By Beena Sarwar
In the midst of the cut-throat competition in Mumbai's publishing
world, at a quiet corner in a quiet apartment, off a quiet street,
at a desk by a window overlooking the Arabian Sea, sits a woman
unfazed by the concerns that steer her corporate colleagues. Her
name is Bina Sarkar Ellias, and since 1997 she has been bringing
out a trail-blazing journal called Gallerie.
She is driven not by market concerns but by the urge to do something
worthwhile, to 'raise the bar' -- and the "simple, single-minded
belief in the rich diversity of the world's cultures and the powerful
universality of ideas."
Bina dismisses the argument that the media should give the readers
what they want, leading to 'dumbing down' and the 'page three
culture', which she likens to "giving your child junk food
all the time... I'm not being patronising, but I'm just concerned.
That kind of media lulls the mind, takes you away from the deeper
What provides an understanding of these deeper things and promotes
global understanding and respect for diversity, are the visual
and performing arts. "Art must be a palpable experience.
It must inspire and energize. And like any good thing that deserves
to be shared, art must be shared. It must go beyond the art community
to include and make aware a wider viewership. It must be a democratic,
inclusive process, a dialogue between individuals and nations,"
she believes. This is the vision behind the 'journey of ideas'
as she calls Gallerie -- an achievement that symbolises her own
Petite, with a wide smile and large kohl-lined eyes, long straight
hair pushed casually behind her ears, there is an understated
this soft-spoken, gentle mother of two (and grandmother of two
more). Her calm, contented serenity is reflected in the airy two-bedroom
apartment that she has lived in for 26 years, full of books and
paintings and sculptures --also her workplace since Gallerie was
There were many detours along the way for this girl from Calcutta
who finished university in 1971, then went to Bombay to do a diploma
Production (Xaviers Institute of Mass Communications) -- attending
college in the evenings while freelancing as a print journalist.
She soon realised that television production was not for her --
"it was too demanding, ate up all the free hours that I wanted
to devote to writing," she says. She joined Eves Weekly,
writing on social and gender issues.
In 1972 she directed a play at the Xaviers Institute, in which
one of the actors was a certain Rafeeq Ellias. A couple of years
later, she went to Tokyo for a break, where he joined her -- they
got married there and stayed on for another five years. Rafeeq
worked in an ad agency while Bina taught at the American School
in Japan. In 1975, their first child, Raoul, was born. Bina became
a full-time mother. "Strangely, words evaporated and my writings
came to a complete standstill. I just indulged in being mom, learning
studio pottery and the exquisite paper crafts that Japan offered..."
They returned to Bombay in 1979, where Yuki, now pursuing theatre
in Paris, was born. Bina wrote sporadically for various newspapers,
and in 1984, together with Rafeeq, set up the advertising agency
he still runs. Her television training came in handy, editing
commercial films but her heart wasn't in it. "I was the invisible
partner. Slogged for hours to what end, I wondered... our clients
did not know I was a working partner, Rafeeq's friends thought
I was the typical wife
busying herself in her husband's office. I totally lacked self-esteem
and confidence. It was a long, dry period without friendships.
Just office and home."
She hated the city for almost twenty years, without realising
that it was because she was not doing what she wanted to do. A
with some writers and journalists helped to bring her out of herself,
where she had been 'locked in' as she puts it. They "unknowingly
helped me see myself as an individual. I'd forgotten who I was
before marriage, lulled in the role of wife and mother. And it's
nobody's fault but my own, that I was not strong enough to resist,
to stake my claim as an individual who needed to find her own
bearings and make her own journeys."
This realisation led her to quit the agency in 1996, a move that
Rafeeq initially opposed. "It was a deliberate rejection
of all the security it provided. It was like coming out of a cocoon.
I worked and travelled on my own, meeting artists and researching
a book on contemporary arts.
Meanwhile, the concept for a magazine evolved in my head, which
became more compelling."
And so, in 1997, Gallerie was born. It had a conscience, and
it "strung art, poetry, cinema, essays, photography, short
stories and 'life' --
which would feature socio-political /human interest stories of
communities in India and overseas. The idea was to transcend boundaries
and include the world in each discourse."
Each issue is a collector's item, published twice a year, with
themes ranging from charged issues like opposing violence, Kashmir,
children of war, freedom and censorship, bridging divides between
India and Pakistan, 9/11 and Gujarat, to critiquing Beauty and
celebrating rain. Each issue is launched at a Crossword, a local
bookshop, accompanied by theatre enactments, poetry readings,
Behind the scenes, there has been solid support and encouragement
from people like Rafeeq ('production expert and resident photographer'),
designer Mangesh Rane who helped shape the look, the processing
house that scanned images at a friendly rate, and 'the best printer
in India', based in Hyderabad that ensures paper and printing
quality "at a cost that would not kill (INR250); the few
ads we got helped pay our
She had done some designing before. Her first assignment outside
the agency was a book --'People's Verdict' -- she compiled and
after being part of a group that arranged the victims' depositions
post-1992-93 riots in Bombay. Since Rane left after the sixth
she has been designing and doing Gallerie layouts and artworks
also. "Word got around, and artists, galleries, began approaching
me to design catalogues and books. This was a discovery! Late
Her refusal to compromise on 'excellence' "even if we did
not make money" has paid off: Gallerie has won nine awards
for excellence, two from the Art Director's Club in New York.
Today, we have broken even."