1 September 1999
FORTY years is a long time in the history of a journal. Memories – diverse, often conflicting – jostle the mind. Of the early years of difficulty, and excitement, over conceptualising issues; the animated discussions between the many distinguished contributors; the frustrations over non-delivery of articles and reviews; the joy of a task completed, a job well done. Such was the world, and life, of the founder-editors, Raj and Romesh Thapar. But never had we imagined that one day, we would have to move from the sidelines to centre-stage.
Small journals, more a cottage industry than a commercially viable niched product, enjoy short life-spans. As much as the vagaries of uncertain finance, they demand an order of commitment which is often all-consuming. Even more if the periodicity is non-negotiable. There is thus a feeling of incredulity that, barring the interregnum of the Emergency days, Seminar has hit the stands on the first of every month.
We see ourself as part of a small, hopefully growing, family of journals/magazines – some single issue, some with a wider lens – that attempt to contribute to the process of informed debate and decision-making in the country. Yet, while sharing many of the common attributes, there is a difference. To quote one of the founding editors, Romesh Thapar, writing in the 100th issue of the journal, ‘No one believed that there could be such a thing as an impartially written seminar, what with a rather committed editor and his wife in the control room’!
There is no Seminar standpoint. There is no Seminar ideology. With rare exceptions, the effort has been to widen the ambit of informed debate, to invite views and contributions (even from those one disagrees with) to force each one of us, writers and readers, to revisit our assumptions. To be editorially driven and yet not impose an editorial personality. To the extent Seminar has succeeded in establishing itself as a forum for debate, it is because our many contributors have shared and shaped the excitement and vision of an open-ended discussion, engaged yet non-partisan.
Even when Seminar was conceived, its founders were clear that to enhance and sustain the forum, the economics would have to be kept under strict scrutiny and control. There were no extravagances, no frills. The frame remains the same today; the self-image is of a cottage industry imbued with a faith in the premise. Of course, to remain independent, Seminar has to generate the necessary income to support itself. This means not just subscriptions, but advertising. In this journey we have been helped by our many advertisers who have continued to support us, not for market gains, but because they share the values that inform the venture.
Forty years is a long time, both in the history of a journal and of the nation. Much has changed from the euphoric days of early nation building to the final days of the century. Tastes, styles, values, concerns. Periodically we are plagued with doubt. Are we relevant, more so to the college going generation? Who do we reach out to? Will we be able to attract new writers, those not from the metropolis? We, after all, do not quite compete with the more commercially successful ventures, either in outreach or payment. Above all is the apprehension that we may turn into another self-select club.
In over a decade of managing Seminar, we have been consistently surprised, pleasantly. As against the picture painted by TV and the commercial glossies, there is no dearth of younger, engaged and committed individuals who continue to support Seminar and other similar efforts by subscribing, communicating and contributing to them. Many of our issues are as a result of ‘friends’ dropping in, writing to us, pushing us to examine concerns that we were only insufficiently aware of. Even more, they have taken on responsibilities of identifying and pursuing contributors, writing themselves, suggesting outlets – in short helping construct an engaged community without which Seminar would not be a seminar. In moments when spaces for non-partisan and liberal discourse appear woefully shrunk, this is a beacon of hope.
Alongside moments of quiet satisfaction of having survived, even grown (though not enough), are the challenges. How do we restructure ourselves in the ensuing electronic, information age? Should we be on the Net, with our own website? Should we link up, and how, to other similar ventures, both in the country and abroad? Above all, how do we institutionalise, set ourselves up on a more stable footing. It is not that journals such as Seminar need to see themselves in perpetuity. But we believe that the values and the spirit that informs this endeavour has a role, and beyond us. To that we remain committed.
Thank you all.
Malvika Singh Harsh Sethi Tejbir Singh