The so called ‘lad’ publications like Maxim, FHM, Zoo etc., dominated the world of men’s magazines at the time MW was founded. Though there is no denying that we were influenced by them and what they represented, we also devoted a considerable amount of coverage to gender dynamics, relationships, women’s point of view, fatherhood, gay culture and so on. Writer Jerry Pinto, who shaped this lively section in the magazine in his many years as Executive Editor, looks back in nostalgia, while the companion excerpts provide a flavour of the early pieces.
One afternoon in the year 2006, Radhakrishnan Nair, the editor of what was then known as Man’s World Magazine (and now MW), asked the entire team to come into his cabin. We filed in, wondering vaguely what bad news we were about to receive. “We have a new recruit,” said Radha. “His name is Shiva. In the way of these things, you will probably hear that Shiva was once a woman and has now transitioned to becoming a man.” There was a startled silence. “Right,” said Radha. “I want you to know that if you make a single remark, a single joke, however harmless, you will be out on your ear. Shiva will be treated as another colleague.”
I have told that story again and again to illustrate that MW was a different kind of men’s magazine. Often, I thought, it was a boy’s magazine. The staff played cricket in the middle of a whole bunch of very expensive computers. When a ball bounced and hit a female staffer’s head, it was held to be her fault for sitting in that position. So, yes, there was sexism.
I was once asked by a colleague: “You know all the intelligent women in Bombay. Set me up with some intellectual totty.” Then he said, “Shit, that didn’t come out right. I should try to be more politically correct. You know all the intelligent women in Mumbai, I should have said.” I think I said something stupid like, “Shoosh, don’t talk that way.” I should have said: “Why do you want to be set up with someone who will want to change everything about you? What will happen if you fall in love with a feminist?”
Most of the men in the office were married to feminists of one stripe or the other. They were hard-working women and they would not have allowed much toxic masculinity in their homes. Most of the men would probably behave very differently at home and in the office. So yes, it was often a man’s world and it was often a getaway from the world of women. For instance, there were the late nights. Issue closing generally went on for hours longer than necessary. This was because we came to work late and we faffed through the usual work hours and then picked up speed only when the rest of the building was emptying. Then we could have a guy dinner – lots of carbs, lots of protein, fun stuff. I don’t remember any drinking though. There was a fridge in the office, I remember, but it seemed to have milk in it most of the time, and the accountant’s lunch.
But then we also had a bikini issue. I remember thinking, “In this time when you can get pictures of nude women for free on the internet, who needs a bikini issue?” I was wrong. There is something about the male gaze that makes it want precisely what cannot be viewed with impunity. If Woman X is available in the nude and doing everything possible — and some things that look improbable — on the internet, and another woman isn’t, then, the woman who isn’t in a bikini will sell copies (but for the rest of the time, Woman X is well and good).
I remember one of our contributors coming into the office and complaining, “You should have put your bikini model on the spine of the magazine.”
I remember comments like, “She’s a big girl, isn’t she?”
I remember the arrival of the Russians, beautiful women with improbable legs and perfect skin and hair.
And as I look back, I hear bursts of laughter. It seemed we were always laughing. There were times when we were laughing at women or about women but most of the time we seemed to be laughing about each other. How M went down the water slide and ripped his pants. How T lost thousands at teen patti on an office picnic. How G tried to tell B to get N to use some deodorant and B started slathering it on, thinking he was smelling.
But I must warn myself that I am looking back with a certain measure of nostalgia. It is a dangerous prism. It casts a mellow light over everyone and everything. This has something to do with how we are wired. We do not remember the bad times. We were overgrown boys talking to other overgrown boys. We outlived the competition because we were good-tempered and we liked women. Perhaps the women in the office had a very different view of things. In which case, my apologies. We didn’t mean any harm, we were just joking. Yes, I knew then that laughter can be a savage tool of intimidation and a joke can hurt. I don’t think our laughter was like that and with the column Company of Women, we asked women to laugh at us.
But for the many things we did wrong, we’re sorry. We’re works in progress.