid out with the help of a first-generation pagemaking software called Byline. Layout was done by Shanta and a friend from the UN who lived in Brooklyn, Robert Cohen. Many a dawn was brighting the sky east of the Brooklyn Bridge as we headed back to Manhattan after all-night layout sessions.
Now headed back to being a monthly magazine of Southasia after a hiatus as a bimonthly, the credit for having brought Himal this far goes in large measure to the hundrds of writers who have graced these pages for nearly two decades. But even more so, it is the associates and editors who invested themselves in Himal who have ‘made’ the magazine.
Himal was based in Kathmandu after 1989, and the editorial associates who made the magazine work with its special blend of long, reported articles and deep analysis included Kesang Tseten, Manjushree Thapa, Manisha Aryal and Deepak Thapa. We might then have evolved into a glossy coffee-table periodical of the Himalaya, but in 1996 we opted instead to take another pioneering challenge – tackling Southasia.
It was never easy, but by then we had a core group of Southasian friends who understood both the near-foolhardiness of the attempt and the importance of doing it and ‘literally pushing the boundaries’. Afsan Chowdhury of Dhaka came on board during an intense discussion in Bhoorban, near Murree in Pakistan. The raconteur Manik de Silva of Colombo warned at the Pearl Intercontinental in Lahorehow difficult it would be, but began contributing his irresistible writings. Beena Sarwar and Mitu Varma, from Punjab and Punjab originally, have stood by Himal through thick and thin now for a decade. Jehan Perera from Colombo and Rajashri Dasgupta came later, also to become ‘Himalers’. Thomas Mathew provided editorial backbone during a time when the crisis of empty coffers threatened to undo years of toil, and when the editor also had actually broken his back.
The fight is not over, but Himal has the formula, it has the energy, and we are at long last beginning to understand the market as well. As we go monthly and seek more sales and subscription, we hope not to jettison our irreverent streak, which you may have occasionally noticed. As we make Himal more readable, we will not lose sight of our mission – fine writing and good journalism for the critical thinkers of Southasia.
These years have passed by, as they say, ‘just like that’. I had salt-and-pepper hair when Himal started, and now am all silver. Hopefully, the magazine will institutionalise before baldness sets in. But like the Edelweiss of the Austrian Alps, Himal will bloom and grow forever. There is no doubt about that. The time of blood and sweat is over. Now all that is left is creativity.