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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 things in

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 personal journey.

Petite, with a wide smile and large kohl-lined eyes, long straight hair pushed casually behind her ears, there is an understated elegance about
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 born.

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 in TV
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 chance meeting
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, and discussions.

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 designed
after being part of a group that arranged the victims' depositions post-1992-93 riots in Bombay. Since Rane left after the sixth issue,
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
in life..."

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."

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