Saturday, August 09, 2008

End of Imagination?

Sunil K Poolani

While growing up reading good literature, it was not books that really fascinated us, but literary journals in which not just stories, poems and essays by the crème-de-la-crème of the writing world appeared, but those publications also carried analyses of and interviews with great writers, and reviews of their books. Armed with those journals, we debated and literally fought for hours, days, weeks and months together about the contents.

In those pre-liberalisation days, we could not afford the price of those journals (between Rs 2 and Rs 15), and at least ten poor souls use to savour one single copy; by the time that copy did that tortuous round, it resembled an opponent in a Schwarzenegger movie: pulp.

Then, unlike today, many large-selling publications from the stable of big media organisations devoted a fair amount of space for good writing. In English, there were the venerated Illustrated Weekly and the Bombay magazine; both closed shop long time back, thank you. But it is heartening to know that some regional languages still follow that tradition — like Mathrubhumi in Malayalam and Desh in Bengali.

Also, there were these brilliant ‘little’ magazines that originated, since centuries, in far-flung areas like Shantiniketan and Karimnagar, espousing issues as diverse as Robindra Sangeet and Naxalism. They had the lives of fireflies but they burnt bright when they were alive, and every death encouraged another firefly to take shape and shine.

In English, apart from the government-sponsored daft efforts, there were, in the last two decades, some great journals that made a deep dent in literary minds. Civil Lines was one. Founded by the indomitable Ravi Dayal, Civil Lines swiftly became the abode of quintessential new Indian writing. Later, it was edited by the talented duo, Mukul Kesavan and Kai Friese. Nonetheless, like its brethren across the spectrum, it too died an immature death, but not before leaving an indelible mark — challenging the till-then norms by refusing to publish to a set schedule.

There were also similar literary endeavours (some still do exist, just in case) like Chandrabhaga, Biblio, Kavya Bharati, International Gallerie and Yatra. All these followed the model of their international ‘Bible’: the esteemed Granta, the UK-based journal which continues to whet many a connoisseur’s taste for new and good writing across the globe.

Today, literary magazine is a diminishing trade and a difficult passion to indulge in; no serious publisher in the world would risk burning her/his fingers in it today. In the last four years, the third issue of my ambitious ‘quarterly’ journal, Urban Voice, just came out. I, nevertheless, would like to bring it out periodically.

So that is why I watch with rapt admiration when I come across two amazing ventures, Atlas and Little Magazine. The former is brought out by the talented poet and prose writer Sudeep Sen and the latter by a dynamic duo, Antara Dev Sen and Pratik Kanjilal.

Little Magazine has, so far, stood the test of time, and has carved a niche of its own — offering, issue after issue, some of the best original writings in English and translations from even remote Indian tongues. Atlas is just two issues old, and Sen was explaining to me the vicissitudes of all kinds while producing a volume of this oeuvre. “It’s a tough game, unless you have loads of money.”

Hope these last vestiges of intellectual sanity live on in an arid land of crass commercialisation.


C P Scott, the founder editor of The Manchester Guardian, once said: “News is sacred, opinion is free.” If our newspapers hardly believe in reporting news and resort to concocted opinions, a new breed of Indian novels is today banking on contemporary issues and polity for cheap, titillating fictionalisation. What next? I will leave it to you.

-- The Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle


Anonymous said...

Dear Sunilji
As usual, your article was nice. your mentioning of the magazines Atlas and Little magazine would have been complete by giving their address and e-mail.
Vasan Iyer (

Anonymous said...

Good and timely piece, Sunil. Apart fromt he venerable Granta, and the New Yorker, which you didnt mention, there are several 'little' magazines in both the US and UK. The literary journals brought out by various university creative writing departments in thsoe coutnries are noteworthy. How about Agni (Boston unviersity) and Hayden's Ferry rEview (u of arizona)? These ntoeworthies, and several toehrs like them, actually seek out and encourage new writers from all over the world. Cheers,
Monideepa Sahu (

Anonymous said...

Interesting. It is sad however that this country does not like or allow discussion of any kind or rather, especially if it is "intellectual". Since we have become a society of mechanics and traders, anything that exercises the mind, forces you to think or jolts you out of preconceived notions is anathema. It will be our downfall, because the world will move on without us one day, and we'll still be proud of our "non-achievements" like call centres. Anyway, don't get me started on this.
And, by the way, as a former employee of Bombay magazine, I thank you!
-- Ranjona Banerji (