By Julia Munemo
Originally from Nepal, Shubhanga Pandey ’17 studied astrophysics at Williams and stayed up to date on happenings from home by reading Himal Southasian magazine. The 30-year-old print and online publication was known as the South Asian New Yorker, featuring longform pieces on politics that Pandey says kept him connected to a place that is largely misunderstood and misrepresented in American media.
During what was meant to be a short leave of absence from the college partway through his senior year, Pandey moved home and took an internship at Himal. He was soon offered a full-time job as assistant editor, an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“During my first years at Williams, I became interested in longform writing and the tradition of small magazines,” he says. “It was not the journalism of day-to-day newsgathering that interested me, but the journalism of ideas.” He extended his leave for what turned out to be three years, returning to Williams to finish his degree in the fall of 2016.
But by then, Himal was in trouble. The Nepali government had been making the publication’s work difficult for a while, forcing the magazine to shutter during Pandey’s final semester in college. “I knew things were hard for the magazine, but I was surprised when they had to close,” he says.
While finishing his studies, Pandey was accepted to Columbia’s journalism school. Meanwhile, Himal’s chief editor had remained in close contact, encouraging him to join her in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where she hoped to re-launch the magazine. Ultimately, he says, he couldn’t resist the chance to restart a magazine he’d loved for so long, in a completely new country.
“Sri Lanka seemed like the best place to begin again,” Pandey says. “Government policies of the time meant there was potential to get grants, and the media climate seemed hopeful—it was a time of press freedom and there was an openness in government we hoped would continue into the future.” While a new, less media-positive government has since been elected, Pandey says Himal is going strong—the English-language magazine reaches tens of thousands of readers every week, nearly half of whom in cities outside South Asia—and he is hopeful about its future.
Earlier this year, Pandey was made chief editor of Himal. He says he hadn’t planned for this but that his Williams education helped prepare him for journalistic work. “From how supportive the college was of me during my leave to the invaluable intellectual stimulation of being on campus, as well as a final Winter Study in journalism, I feel better equipped to do my job today.”
In December, Himal plans to publish a series of articles on South Asia during the pandemic, a time when so many people feel the world has turned upside down. That feeling isn’t entirely new for many familiar with Himal and its history. Subscribers to the magazine receive an unusual map of South Asia.
As explained on the Himal website, “This map may seem upside down to some, but that is because we are programmed to think of north as top-of-page. This rotation is an attempt by the editors of Himal to reconceptualize regionalism in a way that the focus is on the people rather than the nation states. This requires nothing less than turning our minds downside-up.”
Check out Himal Southasian.
Julia Munemo is a contributing writer to Williams Magazine.