According to Tabish Khair, who has authored various books, including poetry collections, Indians hardly subscribe to literary magazines.
“Literary magazines have high mortality all over the world, though there are some that sometimes make it to 100 years or more. In India, their lifespan is shorter because India has hardly any literary readership,” he told PTI.
The Gaya-born Khair, who now mostly lives in a village off the Danish town of Aarhus, has been writer in residence at Canada’s York University, and visiting fellow or guest professor at Cambridge University and Leeds University in the UK.
Senior journalist Bhaskar Roy, however, has the credit of single-handedly reviving the literary magazine tradition in India with his successful stewardship of “The Equator Line”.
The themed quarterly magazine of new writing that has evoked positive response from the literati since it first hit the stands in late 2012, is now regarded as a lively liberal platform for young voices in subcontinental writing.
“Always struggling for survival in the absence of adequate ad revenue, ‘The Equator Line’, however, has attracted a large array of established and new writers from South Asia and Europe as well. Despite the constraints of geopolitics, writers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh writing for the magazine, have taken an identical position be it armed conflicts or patriarchy,” said its Editor-in-Chief Roy.
There were some significant publications – “Civil Lines”, published by Ravi Dayal which never came out after his death in 2006.
The other was Antara Dev Sen’s “The Little Magazine”. Though the magazine received funds from the Ford Foundation, it was closed down at one point of time.
The Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF) used to bring out “Beantown”, an annual literary magazine to coincide with the festival.
About 10 issues down, and it got a tremendous response and putting it together, editorially speaking, was a delight, said BLF festival director and “Beantown” editor Shinie Antony.
“But a serious literary look at what’s happening currently – in publishing, writing, excerpts and book reviews etc – needs a much more organised backing than we could put in at the time. There was no dedicated staff or pay, just book lovers working on this. The lack of structure around it led to its demise,” said Antony.
“It is my dream to revive Beantown someday,” she added.
Khair said half the people who even go to literary festivals spend their money on food and stuff, rather than books, and hardly anyone subscribes to literary magazines.
“It is a cultural trait, with some partial exceptions like readers in Bengal,” he argued.
According to Roy, who is completing 10 years in publishing, the “signs of struggle are all around us, but we adopted a smarter strategy, our marketing more efficient and (despite all our modesty) we have more talent”.
“No one could think of an entire issue on shared spiritual spaces or mental illness,” he said about “The Equator Line (TEL)”.
Every issue of TEL offers a selection of essays on a particular theme along with interviews, photo essays and short fiction.
After war-clouds temporarily hovered over the subcontinent following the Balakot airstrikes early last year, the collection of short stories by women writers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh published by TEL was a testament to their disapproval of war, Roy said.
Pakistani short story writer and poet Sheba Taraz, said it was an honourable experience in itself to have been featured in a literary magazine based in another country.
“To have been a part of this collection of short stories has been wonderful since it is groundbreaking in terms of featuring and including the narratives of women in Pakistan,” she said.
BBC’s former South Asia chief Sir Mark Tully described “The Equator Line” as a deeply thoughtful magazine which challenges him to think and always learn from its editions.
“I have observed TEL struggle and persevere through the years, never ever giving up on their dedication to an inclusive literary space and standards of excellence…” said Jaipur Literature Festival co-director Namita Gokhale.