Writers without borders

The Web has been a liberating medium for online literary journals, freed as they are from production and distribution constraints…

Updated - December 06, 2009 04:09 pm IST

Published - December 06, 2009 12:15 pm IST - Chennai

It has become a cliché: Indian literature is going global. Besides the fact that international publishers are discovering more Indian talent year after year, there is a single word that could perhaps explain this delightful phenomenon: The Internet.

The last five to six years have seen exceptional growth in the power of this medium with particular reference to what it can do to promote literature. Indian literary journals on the Web have been silently working to popularise regional writing in translation, providing a platform for emerging writers, or simply making the works of contemporary Indian authors accessible to readers all over the world.

Global reach

A Web journal is literally ‘global' due to the Internet, and it easily spans national and geographical boundaries. “For a print journal to achieve this would be extremely difficult and expensive,” says Surya Rao, Managing Editor, Muse India , a bi-monthly literary Web journal. Web journals are far less expensive to produce and distribute. They also facilitate faster dialogue and discussion between readers across the world.

Online literary journals have been using these strengths to their advantage to promote a single literary genre like poetry, publish new voices or promote regional writing in English translation. One such journal is Muse India ( www.museindia.com ), launched in 2005 with the primary objective of showcasing Indian writing in English and in English translation to a broad-based global readership. Featuring works from many regional languages of India, Muse India publishes poetry, short fiction, essays, book reviews and so on. “Besides presenting the work of more established authors, Muse India consciously promotes talented new and young writers,” adds Surya Rao.

Well researched

It is particularly heartening to read this journal's theme-based issues that are meticulously edited and researched. The current issue, for instance, focuses on Urdu-Hindi literary cultures. This year, the journal has also looked into significant themes such as medieval Oriya Bhakti poetry, Malayalam literature and Indian plays. No wonder then that Muse India has around 4,000 registered members from over 35 countries.

Bilingual journals are also doing their bit to highlight the richness of literature in various languages. Pratilipi ( www.pratilipi.in ), an online journal published in Hindi and in English, has been steadily gaining a loyal readership. Launched just a year ago, this young journal has already published translations into Hindi and/or English from about 20 Indian and international languages.

“What we want to do is to help create an online, translative space across Indian languages,” says Rahul Soni, one of the editors of Pratilipi . Striving to be a multilingual, multi-script magazine that provides a space for conversation between diverse sorts of writing and writers, Pratilipi has an impressive line-up of short stories, poems and non-fiction. The editorials are sharp and the visuals striking.

Readers get a taste of the heady blend of art and literature from Kritya ( www.kritya.in ) too. Published in Hindi and in English, it is India's first bilingual web journal entirely dedicated to poetry. Launched in 2005, Kritya is edited by the Sahitya Akademi award-winning Hindi poet and scholar, Rati Saxena.

Focus on poetry

What makes Kritya unique is also the way it has been showcasing contemporary world poetry, besides featuring established and emerging poets from various corners of India. Saxena has a strong argument for making Kritya a poetry-focused journal. “Poetry is the most neglected form of literature,” she declares.

Poetry is also seen as a way to reach out — an effective communication tool. Talking Poetry is a site that is part of ‘Open Space', an outreach initiative of the Center for Communication and Development Studies (CCDS), a Pune-based development research public trust.

Edited by well-known poet Priya Sarukkai Chabria and launched about four years ago, Talking Poetry ( http://www.openspaceindia.org/poets_speak.htm ) is an extension of the CCDS initiative that reaches out to citizens by creatively using different outreach strategies and processes such as workshops, public lectures, seminars, trainings and festivals.

Sarukkai explains that her aim was to showcase the diverse range of poetic expression — forms, textures and nuances, language usage and experimentation to truly make this an ‘open space' where readers can reflect and arrive at their own conclusions.

It is the same freedom that one comes across when browsing through Ultra Violet , a Website for Indian feminists. Though it started off in 2007 with blog posts, essays, reviews, and so on, Ultra Violet (http://ultraviolet.in/) was recently re-launched to include feminist art in the form of poetry, short fiction, music, photographs and so on.

Founded and edited by Anindita Sengupta, the site, thus, tries to unlock important truths too nuanced to be pointed out academically. A poet herself, Sengupta is particularly conscious of this role played by literature and art.

However, funding remains a huge challenge for many online journals. In the West, universities bring out most literary Web journals and they have significant financial backing. Indian Web journals, in comparison, are mostly private initiatives and lack similar financial resources, confirms Rao.

Similarly, Internet readers tend to have shorter attention spans. So holding their attention is a challenge, feels Sengupta. Moreover,as the Internet is like a “vast ocean”, making sure people know about the site is also difficult, she adds.

Despite these challenges, Web journals in India are growing in popularity. Whether providing a platform for unheard voices to express themselves, promoting regional literature or archiving established authors, these journals are, beyond doubt, playing a significant role in shaping the future of Indian writing.

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