On its 35th anniversary, I thank India Currents magazine for giving me a platform from which to air my thoughts. Many writers of Indian origin around the country—working in both fiction and nonfiction—published their first pieces on the pages of this magazine. I too cut my teeth on it. Through the decades, I learned to be fearless and honest while writing features and columns for this monthly news magazine.
India Currents certainly got me to hear, heed and trust my voice. For many of us, our writing career is a second or perhaps even a third career. We come into it rather late and hence the uncertainties loom larger still. The money is uncertain, too. The markers and the milestones are unclear all along. The questions in a writer’s mind run the gamut of technique, art, practice, philosophy and community. “Just how do I begin?” “Should I freelance or enter a media organization?” “Do I need an advanced degree to succeed?” “Where am I with respect to others in the writing world?” “Is my craft solid?” “How must I improve my technique?” “Where am I headed, really?” “Is the workshop I’m paying all this money for worth it at all?”
In most other careers, the rubric is often as clear as a footprint on wet sand. Despite guides such as Writer’s Market, Poets & Writers, Catapult, and a slew of new writing outfits, the writer’s world is largely desolate. Twenty years ago when I started out, it was even more so.
During that uncertain launch of a second career, India Currents offered me a forum and a ready readership. A few years after I’d begun writing for the publication, my editor, Jaya Padmanabhan, wondered if I would write a monthly column. It came with the freedom to fashion my monthly posts however I wanted. She wanted to keep my voice. Still, too much freedom is detrimental to good work and writers do often get lost as they try to create something.
India Currents’ publisher (and former editor) Vandana Kumar spoke to me on a couple of occasions to remind me about the big picture and to think a little more about what, On Inglish, my monthly column, was attempting to say and do. Over the long haul, such conversations with both the editor and the publisher and the stories I worked on helped me reach yet another milestone that had been a pipe dream until then.
In the fall of 2018, my first book, Daddykins: A Memoir of My Father and I was published under the Bloomsbury India banner. By then I had already written several columns in India Currents about life with my father in Chennai. Those would inform the book in myriad ways. Writing that short monthly column helped me hone several skills. Every month I worked on the germ of an idea; I considered the storytelling and the pacing of the piece. I also had to worry about the development of the narrative arc through a tight story of 800 words. I funneled all of those experiences into my book. As much as sustaining the interest of readers through 200 pages requires clarity of vision and ingenuity, I’d never have arrived at my book without sweating at the foundry called India Currents.
Some friends often wondered why I wrote for so long for this Indian-American publication. It was convenient, for one, especially at a time when I was raising two children. Beyond that purely selfish reason, I discovered who I actually wanted to be in the pages of this magazine. With every story I wrote for On Inglish and Desi Lens, I thought hard about my Indianness, about everything I had left behind in the country of my birth, and also about everything I had received here in the United States.
I saw my own journey reflected in that of the magazine, too. I’d started my life in Silicon Valley in January 1985, and India Currents announced its arrival a couple of years later.
Needless to say, writing for this magazine has, on occasion, alerted me to my own biases and my insularity. One reader took great offense to a piece I wrote in which I’d stated that I was unhappy with my neighbor. The reader wrote in saying that I was writing from a place of privilege and that my commentary was laced with a certain bias. Her letter made me ponder my misconceptions.
Yet, another story of mine resulted in several nasty letters to the editor from those who felt I’d been insensitive to Hindu priests. When I was aghast at having been attacked, a reader told me that I had arrived as a writer. Hate mail is good, she pointed out — it was a sign that my writing was striking a chord. Still, it gave me pause. What was innocuous to one reader could be wounding to another. It made me reckon with how a thoughtless word could incinerate people. I had the moral responsibility to weigh every word I chose to publish.
Time and again, India Currents gave me a forum to write about difficult topics and those experiences pointed the way for issues I’d have to grapple with in both my first as well as my second book, An English Made In India: How a Foreign Language Became Local.
It’s almost impossible for even the most gifted of writers to carve out a specific path towards a writing future. In the world of trails, a successful writer’s journey may be tantamount to an uphill trek with the promise of grand vistas and a dramatic ending. Yet, the holy grail may elude us. Writing is often like that. As the late Steve Jobs once said, you can only connect the dots of our lives by looking backward. We all had to “trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever,” he said. At each bend in the road of my own writing journey, I’ve certainly had to trust my gut. I’ve been fortunate that I could also place my trust in a magazine called India Currents and grow alongside it.
Kalpana Mohan is the author of ‘An English Made In India: How a Foreign Language Became Local ‘ and of ‘Daddykins: A Memoir of My Father and I’. She lives in Saratoga, California.