As former editor of Eve's Weekly Gulshan Ewing, succumbs to COVID-19 in UK, former employees talk of how she shaped careers and led a woman's magazine through changing times
It's a tribute to an editor, both personally and professionally, when news of her passing away causes the people who worked with her 35 years ago—more in some cases—to genuinely mourn the loss, and to exchange fond memories of her on a ubiquitous WhatsApp group.
Gulshan Ewing was the editor of the popular women's magazine Eve's Weekly for 23 years, from 1966 to 1989, and also editor of the film magazine Star & Style. She began her career with the weekly tabloid Current, under the editorship of the doughty Dosu Karaka and went on to Femina from the Times of India stable, and then Eve's Weekly, owned by the Somani group.
She had been living for many years with her husband Guy in England and passed away on April 18, at the age of 92, after contracting COVID-19. Her daughter Anjali, who was with her, says she passed away peacefully. "It is possible to have a good Coronavirus death. There was nothing horrific or distressing about it," Anjali said in a message.
Gulshan Ewing with Nargis Dutt
While some publications have described her as a society editor and highlighted her meetings with British royalty and Hollywood film stars—and she was undoubtedly a glamorous and elegant lady with friends in high places—she was also an extremely down-to-earth, kind, and encouraging woman and editor.
Her innings at Eve's Weekly and Star & Style were the high points of her career. Readers of an older generation will remember Eve's with much fondness for its set menu of cookery recipes, knitting patterns, the heart-rending emotional stories in a feature called True Confessions (which many young interns were disappointed to find were far from true), the somewhat trite humour column, Madam I'm Adam by An Alves Called Johnny and the uniquely frank Frankly Speaking by the inimitable Devyani Chaubal, the only real Indian gossip (often right on target) columnist.
Later, a younger generation, and dynamic assistant editors pushed for stories on issues such as dowry deaths, rape, and domestic violence that were being revealed for the first time in mainstream publications in the late seventies and early eighties. Still later, Eve's began including more general issues, but with a women's perspective.
Gulshan Ewing with Raj Kapoor
At just 24, and with an internship at Ms Magazine under her belt, Ammu Joseph was made assistant editor in 1977, with some very interesting consequences.
"What I most appreciate Mrs Ewing for, was trusting me enough to let me take Eve's Weekly in a completely new direction as long as I didn't interfere with some of her favourite features like True Confessions!" says Ammu, who has written and co-written six books on journalism and authored several reports as an independent journalist.
Gulshan Ewing with Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendall
Mrs Ewing presided over all these changes with grace and equanimity, recognising that her readers were changing too. She allowed her editorial staff the freedom to experiment, to bring in new columns—women in cinema, women and the law, women in sports—in effect to segue from a traditional women's magazine into what some might call a "feminist" magazine, though some of the traditional elements remained because they were, and still are, important to us.
"Mrs Ewing may have grown up in the era when women's journalism was about recipes and household hints, beauty tips, crochet and knitting patterns, beauty contests and a whirling social circuit, but she was almost intuitively able to grasp that the changing times required a feminist sensibility," says Pamela Philipose, who was Eve's Weekly's assistant editor from around 1981 to 1988 and is now the Public Editor of the distinguished online publication The Wire and author of Media's Shifting Terrain (Orient Black Swan).
Philipose says it was because of this feminist sensibility that Mrs Ewing allowed subjects such as violence against women and gender equality to feature in the magazine.
And through it all she kept her connection with her readers. She selected the letters from readers that were published every week across two pages, many of them from women asking for advice in a rapidly changing world. "She personally answered the best letters which she chose herself," recalls her personal assistant Bernadette Kumar (then Nair). "She never threw away letters. There was a T&C (Type and Clip) file in which all the letters were kept."
When I joined Eve's Weekly in 1979, I had no degree in journalism, but like everyone else, I learnt on the job because we had wonderful mentors and we were never hobbled by petty politicking, which often starts at the top.
Mrs Ewing was the least petty of people. We were all women on the editorial staff (with the exception, for a while, of the chief sub editor, an old school gentleman who once gave a headline in which he spelt 'complete' as 'compleat', intentionally of course, referring to Izak Walton's 1563 book The Compleat Angler; Mrs Ewing came into the room chuckling away and told Mr Rao that she was in the Managing Director's bad books because she had employed a chief sub who couldn't even spell 'complete'!)
Charu Shahane, now a senior broadcast journalist with BBC News in London, recalls how as a young reporter she was terrified when somebody she had written a critical article about threatened to have her beaten up.
Gulshan Ewing with Amitabh Bachchan
"Mrs Ewing came up to my desk, smiled and said, 'What's that Hindi phrase, 'Ulta chor kotwal ko daante' (the thief taking the policeman to task). My worries vanished and I learnt to deal with criticism without fear."
I never heard anyone in any department say a mean word about Mrs Ewing and she was not in the habit of saying anything nasty herself.
As the editor of Star & Style, she had many contacts—friends may be a more appropriate word—among the film stars of the 1970s and 1980s. She was close to the triumvirate of Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar, recalls Nalini Uchil, assistant editor at S&S.
"The first and only Star & Style awards function that we organised was attended by Raj Kapoor in 1987, though he was in very poor health. He was wheezing heavily and breathless when he arrived but he came for her. On stage he recalled with fondness his association with her and asked her for a dance and they waltzed on stage—a sight never to be witnessed again. It was the last public function Raj Kapoor attended," Nalini remembers.
Photographs of her interviewing Indira Gandhi, meeting Prince Charles, dining with Alfred Hitchcock, smiling with Hollywood heart-throb Cary Grant have surfaced in the last few days. The pictures have come as a surprise to many of us who worked with her since she never boasted of her celebrity status.
There are many, many more than those I have quoted who will remember Mrs Ewing (very few people in the office called her Gulshan or ma'am as is the style today). In these days of revolving door editors, few are remembered, and fewer still with such gratitude, love and respect.
Goodbye, Mrs Ewing, and thank you.
The writer is a senior journalist and has held editorial positions across The Illustrated Weekly of India, Sunday Observer, The Times of India in a career spanning 23 years
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