From the publisher
MY earliest memory is that of a perpetual engagement with people and ideas, with shared laughter and sadness, both of which nurtured long lasting bonds of friendship. Growing up under the secure embrace and influence of Raj and Romesh instilled and embedded in me an immediate attraction to all those who crossed my path, of all ages and community, from across India and overseas, people committed to diverse ideologies and working in every conceivable profession, all different and unusual, most often lively, vibrant and obsessive. This ‘landscape’ became the template of my life.
Conversation was sacrosanct and essential in our home. Argument was the ingredient that added the spice and flavour, the imperative nuance, to every debate and discussion that invariably threw up a fresh idea that had being lying latent, waiting to be released through the trajectory of an intense conversation, of agreement and disagreement. There were no imposed commandments on us as young minds trying to explore the world around us but instead, compassionate and caring reasoning that instilled in us a deep and pro-found sense of values and ethics which even today continue to empower us. I say ‘us’ because my life from when I can recall and remember, has been an engagement with a collective of people, family, friends and acquaintances.
Our home was an open house in the true definition of that expression, and ‘pot luck’ meant whatever was cooking in the kitchen on any particular day, the luck of the pot. In our ‘new world’ that is fast becoming ‘conversation sterile’, people sit together in a room, often in silence, mauling their cell phones sending sms’s that could well wait a while and then indulge in disconnected sound-bite conversation over indifferent dinners that are defined as ‘pot luck’ for which guests are invited days ahead. It is like saying, ‘Come to dinner day after tomorrow for potluck because I can’t be bothered to design a good meal to share with you, my friends.’ Gracious, civilized engagement, and happy camaraderie over a meal, has become a rare element of ordinary life, of living, meeting and being together.
In our home there was a palpable excitement in the conversation, evening upon evening. Ideas for the present and the future were tossed about with abandon and the expression of those ideas was almost magnetic, conjuring up wonderful images and metaphors that could and would intervene and puncture the landscape with the unexpected and creative. I knew no other way of life. And therefore, when I had to be restricted and contained within a designed and closed box called an English literature ‘syllabus’, that operated within a structure without open windows forcing one to look out and beyond, I fled the university and began to breathe again.
Romesh supported every rebellious move I made, encouraging me to test the waters, make up my own mind, and take independent decisions, even if I had to fall on my face; then pull myself up by my bootstraps and start again. Raj worried and hoped I would not get bruised by the ups and downs that such freedom brings to the fore. I was left to craft my own life and do what I wanted to do with it. This, even at a very personal level. When I decided to marry Tejbir and asked my father what he thought of him, whether I was making the right choice or not, his answer was, ‘I am appalled by that question. You are marrying him, not me, and it is you who must be confident about your decision.’ I was a rebel without a cause.
It is interesting to reflect on how early influences dominate and fashion one’s persona. Theatre was intrinsic to my parents life through the fifties when they were active members of IPTA and most evenings, rehearsals would happen in our flat where the actors would congregate after work and then stay on for nimbu pani and pot luck. Years later, I graduated from the National School of Drama under the tutelage of the extraordinary ‘guru’, Ebrahim Alkazi, a teacher like no other, an exacting taskmaster, a rare perfectionist, who ingrained in me the joy of performing, and the truth of ‘the world is a stage...’ The other early influence was being engaged with the politics of the time, and with the layered political realities as they transformed and transmuted, reordering our landscape through time and age.
Cover: Madhu Chowdhury
Cover: Madhu Chowdhury
Both these basic roots that I grew up with prepared me for an engagement with multiple arts and traditional skills that define the plural cultures of India. Both the legacy industries and contemporary creative industries – the true ‘information technology’ of this country – are the drivers of the economy even today in a changed, predominantly technological and information age. Those areas continue to excite both Tejbir and me, compelling us to engage and explore.
When Raj was in the final stages of the cancer that had overwhelmed her, she and Romesh asked Tejbir and me whether we would want to adopt Seminar, their third child, and take forward the remarkable journal they had crafted with love and care into another phase, for another generation. We were honoured. Sadly, Raj died in April of 1987 and Romesh, unexpectedly four months later, aged 60 and 64, and the formidable baton was passed on to us, much too soon, on 22 August thirty years ago. A couple of days later we were at the office, Tejbir at Romesh’s desk and me at Raj’s. The issue had to be posted on 1 September. Any delay would have been unacceptable to them and to the memory of their meticulous professionalism. Seminar has always been posted on the first of the month, except when it chose to cease publication, rather than adhere to a pre-censorship regulation, during the Emergency. We were in the saddle, as they would have expected us to be, albeit in an profoundly emotional daze.
Tejbir had worked with Raj and Romesh for sixteen years, and knew the ropes. I had been editing The India Magazine and working with Business India for two decades and returned ‘home’, part-time. There was no break in the schedule or the cycle of publication. The October 1987 issue had to be planned and sent to press and so too every issue every month thereafter for the past thirty years. For Tejbir and me there has been no closure, no leisure to mourn them but instead, to strengthen, if we can, and celebrate their commitment to India and to ideas for India. It has been an extraordinary and hugely rewarding journey for us. A journey that continues and surprises. An open-ended learning experience that no ‘university’ could have given us.
Seminar, and all that comes with it, has been my most valuable inheritance. This unusual, rare and fragile legacy strengthens our resolve and determination, year after year, to sustain and grow the scale and scope of this forum of ideas in a changing and volatile world. The office at Malhotra Building where Harsh, Tejbir and I congregate every day, remains an adda where new faces, young and old, meet and converse, debate and argue, share ideas and plan issues over sessions of coffee, often lunch. Like it was in their time, a home away from home, it is the same for us and ours.
This issue is dedicated to their moment in time in the history of modern, independent India. Many of the contributors worked with Raj and Romesh, shared their passions and commitments. Some knew them by reputation and what they stood for. All the interventions manifest a different time, a different age that is linked with today through continuing engagement and conversations, discussion and debate, new ideas and initiatives that make India a versatile and robust civilization.