On the morning of 13 January 2007, I sat on the lower berth on the Konkan railway train speeding towards Mumbai, sipping morning chai. Soon I see a pair of jean-clad legs dangling from the berth above me and Ivan jumps down. “I haven’t slept a wink,” he tells me, all excited. “God has given me a vision for a bilingual magazine!”
He soon joins me with his cup of tea and I hear all about the vision that was to become FORWARD Press magazine. My father was in his late eighties and in weakening health. When I heard the vision involved returning to India, I was glad. However, Ivan was clear we were to be based in New Delhi, a new city for both of us, not in Pune, where we had a home, friends, staff.
We prayed together. Consulted with friends. Yes, a magazine for the downtrodden majority, a voice for the silenced Dalitbahujans was much needed. Ivan was, one said, the only person who could do this magazine. One from Delhi said, “Brother, we have been waiting for this; hurry up and come!”
That same day Ivan flew back to Canada where we were based at the time. I was staying on to celebrate my father’s 89th birthday on 11 February.
Ever the practical one, I took a trip to Delhi and checked out housing, the cost of living. We did not have enough in hand. But the same God who gave the vision, the God who has a heart for the oppressed, yes the God of the Bible who liberated the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, provided in a miraculous way. A few days later I got a call from a builder and before the month was up had managed to sell a plot of land my father had bought years before on the outskirts of Pune, after, according to his wishes, gifting ten acres for Gyanankur School, an English-medium school he had started for mostly Bahujan children.
My share was large enough to make the venture thinkable. Before we left Canada we had started praying for the right accommodation. With my father’s share I was able to buy an apartment in Delhi, which we moved into in April 2008.
My father and sister became part of our household. Our daughter too finished her MA in International Education Policy from Columbia University, New York – Babasaheb Ambedkar’s alma mater. She joined us in Delhi with a vision of reforming the educational system for the poor. At age 23 she joined the government Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education-For-All programme) as a senior consultant!
Then began the tortuous road of all the formalities of starting a magazine. I had trained and worked as a doctor, a plastic surgeon. But here God stretched me to tread new ground. We registered a company. I had suggested the name “Forward” because that was our vision for the destination of the backward castes. However, that name was not available. We then submitted three other choices and got “Forward Press”. I filled countless forms, made numerous trips to the DCP licensing office, mainly because we refused to bribe directly or indirectly through agents. After many years in Canada, I was not prepared for the level of corruption I found and the frustration I would suffer. Once at least I was reduced to tears at the police office. Finally, over a year later, we had all the permissions and the requisite number from the Registrar Newspapers India (RNI).
We had also prayed for an office and staff. Borrowing funds from our home equity line of credit in Canada we were able to get a small office in the commercial hub, Nehru Place. The building was filthy and smelly but we were very thankful, as rents in Delhi can be prohibitive. God provided staff. We had to sift through many before settling on the team we now have. That in itself is another story. Suffice it to say we even had an RSS plant who tried to destroy the team.
Delivering a baby – every month!
But God uses even our mistakes for good. A couple of months later, Mr Bir Singh, an activist with BAMCEF, found a copy of that issue in a “raddi” (wastepaper) shop. He was fascinated with the magazine and sent his friend to the office to buy every issue we had. Days later he came to the office with a group of Dalitbahujan friends. And thus began an association with BAMCEF and the forming of good friendships. Through their help, postal registration numbers were obtained, again without bribes.
In June 2009 the first “official” magazine was published! From visiting the New Delhi railway yard, to a hole-in-the-wall distribution firm in Karol Bagh, to helping unload magazines as they arrived early in the morning, to standing in line on the monthly posting day, I rolled up my sleeves and did it all with very few staff. This was a far cry from the air-conditioned environment of an operation theatre. Yet I had joy, because this was a surgery that would cut through the oppressive caste system.
Every month I saw huge amounts leaving our account with no visible returns. My husband persisted doggedly in the execution of the vision (it ultimately took a toll of his health). I tried desperately to cut costs. We had major conflicts, to the point of straining our marriage, until one day the Lord showed me I was not to worry, that He would provide. He reminded me of a day, years earlier, when in Pune I needed coriander leaves and a mali who had never before (or after) brought us anything from my father’s land, knocked on the door and pulled out two big bunches! I relaxed.
And God did provide. In a variety of ways. Unexpectedly friends came forward to invest in the company. Property sold. We cut costs by moving from full colour, glossy paper to mostly newsprint. We cut down the size. We reduced staff. We changed designers and on and on … Somehow we survived!
Impact and attack
Meanwhile, FP was making impact. Enough to attract the ire of the RSS. In October 2014 we were attacked. An FIR was lodged against us. But our God protected us. He called Ivan’s aunt to Himself and we rushed to the funeral in Mumbai, so that when the police came to our home we were not there. He was not “underground” as reported but at the funeral of a beloved aunt.
Of course when we got news of the attack, he applied for anticipatory bail and returned to Delhi only when the bail was granted. For me began the visits to the criminal courts. The police had confiscated both our family cars. It took several trips to the court, waiting long hours among criminals, before we could get the cars back. Our computers are still with them. Many times the stress of running FP had got to me and I had urged my husband to shut down. But, after the attack, we became determined to persevere.
Incredibly we have completed seven years in print! It is nothing short of a miracle – how God took our seven loaves and two fish and multiplied them. I am referring here to how the Lord Jesus fed thousands by multiplying the humble offerings of a boy.
Looking at the changing face of print media led us to make the painful decision to shut down the print edition of the magazine. This was the child we gave birth to and had raised in the face of huge obstacles. Now we had to stifle it. The sense of loss was great but our editor Pramod Ranjan conceived not death but a metamorphosis into books, while simultaneously growing our website.
We prayed about it and God gave us peace. This was the way forward. This would cut down costs somewhat but still entail considerable expense.
We continue with faith that the God who provided thus far will continue to provide for this work, which is close to His heart.
Published in the final print (June 2016) issue of the Forward Press magazine