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Thanks to the Internet, publishing has become a much more democratic activity – giving rise to several interesting online literary magazines.
By Aparna V. Singh
Given the costs of printing and a small subscriber base, most literary magazines in India, whether in English, Hindi or other languages have had it tough. Enter the new independents – who start their ventures online, where on shoestring budgets, they can still reach out to the right audience.
The Banyan Trees (TBT) is one such online creative magazine that recently completed a year of publishing. We interviewed Nivethitha Kumar, part of the all-women founding team of TBT (her co-founders are Anuradha Chandrashekaran and Dhivya Arasappan) to discuss their journey in the literary world and the pleasures and pains of starting up.
Nivethitha describes herself as “yet another software engineer in California!” An avid writer, she began blogging in 2005 and has recently had a short story published in Eleven Short Stories by Bloggers. Anu works in Lafayette, Louisiana and says that “During the course of working for this magazine I have developed a certain flair for digital media designing as well”. Dhivya lives in Austin, Texas and has found working on TBT ‘an absolute blast’. She also says, “I don’t like the term ‘feminist’, I prefer to say that I’m ‘pro-equality’, but let’s just say that you don’t want to start a fight about women’s rights with me.”
Aparna V. Singh (AVS): How did The Banyan Trees come about?
Nivethitha Kumar (NK): The Banyan Trees was an idea that came about when Anu, Dhivya and I were discussing about finding a place online where we could find all sorts of creative content. Specifically we were thinking about platforms where people who wanted to write or create art could showcase their talents. We then went, “Why not do it?”
It started out as a test project to see what kind of response an initiative like this would have. We were overwhelmed by the response and thus came about “TheBanyanTrees”
AVS: Given that many online literary magazines exist, what space do you see it occupying in the Indian literary community?
NK: Every month we suggest a theme and accept articles/art based on that theme. This makes every issue unique. We see ourselves as the literary magazine an avid reader would go to every month to see genuinely creative content. We have columns ranging from lifestyle to historical fiction every issue.
As for the writing community, The Banyan Trees kindles their creativity. We challenge writers and artists with every theme and the response until now has been truly fantastic. We pride ourselves on being a platform where creative content producers can reach out to readers and express themselves.
AVS: What have been some of the highlights of the first year of running TBT?
NK: There is nothing that beats the sense of accomplishment in bringing an idea to life. This one year though exhausting has been one of the most rewarding experiences ever. There is so much to running a magazine that we had not thought of when we started off. We have stumbled along the way but every issue is a great learning experience.
AVS: What kind of writing does TBT look for?
NK: TBT as our tagline says is ‘a confluence of creative content’. We accept any article/writing as long as it is creative, has good content, and makes for a good read. We welcome short stories, flash fiction, poetry, book/movie reviews, articles on lifestyle, current affairs, humour. We have a theme that we publish on our website/facebook page.
Any articles we receive that do not fall under a theme are placed in a miscellaneous folder and we go to it each month to see if there is any article that we can use for the current month. We also run a ‘Motley’ issue where we publish the good articles that do not fall under a particular category. This way we make sure that no good article ever goes unpublished.
AVS: Where do you see TBT going? Does it have a business/commercial plan?
NK: That is a great question. This is something that all three of us bring up every once in a while. As we quickly found out, running a magazine is no easy task. We do have great plans for TBT and see it going commercial in a few months/years but that is currently in progress. Until then, we want to focus on building a strong reader base and a writing community that contributes regularly.
AVS: How easy/difficult is to do a venture like this when all the founders have other jobs as well? Is TBT likely to become a full-time occupation for any of you?
NK: Full time day jobs makes running TBT very tough. However, since there are three of us, we try and manage the various tasks based on each other’s schedule. We are very proud of the fact that we are able to pull a miracle out of the hat every month. At the end of the day it is the passion and love for what we do that helps us manage. I think all three of us would love to take it forward and make it our full time profession; however that is a big step and we are taking baby steps right now!
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