Column| Chandigarh’s iconic journal – the Gutternsnipe

Ode to a journal which folded up due to the evil machinations of its own creation - the ‘makhan-toast man’

punjab Updated: Feb 24, 2018 21:11 IST
Maninder Singh
Maninder Singh
Hindustan Times
Chandigarh,guest column,column

In the annals and chronicles of Chandigarh, there has seldom been a journal more iconic and celebrated than the Guttersnipe. The word guttersnipe, to start with, was used for the common bird, the snipe, and later for a person who gathered refuse from gutters. The dictionary meaning veers towards a vagabond, a runaway on the streets, or a homeless outcast — a person referred to as a guttersnipe would, therefore, be one who had the mannerisms of one raised in squalor or a person to whom poor moral values could be ascribed. This pejorative word, itself, might be considered by some to be redolent of an elitist morality, condemning those deemed to be outside of its circle.

When a person is found to foray into the aforementioned activities or has a reputation that is far from stellar, the adjective for such an individual would be guttersnipish. The significant synonyms of this rare word are vagrant, down-and-out, a never-do-well, an alms-seeker, ragamuffin or, as in unqueenly slang, an uncommon ‘bum’. If PG Wodehouse was to describe a guttersnipe, and the greatest of the 20th century humorists failed to use the word even once, he would have probably taken recourse to words he was fond of, such as a cadger or a sponger.

The philosophical men who founded ‘The Guttersnipe’ were no ordinary mortals, as history records, but imbued with the sensitivity and need to record the human condition in the storied corridors of the Panjab University.

This university alone, among the universities of Northwest India, extending as far afield as the green fields of Ganganagar, or the historic battle field of Kurukshetra, can be compared to an Ivy League institution. The chancellor is the vice-president and the tradition of learning is long and arduous.

A rare magazine

The Guttersnipe always had a loyal readership.It was hard to lay a hand upon the copies, and all the issues that were ever printed and published were cyclostyled sheets, with the contents and illustrations drawn out meticulously, somewhat on the pattern of the animated film ‘Loving Vincent’, commemorating the life of Van Gogh, where every slide has been hand-drawn and hand-painted.

It was the considered aim of the broad-sheet to reveal hypocrisy in all its resplendent forms and to deride the mighty, lest they undeservedly soar into the solar heights. For this reason, in the hallowed traditions of anarchic and revolutionary literature, the composition, compilation and confabulation, to capture the contents of the Guttersnipe, was a secret activity that was carried out completely surreptitiously.

When the end came, as it must for all times and seasons in the sun, it was, as it usually is, sudden and swift. The editorial board, erudite as it was, had failed to take adequate note of ground realities. Every boy and girl, who has studied in the university, has had the pleasure of tucking into ‘makhan-toast’, at breakfast time and teatime. It is a popular canteen snack, with a quintessential Indian name. In their exuberance, they had merrily and flippantly referred to a student leader, whose methods were often rash and unpredictable, “as the makhan-toast” man, which appellation was a spoof derived from the title of the 1973 film “The Mackintosh Man”.

Grimly detecting a smudge on the veneer and sheen of his unchallenged sway, the indomitable and well regarded leader called Makhan Singh was compelled to resort to strong-arm tactics. Among student-union leaders, leadership seldom flourishes, for alpha males, in the sterile effeminate mannerisms of mild and happy conversations.

Censorship and freedom of speech

Not one to be trifled with, and having been scathingly trifled with, he arrived at the easy conclusion that his leadership had been dealt a low blow. Determined not to allow the pen to be mightier than the sword and recognising even a sinister design, the redoubtable leader soon put precept into practice by recalling the old witticism of GB Shaw who had inspirationally stated, “Assassination is an extreme form of censorship”.

With the editorial board on the run, Makhan rampaging on the campus, copies of the Guttersnipe being seized by loyalists of Makhan’s injured pride, the magazine ceased publication for all time, in one of the darkest chapters of the saga of freedom of speech and expression.

When the four founding editors nervously emerged from the hiding of their underground and subterranean refuge, the matter was allowed to rest on the solemn assurance that such effrontery on their part would never be tolerated peaceably. Thus, they lived to tell the tales of their youthful forays into the exacting world of the media and I am happy to state that they continue to be meritorious members of society in Chandigarh.

( The writer is an IAS officer in Chandigarh)

First Published: Feb 24, 2018 21:11 IST