I have lately been reading passages from Marcus Aurelius’ book The Meditations. I have a third hand copy of this classic written by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus who recorded, judged and analyzed his own motivations over the course of twenty years. It is a self-examination that was most likely not done for any effect, merely as a guide to self-improvement.
The copy I own was published by the British India Publishing Company in Calcutta, back in the days, as my father might have said. The spine is splitting apart from its fragile leaves and the leather of the binding is dotted with age spots. The book naturally falls open on pages that perhaps seemed particularly meditative to the readers before me, including my own father, as they grappled with their own demons. And those are the pages I am so nostalgically inclined to re-reading.
One of the most compelling ideas expressed in the book is that “man can never attain to perfect agreement with his internal guide” and that “man can only have an imperfect knowledge of his nature …”
The world has changed since Marcus Aurelius, since 180 AD, but our persuasions have remained somewhat the same.
Aurelius’ philosophies were dismissed by many including Bertrand Russell who labeled him a “stoic” and railed against the inconsistencies he saw in Aurelius’ outpourings. Those inconsistencies are what I find wonderfully compelling.
As I prepare to relinquish the editorship of this magazine in the next month, I am well into my own journey of self-examination. When I started as the editor, more than four years ago, I carried with me the writer Ved Mehta’s Remembering Mr. Shawn’s New Yorker as my personal editorial Gita. Ved Mehta eloquently and robustly championed William Shawn’s editorial stewardship of the New Yorker. It was an inspiring account of a relationship between writer and editor.
I began my own professional quest with the aim of bringing out “the best” in every writer I encountered. As a publication we would attain our best, I reasoned, if each writer reached his or her best.
Very soon, I realized that the idea of “the best” was a moving target and shifted dramatically in time, occasion and persona. The idea of “the best,” at best, relies on judgment, which is not a perfect measure nor a foolproof “internal guide.”
The idea of “the best” is tied to who we are as a publication. We spend many working hours attempting to approximate an answer to that question. No matter how much I would like us to be, we are not a literary publication or an academic publication. In fact, India Currents has no adherence to or bias towards any philosophy or ideology, other than a respectful writing style, and an ethical acceptance of submissions.
What we are, and historically have been, is a “community publication” with reading and writing roots embedded within the community. That idea of belonging to the community shifts the axis of “the best” dramatically.
“The best,” in my view, is not about agreeing with a writer’s point of view. Many a time, the ideas expressed in articles that were published have not met with my own way of thinking, and even when they have, there have been areas of disagreement.
As a publication, we achieve our best when our writers reflect and capture the voices and ideas of our community in distinctive ways, sometimes calm, sometimes clamorous, sometimes impassioned. It happens when those distinctive ideas are bolstered with deep analysis and uplifted by inspired language. Most importantly “the best” is about variety, relevance, diversity, and plurality in thought and content.
Philosophically, I’m troubled by the uniformity of a perfect ideal, and like Aurelius, I find more value in inconsistencies. I like the idea that I can be persuaded to change a stance. I like the idea that I could marvel at a contrarian point of view. And I like the idea that I, too, may have an imperfect knowledge of what I am and what I can be. Perhaps it’s not about being the best, but about having the opportunity to do our best.
Jaya Padmanabhan, Editor