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Aspiring polymath since 1982

The Verge Manifesto

The first Wired magazine that I read was in 1997. My father being a journalist had obtained a copy from someone he knew, magazines like Wired being practically unobtainable in India at that time. For a person brought up on the shoddy design and print quality of Indian technology magazines of that time, Wired was like a revelation in bright light and quadraphonic sound. Its articles about computers, the Internet (which I had just started using, first with Lynx and then with Netscape), technology and its effects on society were like reading about science-fiction, albeit in reality.

Since then, I have continuously bemoaned the lack of good Indian magazines to all and sundry, eliciting responses as varied as puzzled looks to bored grunts. My diatribe picked up a few notches when thanks to the offices of my dad, I was introduced to The Altantic, The New Republic (in its Stephen Glass era), Foreign Policy and a few others that he had received from colleagues and friends from the States. Therefore, when I took up my first job in Singapore, I was primed to embark on a magazine buying spree, with The Altantic, Utne Reader, Reason, New Yorker, Harpers, The Virginia Quarterly, and others piling up under my bed on a near-monthly basis. Its then also that I came across Edge, a pure online-based magazine that brought together the best minds from science to talk about their ideas.

All this would have been fine and well, since I could access these magazines over the Internet (if not, fully) and not feel left out when I came back to India. What really was the final nail for me was coming across TED, its videos, and more especially Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about education which is absolutely brilliant. I realized then that the lack of good magazines is just symptomatic of a larger malady. Namely, the fact that India does not have a public intellectual tradition. We seem to have given up the right to the public discourse and debate of and on ideas and ideologies to the commentators, the columnists, and the “intelligentsia”. In India, it seems we take our cues from the soundbites of others. I guess a lot of this has to do with the lack of any real “liberal arts” education in India but that is the topic of another post.

Anyways, it’s around that time that I decided it was better not to bemoan the lack of good magazines in India, the lack of political and ideological debate among Indians, and the fact that debates and interactions with regards to civil society and its shaping were in the hands of a small sliver of Indian society. The reason was simple. In a small way I wanted to create something that would fill this vacuum I perceived, and the instrument of choice was obviously a magazine.

Why a magazine? Well, my reasons (in no particular order or coherence) for choosing a magazine are:

  • Magazines allow for more in-depth exploration into ideas and issues compared to other media sources
  • It’s possible for a small group of people to bring out a good-quality magazine over other media, quality here being narrowly defined as good production and design
  • A good quality magazine puts you higher up on the credibility scale, with respect to readers as well advertisers
  • Magazines can be distributed over the internet as PDFs, can be printed, can be read anywhere and distributed anywhere
  • An e-magazine can be brought out for the price of a few lattes (even in India, and especially if the contributors are willing to be paid in lattes also)
  • Podcasts/Vidcasts are interesting, but still too niche for India and to be done professionally, require more than just a PC

Now, I have had some very primitive experience working on magazines, if you can call coming out with the Selaiyur Hall magazine valid experience. Even during college, I had ideas of working on a magazine and had even written a note on what it would stand for, its masthead, designed a mock cover and all. There was also some work that I did with my good friend Amit, to revive the Madras Christian College Journal which for a brief period in the late-50s and 60s was considered one of the best academic journals brought out in India. But thats the limit of my knowledge and of my attempts so far.

I’m hopeful though that through some weird osmotic intelligence gleaned from my father’s experience as a journalist as well as my extensive experience of reading magazines, I will be able to cobble together a magazine that I would at the least read. And the big assumption or leap of faith (I cant decide which) is that there will be other people who would share the same tastes and curiosities as I do. My girlfriend and I sat together to see what we could name such a project and the name we decided on was Verge. We were looking for a name that would express newness, of ideas and discourse and discussion. A name that would be able to express the fact that we were not looking at the mainstream for our ideas, but at the fringes because thats where change starts and affects the center.

So what will Verge be about? Verge will be a magazine that focuses on science, technology & society and the intersections and interactions between them. Verge will strive to be ideologically-proof and will not be involved in rhetoric. The purpose is not to jam opinions down throats but to let the reader decide for himself. It will be a magazine available both digitally and in print with quarterly digital issues and end-of-year box-sets in print sold to enthusiasts, collectors and institutional buyers. Verge will be a “mook” (a magazine in book format), something like Granta. As in all new magazines, the first writers for Verge will be “family & friends” till there are enough stories in the open and in the bank,, for established writers and journalists to show interest in contribution.

I have always been a fan of “zines” (which are practically non-existent in India), and if there is one thing that I can learn from those talented and slightly self-obsessed writers is that you need not be a Michael Kinsley or Andrew Sullivan to bring out an interesting magazine. All you need is your wits, a little creativity, a lot of patience and pure stubbornness. If I can bring out one issue which meets my expectations and then the whole thing folds up, I would still count it as a victory. So wish me luck as I refine my initial concept and start filling up the story bank for Verge. And if you would be interested in writing, do write in. Any and all help is appreciated.

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