While under lockdown in New Delhi with her parents, younger brother, and three dogs, Tahira Dhillon, 16, decided to launch her own online magazine.
“I spent the first four years thinking of all the possible ways to leave my boarding school,” says Tahira, who had just started the tenth grade at Welham Girls’ School in Dehra Dun, in northern India, when the pandemic caused the school to close. Suddenly, she was back at home, fulfilling her coursework over Zoom, and contemplating how to spend her spare time. “There’s only so much you can talk to your friends about online,” she says with a laugh.
A keen debater and participant in her school’s Model U.N., Tahira has always loved writing. “But I’ve always been scared to write for the school newsletter,” she says. “I feel like our school newsletters are being managed by the teachers. There are just a few students who the teachers credit as good enough, and they don’t really consider many others.”
With a father who works in telecommunications and a mother who has spent the last 20 years in front of the camera as a news reporter for New Delhi Television, Tahira has always seen journalism as important. “My father constantly spams me with multiple news articles in my e-mail,” she says. As a result, Tahira developed an interest in current affairs. “I like reading the newspaper, just to know what’s going on.”
“I’ve always been scared to write for the school newsletter,” says Tahira.
During lockdown, newspapers were supplemented by weekly FaceTime calls between Tahira, her 14-year-old brother, their mother, and an 8-year-old cousin, who lives in Geneva, during which they read aloud articles from “Pilot,” Air Mail’s Friday newsletter for kids and teens. That’s when Tahira realized that what was missing was a news source for teenagers, by teenagers. And with some extra time on her hands and an itch to put pen to paper, Tahira decided to make it happen.
Using WordPress and basic coding, Tahira founded Teen Dispatch, publishing a handful of articles each month. A friend designed the logo.
“In our school newsletter, they don’t let children express themselves,” says Tahira. “They’re very factual. So I think I first started this so people like me, who have always wanted to write, would be able to write.”
The magazine’s subjects range from politics to body-shaming. “A lot of my friends, they grew up in families where they’re not allowed to talk about certain things,” says Tahira, “and a lot of things are considered taboo. This gives them a platform to really talk about those things.”
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for AIR MAIL