Farewell Mrs Gulshan Ewingby Khalid Mohamed April 21 2020, 4:44 pm Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 19 secs
Left: Gulshan Ewing with Danny Kaye and Right: with Cary Grant
Khalid Mohamed pays tribute to Mrs Gulshan Ewing, the pioneering editor of Eve’s Weekly and Star & Style, who passed away in London after a delay in the treatment of the Coronavirus attack.
She had the most spontaneous laugh ever. Head tossed back, a deep-throated guffaw and then she would focus on the road ahead, chiding, “Shhh, do you want to die with me in a car accident.”
This would mostly be on Mumbai’s Kemps Corner overbridge, after which she would drop me close to the St Stephen’s Church and continue to her compact apartment in a backlane of Breach Candy.
That was Gulshan Ewing, a pioneering woman journalist of the 1970s and ‘80s, who would give me a ride in her Fiat car after a movie screening at the Blaze preview theatre in Colaba.
Slim, smoking an occasional cigarette, her shoulder-length hair brushed neat, draped in understated saris, Mrs Ewing was a trend-setter. She double-tasked as the editor of Eve’s Weekly and Star & Style, encouraging upcoming journalists constantly and apportioning pages for the numero uno spicy column by Devyani Chaubal, aka Devi, whom we rookies regarded with awe.
Devi had balls, she would demolish Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra and even Raj Kapoor with an hour’s clatter at her Remington. Without Mrs Ewing’s support that wouldn’t have been possible. That was the era when editors backed their staffers. If you had the evidence for a story, however scandalous, she wouldn’t be afraid of those vociferous threats of dragging the publication to the law courts.
Clockwise: Gulshan Ewing with her husband Guy, with daughter Anjali and with Gregory Peck
During my few visits to London, where she had settled after retirement, I would hope to drop by and meet her over a cup of tea in Manchester. Her daughter, Anjali, is a seasoned scribe herself and a leading yoga exponsent. A year and a half ago, Anjali had said over the phone, “Mum is getting on in years… she’s fine, doing well.” As it happened Mrs Ewing had to be lodged in a care centre for senior citizens, where she passed away at the age of 92 of a Coronavirus attack last Saturday.
It was only by chance that I read of Mrs Ewing going away on a Facebook post today, and my heart sank: why didn’t I ever make sufficient effort to track her down in Richmond, south west London?
Speaking strictly personally, that would have allowed me to come full circle. Reason: it was Mrs Ewing that I had first approached for a job, a placement in Star & Style. Times were tough since the death of my grandfather and the endless years for the probate required for the execution of his will. I was in St Xavier’s College and needed a part-time job desperately. So there I was in the Fort precinct, and found easy access to her cabin in the office of the two publications she stewarded.
The ad for the vacancy in Star & Style had appeared inadvertently in the newspaper columns. She looked up at me, with an arched eyebrow and said, “I must apologise. I would like to offer you a job but could you come back in a month perhaps? Meanwhile you could send in freelance pieces for us to consider.”
For close to an hour, she spoke of the movies and of Eve’s Weekly, which once organised the Miss India pageants, and insisted that I finish a cup of tea with her, before I left. Whenever, I’d remind her years later that she had ‘rejected’ me, she’d laugh that ‘Gulshan-laugh’, “Come on, you’re always pulling my leg. How could I do that?” I would leave it at that and would be on Cloud 9 if she sent me a personal note, congratulating me on a film review in The Times of India, almost always adding the PS, “That’s exactly how I felt, by the way.”
Her contribution to journalism is incalculable. It would require me to time-travel to an era when the most sensational stories were rooted in the truth. Mrs Ewing had a visual eye, too, her covers for both the film and women’s magazines were elegant, never over-the-top and neither topped by screeching headlines. Here was a class act, her presence was ubiquitous.
She’d be at evening soirees, premieres, previews (these, only because she wished to keep up with the new releases), and she gave a long rope to her daughter, Anjali. Rather than absorbing her at Star & Style or Eve’s Weekly, the daughter apprenticed with The Times of India and excelled as a writer and sub-editor at The Illustrated Weekly of India. There wasn’t a young male journalist in the TOI building, who didn’t have a massive crush on Anjali. Some of us still do I suspect, and wish we could be there for her today.
From the few reports I’ve scanned, Anjali was distraught about her mother’s passing away, felled by the pandemic.
Throughout her estimable career of three decades and more, Mrs Ewing didn’t have to reach out to the Bollywood stars, it was always the other way around. Her wit, candour, command over the English language and grammar, and that wonderful laugh were hers and hers alone.
Star visitors from Hollywood thronged around her. Being an avid American film buff, you would have expected her to behave like a fan on meeting Gregory Peck, Danny Kaye or Cary Grant. But no, she didn’t. She was the coolest.
This brief piece is my farewell to her, and a plea to Anjali to be strong (which she is) in coming to terms with the irreparable loss.
PS: Mrs Ewing, they call our kind of journalism ‘Old School’ today. That’s because they are know-nothings. You taught us never to lose our spine, and without an iota of fear, do the right thing. New or old, that’s journalism.