‘Shaping our personality’

Shriya Ravishankar

I swerved round the corner and raced down the crowded corridor. The throngs of bustling people slowed down my pursuer, but did nothing to soothe her temper. “Make way!” I screamed to the crowd who parted as I sprinted past. “Move! Editor coming through!”

Student editors don’t normally begin their terms with a Bond-style chase across campus, but then, this wasn’t the normal school magazine. This was Phoenix, the student-run magazine of J.B.Petit High School for Girls. And this was the extreme length I occasionally had to resort to, to coax articles from our more secretive writers. In this case, a classmate had just shown me a poem she’d written. She wanted to be a journalist, but was too shy to submit her work to the magazine. And when persuasion and empathy failed, I grabbed the poem and made a dash for it. (An unconventional way to get articles, but it has its benefits. The said closet poet got over her shyness, wrote more articles, and went on to become co-editor the following year.)

Since Phoenix encouraged students to write about matters that were important to them, as Editor, I ended up participating in some fascinating projects. Google was off-limits to writers. They had to work with the editorial team (six students and one very passionate, very resourceful teacher) to get information straight from the horse’s mouth (literally, in the case of one article about equestrian sports). Together, we met survivors of 26/11, analyzed path-breaking films, and even underwent a speech-therapy session to really understand how it felt to not be able to speak clearly. The articles were then emailed to the assigned editor to be reviewed.

After I had re-edited an article for the 6th time, it was firmly established that writing for Phoenix was a long-term commitment. It became quite common for a student, just when she finally thought she was rid of her persistent editor, to find me at her desk, holding the second draft of an article with a beaming smile and a proposition that she write a third. Every review included a discussion with the writer, where I’d tell her why her article could be stronger, and she’d tell me why her deadline should be postponed. But with the exception of one seven year-old who made it abundantly clear that she did not have the time to re-write her five lines on a pig, everyone was willing to rework pieces — repeatedly if necessary.

My favourite part about the magazine was the interviews. A comedian, a colonel, the Maharaja of Jodhpur. I once interviewed an AIDS patient, who is one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. She beat illness and poverty and illiteracy, but there was evidently one adversity she hadn’t overcome yet. Stigma. I conducted the interview over the phone, and she didn’t give me her name. While working on the alumnae section, I interviewed an ex-student who was collecting necessities for orphanages in rural India. The two of us squatted on the storeroom floor, folded clothes and taped up boxes, while she told me about how nothing made her happier than to see those children smile. Interviews take you through a person’s mind, and the people I’ve met during the course of my editorship have left a lasting impression.

I passed out of school in 2011, but I’ve read every issue of Phoenix since. Phoenix taught me to evaluate, to recognize and realize an idea. It taught me to look for something original in the most mundane context.

Phoenix is a summary of our school. It’s our identity. It’s our magazine.

The author studied at the J.B Petit High School for Girls in Mumbai and graduated in 2011. She was student editor of the Phoenix magazine. She is now pursuing a B.Com degree at H.R. College, Mumbai. She can be reached at shriyaravishankar1@gmail.com.

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