Sense and Sensibility

Supriya Newar is a Kolkata-based author, poet, music aficionado and communications consultant

Sense and Sensibility

There’s a tallish pile of this iconic brand that has continued to retain its space on my bookshelf for more than two decades now. Though I haven’t added to the pile in recent times, I haven’t had the heart to trim it either. Now, more than ever, that’s out of the question.

That’s because this iconic household brand, which occupied a confirmed spot in thousands of Indian homes right through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, will soon be relegated to the annals of time as it has announced the shutting down of its shop from May 2024.

I’m talking about none other than ‘Reader’s Digest’ which touted itself as the ‘world’s most widely read magazine’. Much like today’s start-ups, ‘Reader’s Digest’ was born out of a basement in New York and came out with its first issue way back in 1922, making its way into our country with an Indian edition in the 1950s. Other than being present globally in many languages, ‘Reader’s Digest’ also had a Braille edition as well as a Hindi edition called ‘Sarvottam’ that folded up in a few years.

In that age and time, English magazines were fairly niche in their content. There were magazines that focused only on politics and current affairs - there were those that looked at sports and some that focussed on films and entertainment. ‘Reader’s Digest’ or just ‘Digest’, as it was commonly referred to, stood out both in its size as well as its general, myriad variety of content. While it didn’t shy away entirely from current affairs, it looked at the ongoings of the world through the sensibilities of a softer prism, making its content a little more humane and somewhat blunter than keeping it cutting edge. It was because of its well-curated and perfectly edited content that covered a vast range of topics, that ‘Reader’s Digest’ made a lot of sense and enjoyed a longer shelf life over other magazines that were not always considered worth purchasing or subscribing to. The cine types were quite openly frowned upon and tended to be more ubiquitous in salons than in homes or libraries.

‘Reader’s Digest’, on the other hand, received a nod of approval even from the most judicious and discerning English teachers. Very strict parents and households too, didn’t mind if a child or teenager was caught lost between its benign covers. One was encouraged to borrow it from a cousin or friend or allowed to mildly boast of being a subscriber. The subscriber copies came with a ‘Not For Resale’ bold, all-caps print on the cover.

The larger boast, of course, was reserved for, if and when, an article or even an anecdote or joke sent by you, found its way into its many dedicated columns: ‘Laughter’s the best medicine’, ‘All in a day’s work’, ‘Quotable Quotes’ and so on. To be featured in ‘Reader’s Digest’ was most certainly a certificate to tom-tom about and it was but a given, that that issue should secure a place of pride in one’s bookshelf.

I’m quite sure that I will be one of many who will try and pick up the last issue of ‘Reader’s Digest’ and safe keep it. Not because its last issue will have some staggering articles that one must absolutely consume. In our current day and age of 24x7, non-stop information avalanche, that’s hardly a pull and makes little sense. No, the last issue will be purchased and savoured to mark the end of an era of sensibilities. An era when one eagerly awaited the subscriber copy to land in the post box and tore open its brown packaging to hungrily test one’s word power, fudging a word or two to notch up a high score and then voraciously went through all its classic columns until each one was read to satisfaction.

My pile of ‘Reader’s Digest’ has not grown any taller in more than a decade. This month, however, it will add its last speck of height, ironically, to mark its swan song. I suppose life is like that.

Author Supriya Newar may be reached at, Instagram: @supriyanewar, Facebook: supriya.newar and LinkedIn:

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