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At a time when ethnic media entities are slowly being strangled out of business or gravely imperiled, India Currents continues to push forward in its bid to tell stories of equity and solidarity, pulling together a loyal community of readers and subscribers, even as lack of trust assails the news industry.

In many ways, the story of India Currents is the story of the Indian immigrant journey.

In its historic early years, in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, visionary founders Arvind Kumar, Ashok Jethanandani, and Vandana Kumar conceived of India Currents as a print journal to emphasize the sensibilities of the first generation of displaced Indians. With India on the mind, there was a calendar of events, numerous articles examining the many signifiers of “home,” and stories parsing the desi identity. Hunger for these events and stories was palpable, with readers asking for more and the letters to the editor column burgeoning with entries.

In response, the magazine gradually expanded from an eight-page pamphlet to a magazine of over 100 pages in the first two decades, keeping its original mandate of publishing a robust calendar of events.

“If an event is not listed in India Currents, is it really happening?” asked the San Francisco Consul General, tongue in cheek, a few years ago. His point was made.

Lithuanian journalist Rasa Gustaitis recently told me that she and her late husband subscribed to India Currents “for news of concerts by some of the great Indian musicians who played in the area.”

And the renowned musician Zakir Hussain commented on how India Currents brings
“news of the great gifts of Indian culture” to us in the United States, pointing at India Currents’ role as the diaspora’s chronicler.

Over the years, the events section in the magazine grew as the community grew. As waves of immigrants from India fashioned lives in America, India Currents settled into documenting the nuances of their stories. The tech industry expanded, promotions came, children arrived, new houses were acquired, construction on temples and gurdwaras commenced, and the currency of the present began to supplant nostalgia for the past.

In 2006, Vandana Kumar assumed sole responsibility for steering the magazine’s future. Under her stewardship, the magazine began to define itself through the work of its editors and writers.

Favorite bylines were eagerly awaited. Readers saved past copies on coffee tables for those chai-time nostalgic moments. India Currents became a beloved family member with whom familiar conversations could be rehashed and revisited.

Echoing this sentiment, at the magazine’s 25th anniversary celebrations, Mythili Kumar, artistic director of Abhinaya Dance Company, remarked that in her family, India Currents is read “cover to cover” and many issues are preserved as a cultural resource.

In 2012, when I became the editor of India Currents, 144 pages were being printed every month — a rich repository of cultural, spiritual, travel, political, and literary reflections. I was reading and absorbing essays of writers whose ideas challenged and captivated me, shoring up my editorial courage: writers like Sandip Roy, Ranjani Iyer Mohanty, Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan, Benedito Ferrao, Anita Felicelli, Anirvan Chatterjee, Aniruddh Chawla, Kamala Thiagarajan, Jeanne E. Fredriksen, Sarita Sarvate, and Kalpana Mohan to name a few.

Left to Right: Jaya Padmanabhan with IC Writer Kalpana Mohan

These India Currents writers upended what was normative, rooting the Indian ethnic minority (model and otherwise) persona in the tenor of American reality. They wielded rhetoric and argument-like power drills, and the awards piled up. India Currents became a brand name to reckon with.

At one of these award ceremonies, when India Currents was mentioned more than half a dozen times, Vandana remarked with justifiable pride, “We are like the little engine that could.”

But the sands were shifting under the publishing industry. Facebook and Twitter had made their entry into the media world. These behemoths commandeered the advertising industry, drastically reducing and appropriating revenue sources of small businesses. The media world buckled as it was subsumed by unchecked social media posts.

In 2018, Vandana made the tough call to close down print operations, and India Currents became non-profit and wholly digital. I confess that at the time, I was deeply dismayed by this decision, clinging to the joys of the magazine’s physical presence in my life.

With a mix of worry and awe, I watched India Currents adapt to the crowded online media space. The struggles were many, and Vandana and I would often reminisce about our time together taking the magazine to print every month, a nostalgia-filled analysis of our workflow process, so different from the mercurial immediacy of online publishing.

Choosing a framework of collaborations, the India Currents team forged inter-ethnic partnerships to engage readers pluralistically, conveying a widening ethnic lens. This perhaps reflected the evolution of the diaspora as a recognizable and, some may even say, influential player in America

According to Vandana, India Currents is a convener of community, using community storytelling, — curating voices of and from the South Asian community — to connect with readers and transcend cultural boundaries. This is proving to be a powerful combination.

Weekly newsletters are replete with articles on Black Lives Matter, Covid-19 virus mutations, affordable housing, transnational abandonment, and immigration, along with fusion food recipes, movie and book reviews, Diwali celebrations, and profiles of caregivers.

India Currents was responsible for building a community, breaking up the silos that existed,” said G.S. Sathya, a loyal subscriber, about ten years ago, and that remains remarkably true today.

So, let’s celebrate these 35 incredible years of India Currents, an online journal that belongs to us, to you and me. Indiacurrents.com tells our story — negotiating our desi presence in this complex, multifaceted, often troubling country we now call home while still tied to a complex, multifaceted, often troubling country we once called home.

Jaya Padmanabhan

Jaya Padmanabhan is a journalist, writer, and former Editor of India Currents. She is also a columnist at SF Examiner.