In today’s hectic times, where one sometimes struggles to finish a novel, a magazine that offers shorter pieces is the answer..

They wanted something to read. Something original, something new and not just any bestseller-of-the- moment.

That quest for fresh voices, original thinking and, well, new writing led Vaishali Khandekar and Arun Kumar to shrug off their comfortably careered selves (she is a software engineer, he is a marketing/management professional) as so much old skin to don new lives as founder-co-editors of India’s newest English-language literary print magazine, Reading Hour.

Of course the Bengaluru-based couple are not exactly the first to begin a literary magazine. There do exist a number of such ‘small’ magazines in India, run for the love of good writing and literature. Unfortunately, these tend to be obscure. And the average reader used to think a ‘literary magazine’ a niche product, produced in small numbers, read by a select few and then, left to gather dust on bookshelves somewhere, someplace. Till Reading Hour came along.

Vaishali and Arun’s magazine is a compendium of everything from short fiction, poems and a little philosophising to essays, autobiographical accounts or travelogues to intensively researched pieces on the topic du jour (be it civic, cultural or contemporary). This bi-monthly volume is now 11 issues old. And its writers? From established authors like Jahnavi Barua, Abha Iyengar and Aditya Sudarshan to homemakers, nutrition and fitness consultants, neurovirologists, software engineers, copywriters, academicians, students, working professionals... anyone really, who has something to say and can say it well.

Tapping fresh talent

“A literary magazine fulfills many wants,” explains Vaishali, the Editor and Publisher of Reading Hour (husband Arun is co-founder and head of marketing). “Many people want an outlet for their creativity. And nothing really beats the thrill of seeing your work published or of holding the magazine in your hands,” points out Vaishali. Today, Reading Hour receives over a 100 submissions or contributions every month. The writers hail from India’s big and emerging cities and small towns as well as from cities in New Zealand, the US, Africa and Singapore. “Our youngest writer is in class XII, our oldest (was) well over 90 years old!” exclaims Vaishali, pride evident in her voice.

Vaishali and Arun’s true genius has been in marrying technology with tradition to harness and uncover fresh talent. Through their website (www.readinghour.in), their presence on social networking sites such as Facebook, and their tie-up with online portals such as Flipkart, the couple reach out to writers and readers across the globe. Readers can order copies online, pick it up from bookstores or ‘gift’ subscriptions to friends and family. In February this year, Reading Hour was also associated with Bengaluru’s first full-fledged literary fest Lekhana.

Creating a buzz is one thing; ensuring that content is of high calibre is of course another matter. Both Vaishali and Arun are very clear they do not accept anything and everything. Vaishali stresses: “We carefully select the pieces for publication to maintain the standard we’ve set for Reading Hour. One suggestion we do offer first time writers is to join a peer review group, where fellow authors can review your work and help to hone it, before you submit it for publication.”

Labour of love

So why did this unassuming, soft-spoken couple give up well-paying jobs in their 40s to plunge into the insecurities of a self-financed project? The Reading Hour story began around mid 2010. “I couldn’t find a print magazine focused on Indian Creative Writing. Then somebody said, why not do it yourself? The idea appealed enormously. It also felt right in today’s hectic times, where one sometimes struggles to finish a novel, I felt a magazine that offers shorter pieces would be appreciated by readers,” explains Vaishali. Arun’s marketing/advertising experience and friends in the media helped too. They launched Reading Hour in January-February 2011.

More than anything else, the magazine is a throwback to their childhoods. Arun has always loved books. “Relatives joked that they had to hide any printed matter when we visited to prevent me from curling up in a corner and shutting myself off from the conversation!”, he laughs. Vaishali’s favourite subject used to be English, but she ended up opting for Science. “My school headmistress told me, you can always indulge in your love for language later and so I am, now,” she smiles.

She adds: “Growing up in Pune, I devoured special issues of magazines such as the Marathi-language ‘Antarnad’ (Inner Voice) and its Diwali Ank (or Diwali edition).We want Reading Hour to provide that kind of joy, rekindle that love for good writing.”

So far, this little magazine seems to be doing just that.

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