Those of us who read a few books and writes 3 longs & shorts fancy ourselves as people who know a little bit about India. Then we come across a slice of India that we had never heard about before. That was broadly how we felt when we read this piece by Soutik Biswas about a cult-youth Indian magazine from half a century ago. Mr Biswas begins by informing us: “The nearly-forgotten JS, a cult youth magazine from the 60s and 70s, uniquely shaped the Indian teenager. The BBC’s Soutik Biswas explores its near-defunct archives, revealing a magazine that vividly captured the hope and desperation of those decades in India with depth, wit, and vitality.”

JS stands for ‘Junior Statesman’. Mr Biswas’ article contains evocative pictures from JS’ editions from the 60s & 70s of stars as diverse as the Beatles, Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Kolkata Underground (which was being built in the 1970s) and another beautiful lady who we can’t identify inspite of extensive Googling.

JS was launched and edited by a unique character who spotted a gap in the market: “Under the leadership of Desmond Doig, an India-born Anglo-Irish artist and writer, and previously a roving reporter for The Statesman, JS magazine was run by a bunch of enthusiastic college graduates. It swiftly gained a reputation as an irreverent, chatty, insightful magazine, always engaged with its reader.

“Before JS, it was assumed that children became adults overnight. JS recognised that there was a whole in-between identity with its own canon,” says journalist and author Bachi Karkaria, who made her writing debut in the magazine as a teenager.”

So, what was the secret of JS’ success? “The colourful weekly covers were a vibrant blend of the global and local: kaleidoscopic pop-art illustrations; images of Bollywood stars such as Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor cheek by jowl with those of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles; and the exuberant colours of the folk arts of Bihar state. A special attraction were large fold-outs of teen icons. “JS wasn’t just a magazine, it was a happening,” wrote Jug Suraiya, a prolific writer for the magazine, in his memoirs.”x

Mr Biswas gives two examples of the high quality journalism that gave JS a cult following. Exhibit #1 is a singer called Paul McCartney who just happened to be transiting through Mumbai airport: “In 1975, intrepid Indian journalist Khalid Mohammed sneaked into Mumbai (then Bombay) international airport’s transit lounge armed with a tape recorder, to meet Paul McCartney en route to Australia with his band, Wings.

The result was an interview brimming with drollery and repartee, as they talked about the rumours of a Beatles reunion, the future of rock music, and life with the Wings.

At one point, Mr Mohammed asked McCartney whether his music was becoming increasingly commercial.

“Our next album won’t be commercial. It’ll be experimental. Twenty-minute songs and backwards – just for you,” the ex-Beatle quipped.

The freewheeling McCartney “scoop” epitomised JS…”

Exhibit #2 is an up and coming Bollywood star, Amitabh Bachchan: “Then there was Bollywood. “We are not very rich people,” Amitabh Bachchan told JS, which spent four days with the actor for a cover story. Mr Gopinath, the keenly observant correspondent, wrote he didn’t quite believe the star because he saw the “Toyotas and Merces in [his] leafy driveway, the smell of Aramis after shave in the crowded make-up room, the numerous packs of Dunhill cigarettes, the lunchtime talk of days spent shopping in Piccadilly [Circus]”.”

So why did JS shut down in 1977, the year Indira Gandhi imposed “Emergency” on India? “The end came brutally and abruptly, out of the blue in 1977, for reasons that are still not clearly known. Despite having around 40,000 paid subscribers and numerous readers, The Statesman chose to cease publication of its sibling, hastily halting the presses during the printing of an issue featuring a cover story on tea gardens. “JS crystallised what it meant to be an Indian teen – and left that class floundering when it was unceremoniously, even pettily shut down after creating a never-before-genre of journalism,” Ms Karkaria said.

Mr Suraiya, the magazine’s most prolific and peripatetic writer, wrote the epitaph for a dream that died young.”

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