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Thursday, February 11, 2010

The power of the Indian newsweekly Himmat, an English-language paper published in Mumbai by Rajmohan Gandhi from 1964 to 1981, was ‘the power of the ideas it represented’, said Kumar Ketkar, editor of Loksatta, the largest circulation Marathi-language daily in the state of Maharashtra.

Himmat compilation coverKetkar was the chief guest at the recent launch in Mumbai of a new book, Saying it with courage: the Himmat story. Himmat was fearless in its coverage and people trusted it,’ Ketkar said. Its comparatively small circulation did not matter. ‘Gandhiji’s Harijan was also small but it sent waives across the world. Today, we need such small but determined voices more than ever. As someone who also ran a small paper during the days of the Emergency [Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s period of dictatorship and censorship in the mid 1970s], I appreciate the role played by such small journals. Today’s media shows very little interest in the world of ideas. Even news has become entertainment.’

During the Emergency, The New York Times reported Himmat’s stance against censorship and dictatorship.

Marathi editor Bhanu Kale, who worked with Himmat for two years, explained the reason for the compilation of the articles in the new book:

  1. Documentation of a significant journalistic venture;

  2. Researchers, media professionals, students of mass communication can benefit from it;

  3. It could inspire individual journalists by reminding them that small size need not mean irrelevance.

‘There is a clear need today for the spirit of Himmat to speak with courage, clarity and conviction,’ Kale said. The book includes a selection of some of the weekly’s best articles as well as recollections from staff members.

The book is dedicated to the memory of V C Vishwanathan, a businessman who had been one of three people to compile the book. In a message, his widow Thankam said, ‘Vish was a humble, sincere, loving, able person, a good listener and an excellent communicator.’

Several of India’s nationally acclaimed journalists, including Kalpana Sharma, Himmat’s editor for five years, Neerja Chowdhury, Sanjoy Hazarika and Rupa Chinai, started their careers at Himmat.

The eminent author Russi M Lala, who was the founding editor of Himmat, traced the genesis of the weekly. It was born, he said, in response to the request of 6,000 people who asked to keep in touch after they were inspired by a ‘March on Wheels’ from the southern tip of India to New Delhi, led by Rajmohan Gandhi in 1963-1964. ‘We had very little resources,’ said Lala, ‘and hence everyone had to be multi-skilled. This helped in their all-round training.’

The vote of thanks at the book launch was given by the leading Indian Arts pioneer Khorshed Gandhy, who with her husband Kekoo founded the Gallery Chemould in Mumbai. She is a trustee of Himmat Publications Trust which has published the new book.