Fighting patriarchy through men
Now in its 23rd year, Purush Spandana, a magazine for men, by men and about men, has come to include women
During the late '90s, when approximately 400-odd Diwali anks — festival publication for Marathi readers — were splashed across newspaper stands, bookstores and pavements of Mumbai, one magazine stood out for its unusual content. The cover featured an illustration of an androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati, and under the title, a line read: Understanding the male psyche. Harish Sadani, who runs the NGO Men Against Violence & Abuse (MAVA), had taken a bold step by printing Purush Spandana (Male Vibrations), a 200-page magazine "for men, by men and about men". Except, it contained no titillating content, but thought provoking short stories, first-person accounts, interviews, and analytical articles, written with the aim of goading men to rethink masculinity.
Let's talk about men
"An ank is intrinsic to a Marathi household. It holds great cultural significance, as it is distributed as gifts during the festive season. So, we felt it was the best medium to communicate," says Sadani, sitting in his modest Dadar office, whose walls are plastered with newspaper clippings. Established in 1993, MAVA has been working towards building a movement that explores the role of men as "partners" and "stakeholders" — addressing gender issues through cultural advocacy, direct intervention and youth education initiatives. The magazine, Sadani tells us, was born two years after its inception. The issue is now in its 23rd year, and although it was aimed at men, 33 per cent of its readership base comprises women. "When we started off, there were three types of men we wanted to engage with: first, who are violent and whose wives had approached us to counsel; second, were the fence-sitters, who in principle, support equality but can't take a stand and the third, the rational lot, who walk the talk."
Being the first-of-its-kind initiative, the idea behind the magazine was to create a safe, non-threatening space to address issues of masculinity in a contemporary context. "We wanted them to write their inner-most thoughts," he says. The tone, therefore, had to be intimate. For this, they even held writing workshops in several parts of the city and rural pockets. Eight years ago, women writers were invited to contribute for the first time. "Sexuality is a topic that touches everyone, it was important for men to see what women think."
Keeping with the times
When the magazine started out, its popularity spread like wildfire with noted writers such as playwright Vijay Tendulkar and Chetan Datar contributing to the issues with pieces that were far ahead of its times. "Once Datar came to our office and handed me the manuscript of his play, Ek Madhav Baug, which was about a boy, and how he tries to come out to his mother as gay. The dialogue between them is powerful," he says. Many would choose to write anonymously due to fear of being outed for their bold themes. Sadani says several policemen in Mumbai have also contributed. In its latest issue, Sadani roped in Pune-based journalist and social media analyst Mukta Chaitanya as a guest editor to helm a section on social media. "A large part of modern love plays out on social media. So, we wanted to understand the nature of online dating and how it impacts gender dynamics. For every unpleasant episode, we found one heart warming story to tell, " she says.
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