Monday, July 14, 2014

From India to Iowa: Varun's View

One of Varun Nayar’s first reporting assignments led him to a jail in India. Many young reporters would find this task overwhelming or, at the very least, intimidating, but a then 18-year-old Nayar was thrilled to take on the challenge as a contributing reporter for the Indian magazine Motherland. The feeling of seeing the final product in print stuck with him. “Knowing I had done all this work and now people can see it; it was a great feeling,” he says.

No doubt this thirst to tell good stories led to Nayar's acceptance into the ASME program this summer where he is an intern at the National Magazine Awards’ Magazine of the Year, Fast Company. The previous summer he was an intern at Fortune magazine and because of that, it would be easy to typecast Nayar as a business or entrepreneurial journalist first and foremost. That could not be farther from the truth.

In fact, Nayar sees himself ultimately working at an arts and culture magazine (Rolling Stone is a favorite) or even writing a book. The voracious reader and sometimes drummer certainly likes working at an innovative publication such as Fast Company, but he also enjoys writing a variety of pieces: at Grinnell College in Iowa (where he attends) he has worked as an opinions editor and literary reviewer. He’s also contributed a non-fiction essay to The Rumpus and penned news articles for the Times of India. In essence, then, he has the one skill most important to writers: adaptability.

This ability to adapt came in handy when he left his hometown of New Delhi, India, to attend a boarding school in rural India to finish 11th and 12th grades. From there he landed at Grinnell College, a liberal arts school in the heart of small-town Iowa. (The top seller at the campus bookstore is a T-Shirt asking, “Where the Hell is Grinnell?” according to the campus website.) “People ask me all the time why I went there because it is mostly white and Christian in a rural area,” he says. “But my school in India was rural and small too. I was drawn to the great writing program.”

Soon, Nayar will graduate and have to adapt to somewhere new again. Where that will be is something he doesn't yet know. “It’s almost impossible for me to think more than three years ahead,” he says with a laugh. “But I do think I will eventually move back to India and promote journalism or possibly start a magazine.” He points to all the potential there: the great writers and ample amounts of culture. Undoubtedly, he would not run into any problems finding material to write about.

For now, though, Nayar’s view is from the World Trade Center where the Fast Company offices are located. “ASME has given me the chance to explore editorial,” Nayar says. “It’s an art in itself, what they [editors] do. It’s art not in the form of a story.” It’s a new challenge for him to undertake and, like he says himself, where it will take him is anyone’s guess. After all, the best stories have surprise endings.

Written by: Kayla Elam, University of Missouri, Smithsonian Magazine
Edited by: Kevin Schultz, Northern Kentucky University, Scientific American Magazine

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