In the Nineties, in a sprawling old house on south Kolkata’s Rashbehari Avenue, there would often be a bunch of excited children waiting for the hour when they could climb the stairs to the first-floor office of Sandesh, to collect their copy of the children’s magazine from its then editor, writer Nalini Das. For many of them, the monthly magazine, started by Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury in 1913 and helmed by some of the finest names in Bengali literature, would be a defining point in their nascent literary explorations.
The value of children’s magazines in determining the taste of a young readership was not lost on other parts of the country, especially down south, where Chandamama, launched in 1947, by Telugu film producers B Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani, would go on to become a phenomenon. Published in 13 languages, Chandamama offered its readers the best of their times — a mix of original stories and fabulous illustrations, and mythological tales.
Now, the magazine, which stopped publication in 2013, is up for sale following a High Court order, bringing into notice, once again, the dismal battle that children’s magazines in India have fought and lost against the digital invasion of entertainment spaces. Magazines, as they used to be, were labour-intensive projects, driven by the love and passion of a clutch of individuals with literary vision but limited business acumen. Could they stand up to the challenge of mass-market entertainment media with distribution networks that can and did smother niche enterprises in a blink?
The question, thankfully, is no longer rhetorical. In the last year or so, publishing for children in India has undergone an immense churn, with mainstream publishing houses setting up children’s imprints, booksellers acknowledging a renewed readership and awards recognising the value of backing innovative literature for the younger generation. Perhaps, all a magazine such as Chandamama needs is a publisher brave enough to venture in a new direction and editors and writers keen to leave behind a legacy of their own.