India is a growing hub for exciting artwork, film, writing and creativity, so it seemed only apt that I speak with Vandana Verma, Editor-in-Chief of Motherland, to find out more. The publication aims to look at Indian culture through a global lens and, as the title suggests, is about India – the motherland.
Established in 2010, Motherland focuses on contemporary emerging issues embedded within the culture of the nation, and uses each issue to delve deep into one specific area or issue that needs addressing. Using photography and first-hand reportage, they aim to uncover new trends in India and bring the colourful country to life for the reader in a way rarely seen across the globe
An insightful and educational read, the aims of this magazine are quite different to your standard Indian publication. “The aim, if we can call it that, is just to offer readers a glimpse into the ideas emanating from contemporary India. I consider myself particularly lucky to work with a publication like Motherland because we get to dabble in a little bit of it all - past, present, future, popular culture, opinion, satire, the arts, style, food, travel, and life in general, as long as it’s interesting and aligned with that issue’s theme,” explains Verma.
The most recent issue concentrates on Bandra, a village in West Mumbai, and picks “esoteric” topics such as Bandra’s funeral industry, the street fashion of Bandra’s Catholic aunties, and “Bandra’s neglected side”, painting an overview of what life is like for those who live there. Reading these pieces I became eager to learn and discover more and, most of all, I begin to question why I have never come across such interesting articles about India before now.
I am curious to know how the publication hunts out all the little things that matter. Verma explains, “Motherland is the first Indian magazine to have discarded the stereotypical general-interest format in favour of adopting one theme for each issue, from which editorial and visual content is expanded.” There is a great deal of “legwork” that their employees do to “go out and really dig about” for that highly topical information.
A perfect example of Motherland’s extensive research into focussed areas of Indian society is their study on the funeral industry in Bandra, covered in the latest issue. India has always maintained a strong ritual tradition with regards to the treatment and interment of their deceased. Motherland highlights though how, in the increasingly cramped urban regions, tradition and ritual is being cast aside for space, cost, and convenience. Those that are actively involved with the industry, from gravediggers to musicians and funeral directors, say that the slow pace of funerals is a thing of the past, lost to the vibrant and rapid development occurring within Bandra. “There weren’t shortcuts in the old days like there are now,” 64-year-old Bandmaster Joe Vessaokar told Motherland.
The area is being named as an increasingly “cosmopolitan” neighbourhood that is friendly to foreigners and outsiders; yet drugs are sold cheaply to increasingly western-influenced youths. Social discrimination towards transgender and sex-working women remains rife. The so-called liberalism of Bandra is still muddied by these deep issues. It is not hard to see why Bandra and the captivating allure of a vibrant, youthful neighbourhood is marking the gradual decline of personal investment into the treatment of the dead within the area, particularly when prices are so high compared to more leisurely and luxurious pastimes that can be found in the village.
Speaking to Verma about why Bandra was featured in Motherland’s most recent issue, she explained: “In Mumbai you’ll often hear Bandra referred to as ‘the Queen of suburbs’, but the streets of this neighbourhood have always held their own allure, their own culture. Once a collection of sleepy fishing villages, Bandra has been, at various junctures, a refuge for the city’s Catholics, Bollywood’s playground, a hipster hidey-hole, and today, a patch of rampant redevelopment with prices to rival South Bombay. Bandra is a lot of things, and in Bandra there live a lot of people with a lot of things to say about their neighbourhood. It almost demanded its own issue”.
Having spoken about the mysterious Bandra, Verma goes on to point out the “more gritty” topics that Motherland involves itself in, such as the treatment of India’s transgendered minorities. Same-gender sexual activity is still illegal in more than 75 countries and the resulting lack of transgender recognition is, as Motherland rightly points out, not solely limited to India. Yet it remains an increasing sign of intolerance and disagreement in the country. The regressive approach is cultivated at ground level in India with transgender individuals only allowed limited access to healthcare and destined to a life of uncertain income.
Whilst the nation technically acknowledged the existence of transgendered people in 2014, the ‘third gender’ was relegated to the same category as those of the ‘backwards classes’ and thus labelling them in such a way upon all official documentation. This has damaging implications for transgendered minorities who are seen as cultural outsiders within their communities. For change to occur, local support is needed to tackle the legal and policy-based barriers that are set against them - although the likelihood of local government officials and communities supporting such causes are devastatingly slim. With biased and backward-thinking media coverage of transgender individuals dominating India, the nation as a whole seems to live in the past in this respect. Even with safer transformation practices and the obvious desire of these minorities to want to lead a normal life and contribute to their communities, it is clear that the fight for transgender minorities in India is only just starting to gain ground.
Topics such as these are emphasised and brought to life by some very experimental photography within Motherland. “We’re lucky to work with some incredible photographers, some of India’s finest, to be honest,” Verma stresses. “Bharat Sikka is one of our creative directors, and he’s been pivotal in shaping Motherland’s strong photographic point of view.” Sikka is an extremely well-known photographer worldwide, using this form of art to express his vision of contemporary India. Having worked for Vogue, I-D, and The New Yorker, to name a few, he is a valuable member of the Motherland family and helps produce the quarterly magazine.
Motherland is not your simple gossip-led publication and does far much more than just scratch the surface. It presents Indian culture in such a multi-faceted and enriched light that when I asked Verma how Motherland would describe Indian culture succinctly, she said: “It is pretty much impossible to try and encapsulate Indian culture in three words!”
To find out more, visit motherlandmagazine.com
Words: Marianna Mukhametzyanova
Images source: Motherland magazine