A contested history: as both colonial relic and latterly site of Jewish community celebrations, the monumental Gateway of India speaks to the plural histories and peoples of Bombay.RAJENDRAKUMAR SAHANI / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Content Note: The article briefly mentions rape

Gulshan Ewing was a well-known editor who was instrumental to the early feminist movement in India. Nobel laureate V S Naipaul described Ewing as “India’s most famous female editor” in India: A million mutinies now. Journalist Pamela Philipose would describe her as“almost intuitively able to grasp that the changing times required a feminist sensibility,” and fashion writer Meher Castelino said that Ewing “will always be the ultimate editor who had elegance, style, grace and above all a personality.” As the editor of Eve’s Weekly, Ewing mentored a cosmopolitan mindset in young female journalists.

Under Ewing’s leadership, the publication developed from being a traditional women’s magazine that wrote about fashion and beauty tips into a platform for cosmopolitanism that campaigned against dowry deaths, rape, and the infringement of women’s rights. Ewing even published an article challenging the misogyny of the Hindu religion. The magazine became famous for its revolutionary stance, questioning stigmatised ideas in Indian society. Ewing presided over all these changes with grace and equanimity, recognising that her readers were changing too, and shaping her magazine into a dynamic feminist platform.

Ewing worked in post-independence Bombay: a growing, cosmopolitan city where her feminist ideas flourished. It was the truly cosmopolitan nature of Bombay that allowed for such sentiments to be encouraged and applauded. Bombay was a city of diversity with many religious, ethnic and linguistic groups. It was a great centre for trade and entrepreneurship held together by an effervescent culture of arts and publishing.

“We are living in a world where there is an unparalleled connection between countries... the need has never been higher for a sense of a shared human fate.”

The annual Bandra Fair focused around Mount Mary Church typifies the model of cosmopolitan Bombay experienced by Ewing.RAKESH KRISHNA KUMAR / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In 1995 Bombay was renamed Mumbai by the far-right regional party Shiv Sena; they saw Bombay as a legacy of British colonialism. This decision was one that has caused much controversy and is something that many still debate over. Bombay and Mumbai continue to be used interchangeably, yet, both words are loaded with political sentiments. The struggle between Bombay and Mumbai has traditionally been framed as a Hindu-nationalist versus cosmopolitian-liberal-India. However, it would be wrong to think that if we still use Bombay, Cochin, Bangalore, and Calcutta in our daily conversation, then we become subservient to colonial rulers – the truth is far more nuanced. The ideas of Bombay remain present within the consciousness of Mumbai. The city remains nothing if not cosmopolitan; it has varied cross-currents of cultures and people, something that is testament to the legacy of Bombay’s true character. It was this that allowed Ewing to foster her feminist ideas and write in a way that involved many from a vast spectrum of backgrounds.

A cosmopolitan is not a cocktail nor a magazine, but a citizen of the world. Ewing’s Bombay offered a home to the global citizen, and her life and work embodied that ideal. However, this ideal is not accepted by all. Former Prime Minister Theresa May once said, “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”. May was drawing on the stereotype of a cosmopolitan citizen being part of the rootless and uncommitted elite, yet there is an evident and urgent irony to May’s comments. We are living in a world where there is an unparalleled connection between countries, as demonstrated by the triple crises of Covid-19, global warming and the refugee crisis. The need has never been higher for a sense of a shared human fate. So how has cosmopolitanism come to signify a negative and limited, rather than a broadened, compass of concern?

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The global citizen has been dismissed as living in a false reality, valuing autonomy and mobility over local and national attachments. However, cosmopolitan values are grounded in a broad range of backgrounds and an ease with different cultures. As such, cosmopolitan cities become a ‘melting pot’ for a diverse community where the global person is to be embraced; this is a different kind of belonging. In the current political climate, this model of the cosmopolitan or global citizen is under threat.


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It is in Ewing’s personal life that we see her full dedication to the ideal of cosmopolitanism. Ewing met her husband after he travelled to India in 1947, at a time where most British people were fleeing the country. Her choice of a British husband led to Ewing being excommunicated from her religion. In 1990 Ewing retired and moved to London with her husband, where she drew a line under her previous life. It is here that two Ewings emerged: the glamorous editor in Bombay who had shaped the careers of a generation of young journalists, and the woman who lived a quiet retirement in the UK with her husband. What is remarkable is that following her death, most of the London community were unaware of Ewing’s previous life as a woman who had cut such a swathe for so long in elegant cosmopolitan Bombay.

Ewing is remembered by those who knew her for her elegance, beautiful chiffon saris, and perfectly coiffed hair. “She was the ultimate style diva of the days, and in a coterie of male editors, she was a breath of fresh air,” as Bimee Taskin noted. In today’s world of revolving door editors, few are remembered, and fewer still with such gratitude, love and respect. Ewing was an editor who had a massive impact on feminism in India, kick-started hundreds of young female journalists’ careers, and yet remained humble; this was never more apparent than in her retirement. Her life should be taken as an example of how to be a cosmopolitan thinker – a type of thought that is increasingly needed in today’s world.

Gulshan Ewing died in a Richmond care home aged 92 in late April.

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