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Why there’ll never be JS again

Updated on: 07 November,2023 01:45 AM IST  |  Mumbai
C Y Gopinath |

To its readers, JS was a cult. They waited all week to devour every word of the magazine. But there’s a good reason why it would never work with today’s generations

Why there’ll never be JS again

The stories in JS were eclectic, full of curiosity, engaging and global. There were Bollywood balladeers, the Beatles, painters and iconoclastic models, among other subjects. PIC/Gulu Ezekiel on X

C Y GopinathHe was perhaps born in Allahabad in 1921. A different website casually mentions Patna. That’s about the only thing Google could tell me about my first boss.

There’s not an awful lot out there about Desmond Doig. He was a pre-Internet soul, so you’d have to deduce who he was and what he was like from his writings, sketches, musings and anecdotes. If you’re younger than 64, chances are you wouldn’t know—or care.

As a Gen Z or Millennial, you might also not know or care about the brief, meteoric rise and fall of the cult-like youth magazine Desmond Doig edited from 1967 to 1977, called simply JS. The kicker always read: The magazine that thinks young.

I worked there as a Roving Reporter during its last five years, right up to the morning it was summarily shut down, no reasons given. It was like working within a whirlwind, in an office ablaze with psychedelic clouds and rainbows, and sky-blue partitions between work areas. Great writing, collegiate puns and serious journalism were applauded as much as April Fool jokes, rock ’n’ roll concerts and outright irreverence. 

I floated, much like Brownian particle, among wordsmiths like Jug Suraiya, Shashi Tharoor and Bachi Karkaria.

Going to work was always a daily thrill; you never knew what awaited you. Fun was taken seriously. Frivolity, music, art and novelty were the mantras, while politics and social ferment were to be left strictly to the capable pens of the senior Statesman newspaper.

This editorial policy, it seemed, perfectly suited the young, counterculture Indian of that time, committed to making love with flowers rather than wars with guns, while outrageously disguised in bell bottoms, face paint and long hair. Every issue of the magazine was eagerly awaited, every word avidly read, and sometimes remembered decades later.

The few copies extant today come with murderous price tags as collector’s items on eBay.

Then I heard about Z, definitely not his real name, who worked for a period in the Mumbai offices of The Statesman, and came upon 11 old, bound volumes of JS. As he began reading, he came under the spell that had captivated an entire generation. 

The stories were eclectic, full of curiosity, engaging and global. There were hitchhikers and rock ’n’ rollers, women mountaineers and taxi drivers who lifted weights with their hair; Bollywood balladeers, the Beatles, painters and iconoclastic models; colourful tear-off posters, quips and caustic comments, and serious, sometimes whimsical investigations.

Convinced that a treasure would be lost if every page of JS was not carefully archived, Z was overcome by a sense of mission.

The al Jazeera writer Chandni Doulatramani has written an absorbing account of how Z smuggled out issues, volume by volume, one at a time, to get each page photocopied. Back then, xeroxing cost R20 a page—a lakh rupees for almost 5,000 pages. Z could not afford this but his enthusiasm was infectious. Persuaded that this was God’s own work, or at least an undertaking of national importance, the photocopy shop agreed to just a rupee a page, in addition to working extra hours every evening.

It took Z eight days to create a digital archive of almost all the JS issues available. There’s a reason two volumes are missing from Z’s collection—I had filched them from The Statesman office in Mumbai when the clerk was looking the other way. I still have them.

The remaining issues, encoded as a zip file, were donated by Z to a Kolkata university, to be preserved in safe custody for posterity.

Was posterity even interested? I wondered. In the early 1990s, C R Irani, the man who had vindictively shut down JS, got in touch with me. Our last exchange had been brutal. I’d quit the day they shut JS down, writing in my resignation letter that I wanted no part in an institution “whose ship and captain were drifting in opposite directions”. Irani had responded instantly, waiving the one-month notice period.

Avuncular and warm now, he asked if I was interested in re-starting JS as editor. I asked for a minute to consider. After a minute, I said no.

A magazine like JS whose readers waited to hungrily eat up every word on every page has no place in a world of emojis, disappearing messages and corporate influencers, where reading is passé and reality competes with Photoshop.

Sidharth Bhatia, author of India Psychedelic: The Story of Rocking Generation, says, “Gen Z has moved online. They don’t have time for a youth magazine.” 

Want proof? Four years before JS, in 1963, another youth magazine took shape in Allahabad, Desmond Doig’s birth city. Called The Teenager, its founders were Italian expatriates, Fr. Maurus and Fr. Rego. Its goal: to be “a friend to thousands of Indian teens, supporting them through their growing pains, sharing laughs and being there through their joys and sorrows”.

Though JS closed down in 1977, The Teenager, renamed Teenager Today, is still published in print and online versions. It’s India’s oldest surviving youth magazine, at 60 years.

Not one person I spoke with, young or old, male or female, this generation or that, has heard of it.

You can reach C Y Gopinath at
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