literary culture

A seven-point manifesto for the Indian literary magazine

Online or offline, literary magazines can bring new and under-discovered writers to readers in ways books can’t.

Who likes a preachy article? Yeah, no one, I know. This will not stop me from sharing my thoughts about publishing ethics in the country. The digital age has created major volume in English Indian writing and as a result we have a ton of new domestic literary magazines.

India works with minority and diversity with a radically different software – owing to our micro-cultures, languages, dialects and class paradigms. In the last decade we’ve seen many young urbanites taking to the Internet to found literary magazines that aim to find writing talent in the country and give them a platform to show us their work.

The literary magazine is perhaps the most durable thermometer of a nation’s literary growth. It mirrors contemporary issues, considers experimental styles, values linguistic history, interviews current writers and influencers, and takes the time to find golden translations.

That said, it’s really hard to find literary magazines in India (In print or online) that go into their own ethics and purposes for publishing fiction, poetry and non-fiction from new writers. A few lines about trying to find good talent and attempting to provide a platform for readers and writers is usually as detailed as it gets.

This might not sound like an issue at all, but when we are talking about a country that has over 100 languages and dialects, micro-customs, cultures, and sub-cultures, how do we define talent? What are the parameters of inclusive representation?

Most writers writing in English today will almost certainly speak another Indian language, and that in turn can steer their style and focus. In India soliciting work almost directly translates to cronyism and, exceptions aside, transparency on how the editors manage their slush pile to find real talent is limited.

Here’s my manifesto template for the Indian literary magazine. Feel free to ditch all points here and create your own. But create one.

At least 60% of an issue will feature work from the slush pile.

This means that as an editor you will make it serious business to read submissions from writers unknown to you. You will read them blindly without knowing their names and judge their work for their work.

The other 40% can be solicited. Yes, that means you can call your writer friends, their hotshot writer pals, and other such “contacts” and ask them to submit too. But you are not going to find new talent if you aren’t going to commit to actually looking for it.

We will allot a certain proportion to minority writing.

That means looking out for writers who write about alternate sexuality, caste, religion, and gender. If editors cannot value minority writing, there is no chance in hell anyone else will even begin to appreciate it.

This is not to say pick up work just because the writer comes from a minority background. Bad writing is bad writing, agreed; but if you look hard enough you will find great work that needs to come out and usually doesn’t because there are too many mainstream writers and subjects that are easier to publish.

We’ll learn to read and appreciate work that might not fit with our personal tastes.

I was an editor once for my magazine in grad school when I was doing my MFA. I was usually turned off by science fiction and speculative fiction. Still there were stories that I read from the slush pile that pulled me in for entire minutes.

Even though I might have never chosen to read the story on my own if it were in a book, I realised there were others who would find it compelling. An experimental style can hold potent storytelling but might not match with your reading choices – remember to think about your own objectivity in the selection process.

We’ll look, seek, beg, and read till our eyes bleed for a good translation.

As urban readers most of us are losing out on superbly rich narratives and subjects simply because they’re lost in books – some dusty, some forgotten – by old, modern and contemporary writers from different regions. Finding good translations is hard, but there are many in our country that have understood the importance of doing this work.

Encouraging translators to submit previously translated work will allow your readers to enjoy what would otherwise be completely lost to us. Some of our best work is written in languages that aren’t English. A fabulous literary magazine will make sure to have at least one fabulous translation per issue.

We’ll write out nice rejection letters. We’ll take the time to tell the writers who almost made it why they still rock.

Not all magazines can afford the time to write out personal rejection email. Any good editor will have to write many of these every month. If yours is a small magazine, I’d recommend taking that extra time to make your letters a little more personal – not full-blown edits and reworking the stories but just a note to say what they could work on, and what you might have appreciated.

This goes a long way in encouraging writers to keep writing and keeping the publisher-writer energy in balance. If yours is a bigger magazine, at least send a personal note to the writers who almost got selected and tell them to submit again in the near future.

We will solicit a diverse set of people to become guest editors.

This is an almost foolproof formula to keep things fresh and fair. Solicit editors and writers from other cities, states, and countries to guest-edit the slush pile. Their insight and reasoning might give your issue a new perspective and keep your magazine fresh and exciting. It’s also it a great way to collaborate with others across the globe and get more eyes on your magazine.

We’ll write courageous, meaningful editor notes that provoke thought.

Because we desperately need it. Literature is endangered and we can’t blame everything on the digital age. We’ve lost the ability to read, converse, and apply new thoughts and ideas to life around us.

Literature can bond a community. It can drive us forward, it needs to be supported. If you are running a literary magazine, chances are you understand how critical this issue is. Make the time to choose a nuanced topic about what’s on your mind as an editor, as a reader, as a writer and as a citizen of this world.

These are my seven highly opinionated rules for a progressive publishing manifesto. How would you change it? What am I missing? Well, say something, because this conversation is needed and the more involved we get with our own publication ethics the more our writing community will grow – both in quality and in intent. And usually when those come together, we’ll have some fabulous reading ahead of us.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.