Interview | Maitreyee B Chowdhury - “Running a literary magazine is a pure love” - Hindustan Times

Interview | Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury - “Running a literary magazine is a pure love”

BySuhit Bombaywala
Jul 24, 2023 08:22 PM IST

The Bangalore Review continues to discover good writers from across the world. TBR’s Managing Editor dwells on its origins, its successful run, and future plans

How did you celebrate the tenth anniversary of The Bangalore Review?

Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury, managing editor, The Bangalore Review (Courtesy the subject) PREMIUM
Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury, managing editor, The Bangalore Review (Courtesy the subject)

In our June 2023 issue, we did a recap of sorts. We selected the best of fiction, poetry and non-fiction from the last 10 years and republished them for our readers both new and old.

Why was TBR conceived when it was? At the time, what was the literary scene like in Bangalore and the landscape of Indian lit mags in general?

The first issue of The Bangalore Literary Magazine was published on June 13, 2013. But the magazine conceptualization had begun before. Bangalore was still a small city and the literary-minded often got together either at Koshy’s, Airlines Hotel or at different book clubs. These were early beginnings of exchanging new ideas, and trying to do something that would give the city a new literary dimension. The founders of the magazine weren’t satisfied by the book club discussions, which resulted in the urge to start a new magazine that primarily published literary criticism and essays. However, soon the realisation sunk in that the takers for only literary criticism would be very few, hence the new magazine named The Bangalore Review started off with most things literary, including fiction and poetry too.

In the years around 2013, there were very few literary magazines, especially in the Indian English writing scene. In that sense, we had an edge over others. Of course, the subcontinent has a rich history of little magazines in various Indian languages, and their influence on whoever wanted to start a new magazine cannot really be denied.

You have immersed yourself in literary magazines from various bhashas. What intrigued or inspired you about those publications? In what ways did your research into bhasha lit mags spur your work at TBR?

I am a student of literature, and I am fluent in three languages other than English – Bangla, Hindi and Assamese. The vernacular languages in our country have a very rich literary tradition, much of which was to be found in the little magazines. Also, thanks to senior writers who have guided me in this journey, I found a treasure trove in these little magazines, which carried within their yellowed pages, the most adventurous, avant-garde, and experimental kind of writing. Unfortunately, this trend has drastically reduced, and some of the more well-known magazines are extinct today. You will still find many such magazines in book fairs that happen throughout the country, and in old book shops too.

I think it was in those vivid pages that my love for literature really matured and became enduring. The urge to do something different with TBR, to keep things fresh and exciting for all kinds of readers, is also partly from there I suppose.

How has TBR survived for 10 years?

The survival of any magazine in this age depends on a few factors – steady funding, good content and a dedicated team that works tirelessly behind the scenes. I am grateful that TBR has had all of these aspects going for it. Other than these aspects, we have also tried to evolve in various divergent ways. Recently, we added the TBR Talks, where we have had video discussions recorded with an expert panel on subject matters relevant to literature.

Can you share a bit more about TBR Talks and other multimedia initiatives if any?

TBR Talks is a platform for discussions, where we speak to experts in the specific areas regarding various aspects of literature. Till date, we have had discussions on translation, and on indie book publishers and sellers. These are long format discussions, where the various panellists can talk about specific areas of interest without hurry, and without the worry of being judged. We have other plans in the pipeline, hopefully with time, we shall be able to go public with them.

You have been with TBR for close to a decade. Please share a few tips for folks who want to edit or launch lit mags.

Running a literary magazine is pure love. All of us who work in the background, we do it only because we love the work. Irrespective of whether you have funding or not, the only way to be successful here is to build a good team, where each member understands their work, and is dedicated enough to be able to do their bit. Other than that, you need a steady flow of submissions, and at least some people who believe in the vision that you have. Being able to continue with a magazine for long is tough work, both financially and otherwise, so one needs to be realistic in their goals and understanding of what is achievable and what is not, before taking the plunge.

Among TBR’s achievements, is its having traction among non-Indian writers; some are from the USA, Russia, and Sri Lanka, among other countries. What factors led to this?

I am not sure whether having traction amongst non-Indian writers can really be termed as an achievement, especially keeping in mind the fact that being in the internet space, the lines between what can be called as good literature or not, are not bound by geographical boundaries any more. Also, the kind of experimentation that is happening here, in what is being called the Global South, but really is the Global Majority, especially in terms of writing or translation – one cannot but be excited, to be able to publish new voices from this part of the world. Having said that, the fact that we are listed on the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) website, has definitely made a huge difference in being recognised worldwide. CLMP is a parent body of sorts that was founded in 1967. It provides resources, technical assistance, and information to literary publishers, and works in disseminating information in this field, for writers, readers, media, and the general public. The fact that we are verified by such a prestigious body, adds to the authenticity and recognition at an international level, which, in turn, results in the kind of submissions we receive from all over the world. Other than that, amongst the community of writers, the word-of-mouth reputation and the goodwill of our readers, have also sustained us I think.

The one agenda that The Bangalore Review started with, and continues till today, is that we do not judge the contributors by what they write in their bios or their cover letters. Over the years, the magazine has published people from all over the world, even those from far corners of the planet. We have published both young and old, completely new writers and seasoned ones, we have often turned down works by writers with quite a large fan following just because we did not find their particular work a fit in with our needs at the moment.

We have had a tradition of publishing people from all over the world. As long as their writing is exciting, interesting and can take risks, we will publish it. As a result, writers from all over the world find us to be an unbiased platform that treats everyone equally. I suppose the international quality of writing that we publish is probably responsible for many of the submissions from various countries.

Is it because of its access to writers from various countries that the magazine attentively and minutely explores themes of belonging, identity, migrations and transformation?

While on the internet, borders have become porous, on ground the reality of migration, political isolation and cold wars has escalated. As a literary magazine, we understand our responsibilities in unifying people through literature, languages, and universal emotions. In this regard, not only have we highlighted works that talk about themes like migration, identity and belonging, but we have a dedicated approach towards promoting more and more translations from as many languages as possible. The more people read each other, the more they understand different cultures, and this helps in building communities that are aware of each other. We also make sure that the writers we publish from different corners of the world, while speaking of local issues, also have a perspective and outlook that isn’t limited.

Speaking further of culture and politics, how do you see TBR joining the current discussions over ideas of India and Indianness?

We are a literary journal, and keep to that. As a magazine, our stand is pro-literature, pro-freedom of speech, and pro-humanity. We do not feel the need to make political statements, and while we welcome any kind of well-written piece, we do not support articles that propagate any kind of hate for anyone.

Unusually for a literary magazine, TBR has recommended titles of speculative fiction, among others. Do you see TBR engaging with speculative fiction?

I do not think we have had too many pieces of speculative fiction. But as I have mentioned before, our individual editors make individual choices in their selection process, and that process is not restricted in any way.

You charge a small submission fee of three US dollars. At what point in TBR’s career was the fee introduced, and why? What are other sources of funding for TBR?

I am glad you asked this question, and I get to clear the air here. Yes, we started charging a small fee a few years ago, when we introduced the Submittable software, for ease of operations, given the large number of submissions we receive. The fees for Submittable and the maintenance of the website are taken care of accordingly. Till date, we don’t have any commercial advertisements on our website.

The pandemic claimed a number of Indian literary journals. Please assess the current state of Indian literary magazines, and share a few new developments of note.

Yes, it is sad that many literary journals had to close down. Some because of funding, others because, the people running them might have fallen ill, and some others because many found it difficult to simply find time.

Having said that, there are many new magazines that have also come up. These are magazines which are trying to do new things, sometimes with new people, and in new directions. There’s the example of the multi-language journal called On Eating. This delightful journal chronicles food and various sociocultural aspects associated with it. It started with a bang in the middle of the pandemic, sometime in 2021, and is still going great guns.

Would you share plans for TBR’s future?

TBR hopes to continue publishing good literature from across the world, encourage new writers, and spread the love of writing and reading in the years to come. We don’t really tend to do any advance planning for the future, we keep working on things and take one thing at a time, doing it slowly, diligently, and doing it with love. If we have any bright new ideas, the readers will be the first to know. Till then please keep supporting good literature, and help support the journey of magazines like TBR that work tirelessly in this domain.

Suhit Bombaywala’s factual and imaginative writing appears in India and abroad. He tweets @suhitkelkar.

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