Remembering Chandrika Mago | Mint Lounge


Senior Mint editor and head of the Lounge desk Chandrika Mago passed away on Wednesday. The Lounge team, past and present, remembers their beloved colleague



Senior editor and a founding member of the Mint editorial team Chandrika Mago passed away in Delhi on Wednesday morning following a prolonged illness. She was 60. 

Chandrika headed the desk at Lounge, working till the very last day. She joined Mint in December 2006, ahead of the newspaper’s launch the next year. During her 17 years at Mint, she created its editorial style guide and instituted its fact-checking processes and desk guidelines, contributing immensely to the quality of reportage. 

A fine writer and editor, Chandrika was the rare journalist who could track and write stories as well as train and mentor young writers and editors. She had an eye for detail, a strong sense of integrity and a deep love for journalism. Chandrika graduated from Delhi University with an M.A. in History in 1985 and joined the Times of India, where she spent 20 years as a reporter and an assistant editor. Her interests spanned current affairs, business and economy, environmental policy, climate and agriculture, history, politics, and culture and the arts. She was always ready to share her expertise and trained young journalists, many of whom went on to become well-known reporters and editors at other newsrooms. Daughter of the eminent artist and art educator, the late Pran Nath Mago, Chandrika is survived by her sister Punam. 

The Lounge team, past and present, remembers their beloved colleague

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A few months back she messaged, “Pls make me laugh, having a difficult week”. I joked, “Why on a Thursday?” We put the Lounge issue to bed on Thursday, and it can get chaotic at times. She replied, “Flurry of tests not showing great results. Thursday is the best day to laugh—hysterically if need be.” I could imagine her rolling her eyes and chuckling to herself. A close friend of hers mentioned that she would get annoyed when they dropped in on Thursday: “Don’t you know it’s my production day?” As if keeping that in mind, she decided to make her exit on Wednesday morning—ironically, she hated early mornings. The night before she had been listening to Dev Anand songs—hope you went with a song in your heart. You will be deeply missed. And sorry, you don’t get to ask the question this time: What’s the story? — Nipa Charagi

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A sly, dry sense of humour, a deep love for journalism and the work we did every day, and a true empathy for young journalists defined Chandrika. Despite her illness, she had always said she wanted to work “to the end”, and she did. Alternately berating and praising us, she brought depth, rigour, style and colour to our copies, and it would be fair to say that many of the awards Lounge won should have her name on them too. I joined the team in the midst of the pandemic; she was already unwell, and her humour and poise were an inspiration. Her knowledge was vast—she had worked as a reporter, covering various ministries and beats, under multiple editors in different newsrooms, and had wide-ranging interests. She drew from all this to form her opinions, to give advice—only when it was sought—that was always on point yet never didactic. And she would roll her eyes and sigh at the grammar as well as the excess of emotion on this page. — Shalini Umachandran

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Chandrika’s professionalism had always been the unflappable and dependable bulwark on which we all rested. One thing was always clear—her two allegiances were to the story she was editing, and to the editorial team. Watching her carefully and meticulously fashion award-worthy features from an inchoate jumble of words was an awe-inspiring experience. She would ask endless questions, and in answering them, our stories became better, deeper. Her poise, and a patient doggedness, was something we could all learn from. Chandrika was not the kind to suffer fools gladly, but if you’d want to argue—with civility and proof—her eyes would glint with interest—and a sense of mischief, it seemed—and an otherwise boring day would turn much more invigorating. I will miss her. Sail safe and true Chandrika! — Bibek Bhattacharya

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I doubt I will ever know anyone like Chandrika. From the time I first joined the Mint newsroom in 2009, she was a constant, steadfast, unwavering, a voice of reason. You could always count on her. When I returned close to a decade later, I had changed, Chandrika was the same. In a world of shifting truths and many masks, this quality of consistency in a person is so valuable. Someone had once told me she was a hard-nosed crime reporter before her time on the Mint copy desk. Another person told me they had called Chandrika in the middle of the night for help to bail someone out. I always thought of her as a quiet person with a deep interiority, but I wasn’t surprised. You could always, always count on her. It was never just about fixing the commas. — Anindita Ghose

***

For the past five years, Chandrika had been the voice in my head. While writing, I could hear her asking for a fact to be verified, tense to be corrected, gaps to be filled. Under her watchful eye, copies didn’t just get better, they bloomed and how… Over time, one didn’t just benefit from her expertise on the desk, but also from conversations on a whole range of subjects, from education to politics… It seems unreal to be talking of Chandrika in the past tense; but I know for sure that she will continue to be the voice in my head, enriching my writing with the strong mentorship she has left behind. — Avantika Bhuyan

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Chandrika Mago was Mint’s secret weapon in the run-up to the launch of the newspaper. She was responsible for the style book (Mint has a published stylebook, for those who didn’t know). And for the first few months after the launch, she was also the keeper of the news list as a young newsroom tried to get reporters and editors to work differently and get used to a publishing system that was new and complex (both of us had scars to show from this battle). She then moved to Lounge and continued to head its desk till the very end. More than anything else, though, she was a voice of reason and sanity, instituting a fact-checking protocol that led to the newsroom’s first mini-crisis—the indignant exit of a relatively famous food columnist who had cleverly plagiarised something, only for it to catch Chandrika’s eye. She brought to the newsroom her fine sense of balance and equanimity—both of which were also evident in how she dealt with her illness—and was an island of calm in a sea of restless and irritable journalists. And she trained a fine bunch of editors, many of whom have gone on to achieve success in other newsrooms, and who, more than anything else, are her real legacy. — R. Sukumar

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I joined the Lounge desk a little over 7 months ago and was nervous about working under the famed Chandrika. But, she was the first person who called me over the phone and welcomed me to the team, warmly and reassuringly. From the manner in which she worked, it was ages before I even knew she was unwell. Her precision, eye for detail, and the way she transformed copies astounded me, as much as it astounded the writers, too. … Aside from work, Chandrika was also one of the kindest people I’ve ever worked with. … In my mind, I referred to her as the OG of the desk, and I don’t think there will ever be another one like her. The hole she’s left behind will take a long time to fill. — Dakshayani Kumaramangalam

***

‘Would Chandrika clear this?’ is a question I will carry in my head every day of my writing life…. We argued endlessly—over the use of italics for Indian words, over the necessity of this or that paragraph, over why I absolutely needed to standardise something. There were no cut corners with Chandrika; no loose ends, and it was never personal. She was patient and relentless, and taught us a valuable lesson—that creativity requires discipline. As we put this issue together, it felt bizarre to not get emails from Cmag, as we called her, asking us to check our stories, give them a final read, trim a few lines… Our newsroom and our lives will be so much poorer for her loss. — Shrabonti Bagchi

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There hasn’t been a week in my time in Mint that I didn’t dread receiving Chandrika’s edits and queries on a story… Only Chandrika could send me into an existential crisis over a sentence with an “ok so?”, or “meaning?”. But it was this level of matchless meticulousness that saved many stories. Her sharp eye meant that she had my, and more importantly my story’s back…. It wasn’t just the writer in me that Chandrika shaped, but she’d got me thinking like an editor, too…. Chandrika, for the warmth, the humour, the many bits of bolded text and question marks—thank you. — Vangmayi Parakala

***

About 10 years ago, while Chandrika was interviewing me for a copy editor position at Mint, she asked, “Do you like going through the dictionary?” Why, in the age of Google Search, would anyone open a dictionary, I thought to myself. “Yes,” I replied, desperate to land the gig. In the following years, I realised the reason behind her insistence to go back to the basics, whether it was to check spellings and grammar, or to ask enough questions while reporting. From her I learnt how to narrate, or at least shape, the most complex stories with simple words. She was caring, but also a tough taskmaster. I always wanted to impress her, even outside work. Once I had made halwa at home and brought it to office, for the team to taste. Chandrika took a bite and said, “Bring more next time.” I had promised to make her taste my blueberry cheesecake the next time. I’m sorry Chandrika, I should have brought it sooner. — Pooja Singh

***

Being the most recent inductee to the team and working remotely from a city miles from Delhi means there’s very little I know about Chandrika Mago beyond her voice and a photo. Yet, while there may be little I know of Chandrika, the individual, there’s quite a bit I know of Chandrika, the editor… A question she didn’t hesitate to ask you also was ‘What’s the point of the story?’ As a journalist, it is a tough question to answer especially if it’s an idea you loved but… it’s an important question. Because it makes you dig deep, prod and arrive at the real reason why you want to write that 1000-word story. … So long, Chandrika. And thank you for the lessons. — Mahalakshmi Prabhakaran 

***

Chandrika was always warm and her attention to detail was unparalleled. She was crucial in my early years at Lounge, helping along the way as I settled into the team… Every sentence Chandrika rewrote was somehow simpler and made more sense. It was a gift very few possess. I’ll forever admire how she continued to work despite her diagnosis and the strenuous treatment sessions that followed… Chandrika, I’ll always hold onto our conversations on enjoying life, going out more often and what gadgets to buy. We will all miss you. — Nitin Sreedhar

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A question I dreaded from Chandrika was, “On what basis are you saying this?” Now, it has become second nature for me to use it as a filter for every passage in a story. She was the editor and grammar teacher I never had, but desperately needed. Punctuation is my nemesis, and I continue to struggle with semicolons and commas. Incidentally, my last message to her was a punctuation-related question: when and why is a comma added after the conjunction and? Her (unedited) response, “traditionally never. now, allow it if it’s a different point/thought and there is scope for the Americans to get confused. this is their virasat.” CMag always had the last word. — Jahnabee Borah

***

When I first joined Mint as a slightly cocky reporter and book critic, it took one edit from Chandrika for me to come down to earth. I’ve seldom worked with an editor as careful and thoughtful as her. Sometimes we would nitpick and have arguments but as comrades who believed in the power of language and truth. I will miss her deeply, her warmth and good cheer even in the worst of times, and the integrity and quiet dignity with which she a benchmark. — Somak Ghoshal

***

Chandrika Mago was a ruthless editor. She spared no typo, she trimmed all flab. You might not always agree with her but she’d always hear you out and explain why she felt compelled to wield an axe. Almost always, she’d win you over. Reporters and editors often have an adversarial relationship. But you knew Chandrika was firmly in your team. She was the unsung hero behind all our bylines; the reason why Lounge emerged as one of the most readable magazines in the country. Indian journalism has lost one of its finest. May you rest in peace, CMag. — Omkar Khandekar

***

Everyone has a Chandrika Mago story. Reporters will tell you how she would call them at 9pm on the production day to ask about a small change—replace a word, change the flow of the sentence, break a sentence down because it wasn’t flowing well. … I had a love-hate relationship with her: right from the day I joined the Mint newsroom in July 2008, till I left in February 2019. To a rookie journalist, Cmag, as we knew her, was the quintessential headmaster boss: her voice soft, measured, her words few, but commanding… I have never heard her raise her voice and, yet, I don’t know of a time when she hadn’t got things done the way she wanted to. A diligent reporter in her time, she evolved into a superstar editor with remarkable patience, and grit to do the mundane, day after day, week after week. It helped Lounge and countless journalists like me become what we are today. I woke up this Wednesday with the news of her passing. And I got to know she was clearing pages and stories till Tuesday night. That’s Chandrika we all knew. — Pradip Saha 

***

Chandrika Mago believed divinity is in details. I loved her for it. One of the finest, most assiduous copy editors I have worked with. We had many heated arguments about the Mint Style Book. She defended it with as much passion as she had while combing each copy that came to her with her acute, picky eyes. An old-world editor with rigour and patience. Chandrika is an inspiration in many ways, one being how much equanimity she had even while fighting a progressive cancer in the last few years of her decade-long cancer journey. She never stopped engaging with the world, she never stopped caring. Rest in peace, you will be missed. — Sanjukta Sharma

 

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