And we grew up together…

Navniit Gandhi (extreme right) interviews a TEEN OF THE YEAR participant during the Personal Interview round of the event.

“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” 
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

The writer in me was born nearly 30 years after THE TEENAGER was born. I was barely taking a few wobbling baby-steps as a teenage writer, when a professor of mine in college, encouraged me to write for this magazine. I had written small columns in the children’s section of a few leading newspapers and a few letters to the editor till then. I was so sure that the novice that I was, how could a feature article which I had never-before written, be accepted by a national magazine!

I was prepared for being rejected. Hadn’t all good writers said that the journey towards becoming a good writer is paved with obstacles that test the resilience of those who hold the pen? THE TEENAGER proved these well-established maxims wrong. I was stunned. Without any harsh reprimand as to how I ought to learn to write; without any attempt at belittling my teenage concerns and convictions; without refining and editing in a way that my article would become unrecognisable to myself — my first-ever full feature article was published by THE TEENAGER. That day, two developments occurred in my life. One, I got a new family to which I belong till date. Second, I learnt my first lesson as a writer: that it is alright to be oneself while writing; there is no need to conform to any standards or specifications or thought processes and that there are and will be those who shall appreciate and accept one’s writings. Getting rejected may be the norm but, there are publications that do not follow the norm. They shine out as exceptions.

I learnt the second lesson earlier than I expected to. While pursuing my post-graduation and before I had even completed 20 years of age, there arose a vacancy, to which I responded and joined THE TEENAGER as Assistant Editor. The second lesson lay in store there. The interviewer (incidentally Fr Alfonso Elengikal, who heads THE TEENAGER today as its Editor) and the then Editor Fr Joe Eruppakatt did not seek to make me feel small or point out my lack of experience and even lack of any degree in journalism. They just cast a glance at all that I had written till date, and incorporated me in the team. My first part-time job allowed me to come in whenever I finished lectures at the University and do my work at my pace.

In the years that followed, there was never a harsh word by anyone or a rebuke of any kind or any pressure to alter the contents of the young teenagers who contributed to the magazine in their own ways. The magazine’s editorial team was not interested in casting aside any young mind’s views and words. No contribution was believed to be trivial or silly. That was my second lesson: everyone mattered at THE TEENAGER; every teenager’s joke or essay or letter to the editor or a query to the counsellor mattered and even the poems and riddles mattered. It was a precious lesson in humility, acceptance and sensitivity. I have held on tight to all of these values till date. Meanwhile, I learnt a thing or two about editing/proof-reading too.

The next year I got a job as a lecturer in a college and left the part-time position I held at THE TEENAGER. Nevertheless, the bond stayed and even strengthened. New incumbents came as editors, but the sense of belonging persevered; the threads that kept me tied with my new family remained vibrant and strong. Never was I asked as to why I wrote on this or that topic; nor was I told to edit my thoughts and words and subscribe to any ideology. There was freedom to be myself. In fact, I was not considered too young or inexperienced even when I was honoured with a position on the editorial board. I was encouraged to interview many eminent people; I was guided and exposed to many a truth and techniques of journalism.

Unlike many other magazines, if THE TEENAGER said it catered to teenagers, it truly did. It was not interested merely in widening the readership base amongst the youth in India, but it also treated teenagers with dignity and respect.

Unlike many other magazines, if THE TEENAGER said it catered to teenagers, it truly did. It was not interested merely in widening the readership base amongst the youth in India, but it also treated teenagers with dignity and respect. There have been the light moments, as well; the fun and the picnics; the assignments and interviews for which the team travelled to other cities — all of which not only kept us stay connected with those at the helm of affairs but also with scores of other writers and well-wishers.

And then came a series of overwhelming experiences, which brought in its wake loads of lessons to be learnt. THE TEENAGER launched a one-of-its-kind event, the kind of which at least, I had never heard it before: the TEEN OF THE YEAR! What an amazing annual experience it was! I vividly recollect how we planned the events; how the focus unflinchingly stayed on choosing the most well-balanced teenager who was skilled, believed in values and sensible in views and had a humane heart. There were never any attempts at leaning towards physical beauty or style or accent or connections or glamour. The skill did not matter; the family background and the educational qualifications did not matter. Whether one was a quiet violin player or a ferocious debater — the multiple rounds of the Pageant gave a fair ground to all the participants.

Every year, we learnt many lessons: how to organize an all-India event; how people from varied backgrounds and strata of society could all be so very wonderful and good; how there were horizons to reach beyond the shallow confines of the skin and style. There were hundreds of people I must have met during the few years I was actively involved behind-the-scenes in the event, and experiences with all of them added fresh hues to my own personality.

I have grown over the years, along with THE TEENAGER… I feel the changes within me and I clearly see the positive changes in the magazine, too. And, I am proud of both! As editors of THE TEENAGER have changed — they have brought fresh insights and ideas to the content and layout of the magazine. A little presentation style may have changed, too. One thing, however, has not changed. THE TEENAGER is still my family… and so it shall always be!

Dr Navniit Gandhi
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Dr Navniit Gandhi

Dr Navniit Gandhi is an academic, author, and a trainer/counsellor based in Kuwait. She has authored nine books and has written more than 300 feature articles till date, and is presently on the editorial board of The Teenager Today.