Indian Literary Magazines On The Upswing – Can We Say The Revolution’s Coming?

Posted on November 27, 2014 in Culture-Vulture

By Tanuja Aundhe:

For a long, long time now, we’ve had a standard set of magazines and literary stuff to read in India. Being “intellectual” or “pseudo-intellectual” involved some sort of combination of having a Caravan subscription, tuning in to Tehelka and criticising the mainstream media and the ridiculous trash that we have to see and read on a daily basis.

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There was also a serious dearth of good literature coming out of India. For every decently written novel, book or essay, there’d be a dozen of your Chetan Bhagats, Ravinder Singhs and what not. While, on the whole, this may be construed as a positive development – average India speaks out! – but from the point of view of the reader, this is just sad. Because if you want to read well written stuff about the problems and challenges your generation faces, you have to go to the American or English authors, or to those authors who left India (Chitra Divakaruni, anyone?), or something like that. I’m sorry, but Chetan Bhagat simply does not compare.

What I’m trying to establish is, in the past couple of decades, India hasn’t fostered a particularly good literary tradition. Well, luckily enough for us, some literary magazines are now trying to change that. What is a literary magazine, you ask? Wikipedia defines a literary magazine as “a periodical devoted to literature in a broad sense”. Meaning that it is a publication with a regular schedule, made for the purposes of forwarding the interests of literature as a whole, and thus, human creativity and thought. The Wikipedia page offers quite a large range of magazines, both online and in print, whose work can be termed as literary magazines. One interesting titbit it also offers us is that literary magazines are also known as little magazines, to show the contrast between their content and that of the bigger, more commercial publications.

On that note, The Little Magazine is a magazine established in 2000, and is described on the About page as “South Asia’s only professionally produced independent print magazine devoted to essays, fiction, poetry, art and criticism”. They go on to say that the magazine is the only publication to publish full-length novellas, and film and drama scripts, complete in all aspects. They are quick to point out that TLM is not India-specific but is in fact trying to cater to a pan-South Asian audience.

A look at their website shows that they have a print version, in which all their selected submissions are presented for the reader’s perusal. Some of these stories are available online, with a sidebar showing the authors whose works are accessible only in print. Writers associated with TLM include Noam Chomsky, Gulzar, and Ashis Nandy, among many others. Their latest issue is on “Security”.

Muse India is another Indian literary magazine. They have a tagline on their homepage – “the literary e-journal”. Okay then. Their about page talks about their goal of showcasing Indian writing in English to a global audience – fair enough. Good, actually. Great. It is a bi-monthly publication, with no print version.

One unique feature of Muse India is that the magazine is entirely based upon the principles of open access, that no entry fee is charged and that you aren’t requested to pay to read. They accept donations, but they have no problem if you don’t want to donate. All they ask is that you register as a member.

These two magazines are ones which come to mind immediately when thinking about literary magazines which have seen a rise in circulation in India. They’ve been around for a while, but their fortunes are certainly on the upward rise now, because of certain developments in India – Indians are becoming more and more aware of themselves and the world around. This can be attributed to the fact that the world’s getting smaller – the Internet has increased global connectivity and connections in such an amazing way that, well, I don’t need to explain. You’re reading this online, you can send this across to friends in Uganda, the USA, and Australia without getting out of your seat. That’s why, with increasing self-awareness about what’s happening with them and around them, Indian people rallied against corruption, crimes against women, and also for the rise of a certain politician, and now are rallying against reading actual, literal, trash.

You may be thinking, what do the protests have to do with it?

Hear me out.

All of these protests (and developments) had some things in common. One of these was the large amount of social media support. The Internet, and particularly the social media, have a very large role to play in the changes which happen in the world today. Though of course, one like or one share won’t change anything, the interesting part is that online shares do matter – they help disseminate information, whether true or false.

And how does this help the emergence of literary magazines? It helps because the number of people who want to read and have access to the stuff they want to read has increased. It helps because people see something that they like on someone’s wall, or someone’s profile, and they’re hooked – the magazine gets a new reader and another fan. People simply Google, find something that they like, and read.

It isn’t just the above named ones. The New Yorker and The Atlantic are also literary magazines, carrying on the beacon of showing people a different perspective, or a new, untold story. The fact that they’re commercial initiatives does not preclude their inclusion in this area.

In fact, you can find lists of top literary magazines available.

And you know how the emergence of social media helps? It also helps because people who express their dissatisfaction with popular culture can band together, create groups and talk about what they like, and why they like it. It helps because people can look together and share what they find, which, incidentally, was the whole reason literary magazines started out – for moving out of the common mould, for however long a period of time.

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