Former Editors Look Back : Down Memory Lane

Features Issue 34 Aug, 2010

Strolling Down Memory Lane
One thing led to another. When I was helping Ani Choying Drolma with publicity for her April 2001 Kathmandu concert, we met with Sunil Shrestha, (ECS’ Managing Editor). It was one of those confluent moments, where you realize you have many friends in common and wonder why you haven’t met before. Could he put something in ECS about the concert?  He mused. They were already full for the month, but he wanted to help -why not add a few pages? I would write the article, and they would print it. Lovely. A month later, I asked: could I write something about my other favorite musical project, the Gandharbas and their Culture and Art Organization?  No hurry, just to support them and open another window on Kathmandu life for ECS readers. Easily done, to the satisfaction of all. Something was clicking with ECS and me. Sunil talked to me about writing some kind of a column.  Our brains stormed together: it would address ‘common issues’ that expatriates face living in Nepal, be a touchstone for dialogue, alternate seriousness and humor. Bideshi Reflections was born.

From time to time Sunil would consult me, as he did a wide circle of people, about the magazine: what did I think about it? where should it go?  I always enjoyed these explorations, and they formed the base of what was becoming a firm friendship. When Susan Fowlds announced her departure as Editor, Sunil’s networking and consulting went into high gear. Seeing his grave concern for the future of the magazine, I offered to help in whatever way I could.  I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who could serve as Editor. We had this conversation once in February 2003. We had it again in April. This time when I offered my help, Sunil lowered his head and queried, “Could YOU be the editor?”  My mind whirred. I had never considered it. I felt I was a fledgling as a journalist. Though I had written and edited hundreds of information and opinion pieces for various NGOs I’d worked for (and had helped college students develop their writing), I had no formal training in writing or journalism, and the handful of pieces I’d done for ECS was the sum total of my magazine writing experience. But Sunil seemed desperate, a good friend in great need.  And I figured I had enough general sense of what was needed, a good command of English, and a certain knack for swimming after jumping into deep water. I told Sunil frankly what I thought my strengths and limitations were, and said if he thought he could live with them, then okay.

What unfolded from there surprised both of us. Sunil wanted to bring up the quality of the magazine to be among the best in Nepal. He already had a fantastic design and production team and was bursting with ideas for new sections.  I was devoted to pulling up the quality of the writing to match that of the design and diversifying the content to reflect the full range of expatriate experience and interest in Nepal, especially from the angle of supporting/encouraging a mutually beneficial relationship between Nepal/Nepalis and we foreigners who live here. We both wanted ECS to be completely positive in its content and its impact.  What really helped me develop ECS’ writing was the practice I had in writing information and advocacy pieces for elected officials. They get avalanches of paper across their desks every day, so the trick was to get their attention and give them something they would actually read, giving them sound information with integrity of purpose. I knew ECS needed catchy headlines; articles broken up into digestible pieces; an easy, conversational but intelligent tone and most importantly a wide range of topics that were both central to our reader’s experience/interests and had some kind of unique angle. All this (and more) led me to develop and implement ECS’ first writing guidelines and style sheet. And Sunil’s ideas and networks of people, plus the growing popularity of ECS, led to some wonderful collaboration for articles.

I will never forget Rudi Lemp’s response to my article about him; it deeply touched him.  He wrote to me, “I almost feel like quitting my job now, knowing that this is ‘as good as it gets’ when it comes to personal interviews. I do not think there will ever be anything better written about me.”  Responses to Bideshi Reflections have been even more gratifying. From time to time I get an e-mail or someone tells me: thank you for your simple but thought provoking columns…you made me realize something… now I am trying to live more peacefully…thank you for understanding Nepal…thank you for loving Nepal…your column was divine…And I smile with every cell of my body.

Of course the internal workings of the staff and production process at ECS were as interesting as anything else. The staff was always a wonderful group of dedicated, talented people who inspired and cooperated with each other admirably, and sometimes had divergent ideas and were stretched past the limits of abilities and patience.  But if we yelled at each other in the heat of having worked five 16-hour days in a row and still missing a deadline, we always apologized and usually laughed about it afterwards.  The first month we decided to go with a lead, eight-page feature and the writer backed out at the last minute stands out in memory as a grand scramble, as do a few computer crashes, articles that were more than twice as long and less than half as organized as expected, and our assistant editor leaving on three days’ notice while he was in the middle of writing major articles. But generally the creative ideas flew thick and came to fruition fast. We were constantly adding new sections and more pages, sometimes just barely keeping up with ourselves but somehow getting better every issue. It was a wild and wonderful ride and one I will always remember fondly.

All the best, Sujal Jane Dunipace

Looking Back Fondly
ECS asked me to write a piece called ‘Down Memory Lane’, referring to my involvement in ECS magazine.   I said ‘Love to’, but can I call it ‘The Managing Editor from Hell”?  I sat next to the managing editor from hell at the opening of the Australian Film Festival Friday night.  ‘Oh, Susan, was I really as bad as all that?’  “No Sunil you weren’t, without you I couldn’t have done it’.

ECS magazine was the brainchild, the baby, of Sunil Shrestha, and without his drive, his passion, his creativity, it would be nowhere!  I would not have managed ECS magazine without his input, his involvement, his meddling!

Back in 1998/99 I managed ICS (International Community Services), an organization about 25 years old, originally started by Father Gene Watrin and others.  Father Watrin was still a trustee in ’99 along with Peter Clawson, Ethel Metzler, and others.  During ’99 it was decided that it was time to put ICS to bed; we were not breaking even, expats were not using our services in the way they used to, their needs had changed, and we were not equipped to provide other services which would enable us to cover our expenses.  So ICS closed down, but in the process I encouraged Ms. Ram Devi Shrestha the assistant to consider opening up an organization to cover the needs of the Nepalese staff in the areas of training, and of course the English and Nepalese language services.  Ram Devi established ECS, and after a while started writing a newsletter with the help of Sunil Shrestha of WordScape, an old boss of hers.

In December 2001 after three front cover color issues, (still just 20 black and white  pages), Sunil and Ram Devi approached me and asked would I be the editor.  So we started filling it out.  During 2002 it crept up, getting bigger and bigger, and in January 2003 out came the bumper ‘first full colour’ issue, actually edited by my good friend Jill Gocher, as I was away for a month.  There was no looking back after this issue, and of course all the while the front covers were the baby of Raj Bhai Suwal, who is beautifully featured in this current issue.  Helping Raj Bhai with the covers was wonderful; shots of a vase of flowers, a small chest and some jewelry took hours.  I remember vividly the beautiful cover of pink bougainvillea from Kumari Nursery; each petal placed on the floor was lovingly placed, and moved, and moved again, until the photo was just right; again hours of painstaking perfection.

In the beginning the sourcing of advertisers was an exhausting process carried out by WordScape sales staff.  Now it is so evident that the support of advertisers is much easier as they have recognized the quality and value of the magazine.  But still ‘the putting to bed’ each month takes huge effort and hours of dedication.  Congratulations ECS magazine and WordScape!

During 2003 I handed ECS magazine over to Susal Stebbins; and now in 2004 ECS is a wholely Nepalese magazine, beautifully presented and ably managed without the help of ‘bideshis’ who might try and put a western stamp on the magazine.  WordScape and ECS magazine should be proud of what they have achieved, and the service that they are providing to expats and Nepalese alike.  I take great pleasure in still writing Susan’s Musings each month, and hope to continue.

Susan Fowlds

Guest Editor for a month
Having always been intrigued by ECS even from the days when it was a full color cover with four pages of newsprint inside, I was very interested to make the acquaintance of the publisher Sunil, through my good friend Susan. Sunil is never afraid of a challenge and is always looking for ways to improve and expand – and when I brought him some copies of a Singapore magazine he instantly saw the possibilities of ways to improve ECS and bring a new quality to a magazine.

So almost instantly he announced – we are going to go to full color. Susan almost had a heart attack but there was no stopping Sunil. As Susan was going off to America, she passed on the job to me and I became guest editor for a month. Something I am always very happy to do.

It was a great month and by good luck we had some interesting stories coming in – notably Daniel Haber’s memorable story on American visionary and poet Charles Henry Ford and lots of others that have faded from memory.  

Working on some of the layouts with the talented Raj was really stimulating.  By tossing a few ideas around I think we came up with some really nice pages - although strangely, some never made it to print!

One layout was particularly nice. I was working to introduce the concept of black and white pictures printed four color-, which gives a wonderful quality. We got the layout looking fabulous - with lots of white space and nice fonts and I thought oh this would look really good. But it seems that having black and white pictures in a new full color magazine must have been more than someone could stand, so that when our wonderful Rana layout was finally seen in print, black and white had turned to green – and only two color - quite a visual shock! Trouble with being guest editor – there is no final power of approval involved.

Having worked on the magazine, albeit in a guest capacity, one always feels a connection and one feels an almost maternal interest in its growth. It is almost like a living thing and each new editor means new twists and turns and changes of direction as it echoes the character of the person at the helm. Each new editor steers a slightly different course – some ego driven, some culturally, with a good feel of what the magazine needs.  It is almost a Buddhist model of impermanence - with progress and change being the only constant. Now with Dinesh and Baishali firmly in control, it will be good to see the next incarnation.

So all I can say is – keep up the good work ECS team and don’t forget to explore new ideas as well as new layouts sometimes – space can make a difference.