Date of Birth: 2010
Price: 40 Indian rupees (Less than a dollar)
The Caravan flaunts what magazines do best — exquisitely worded narrative features that draw readers in and can keep them engaged over a cup of tea. While magazines around the world shutter, or grapple with the recession and the Internet, this brave crusader was launched this year in Delhi, India, challenging the notion that print is dead. It’s no mean feat. For readers accustomed to spoon-fed bite-sized morsels of information, long-form journals such as The Caravan could appear indigestible. But therein lies the craft of the magazine — it’s punctuated with humor and fashions a style of writing as elegant as its 9.5-point Mercury font.
Focused on politics and culture, this monthly publication also offers nips of fiction, poetry and travelogues. The magazine’s richness and texture come, too, from its ability to contextualize current affairs. The reportage is as sharp and insightful as the commentary and reviews that dominate the magazine. This February’s issue, for example, featured a compelling story on Delhi’s trash pickers, who are being left behind in the city’s race to modernize before the Commonwealth games. These poverty-ridden informal-sector workers, who go door-to-door collecting people’s garbage for free in order to resell the recyclable material, are now being elbowed out by the private sector, to which the government is outsourcing the task.
The Caravan also has surprisingly good photo essays, such as a stark portrait of villagers devastated by mining in the impoverished Indian state of Jharkhand in the January issue and the chaos in Congo captured in the February one.
The unique selling point of this magazine could be its distinctly international flavor, peppered with globe-trotting contributing editors. The first couple of sections feature on-ground reports that illuminate oft-ignored global stories, as well as quirky tidbits of news from foreign shores. The Caravan thereby appeals to the cosmopolitan reader based in Manhattan as much as the Indian attending a literary festival in Jaipur. And although The Caravan is currently not available on newsstands outside of India and Nepal, the publishers plan to distribute issues in some American and European cities in the future. For now, readers have to be content with postal subscriptions and online access to the magazine.
Some of the cultural features of The Caravan lack the punch of the political pieces. A story about a trip to Khandwa in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was particularly self-indulgent. Most fiction in Indian magazines is cringe-worthy and The Caravan kept that tradition alive in its February issue, with a cheesy excerpted story from an Urdu spy novel. Perhaps some nuance was lost in translation. Other quibbles? The liberal use of parentheses is mildly annoying — 18 of them in a 1,423 word article, for instance — as is the occasional typo.
The history of The Caravan runs parallel to the country in which it was birthed. The magazine was first launched during India’s pre-Independence struggle. In the ’80s, however, it was christened Alive, a general-interest magazine that continues to circulate today. The Caravan was then reborn phoenix-like this January with a narrative style reminiscent of The New Yorker. Published by the Delhi Press, The Caravan is a departure from the 30-odd mostly lowbrow magazines that are printed by the same publisher. Aimed at India’s burgeoning intellectual class, it also appeals to tech-savvy readers. It has a new website that includes a quality digital edition mimicking the print version, which viewers can leisurely flip through. (There’s an accompanying “swish” sound for added effect.)
In essence, The Caravan remains true to its name. It chugs along slowly, soaking in the political and cultural landscape. And it offers an insightful journey into the world in which we live.