Celebrating 15 Years of Kitaab: A message from Kitaab’s Founding Editor, Zafar Anjum


The year 2020 is here and if you are reading this message, we thank you for being with us and wish you a very Happy New Year!

This year has a special significance for Kitaab: we celebrate our 15th anniversary. That’s a relatively long time in the life of a webzine in this day and age of short attention spans, isn’t it?

Well, we are not patting ourselves on the back but please allow us to take us down the memory lane for a while to appreciate why we feel how we feel at this juncture of time.

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The beginning

The year was 2005. Kitaab was born as a humble platform dedicated to Asian writing and writers. It largely began as a space where relevant news and views were gathered from various sources and shared online. If you remember, that was a time when blogging had just started and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were in their infancy–in fact, they were not in much currency in Asia then. 

For Kitaab’s first avatar, I requested one of my techie friends to design a simple website which I could update regularly. My friend obliged and did this task pro bono as we had no budget for this project. 

Slowly, as readers and writers began to discover Kitaab, they began to visit our website and probably found it somewhat useful. When we transferred the site to WordPress in 2009 and relaunched it, it gathered force as it became a community-led website. Many like-minded writers and editors joined hands and we began our journey in its current form in the new decade.

As Kitaab’s content is generally literary and non-frivolous (readers like you will vouch for it, I am sure), we attract a serious readership–a niche audience with a fine literary taste and acumen. We have a steady following of roughly 10,000 visitors every month, and over the years, we have clocked about a million pageviews. Our top 10 sources of readership comes from India, USA, Singapore, Pakistan, Philippines, UK, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Canada and Australia. 

We are not running Kitaab to be in the numbers game but if you take it as an indicator, what is heartening for us to note is that our pages’ total likes, over the last 10 years, have increased year on year (from 2 in 2009 to about 800 in 2019 ) and Average Like Per Post has gone up from 0.1 to 2.2. This clearly shows that we are doing something right!

As we celebrate our 15th anniversary milestone, I want to thank each one of our editors (past and present) and contributors for being a part of this fulfilling journey– Monideepa Sahu, Elen Turner, Oindrila Mukherjee, Felicia Low-Jimenez, Aminah Sheikh, Sucharita Dutta Asane, Mitali Chakravarty (our current editor),  Dr. Pallavi Narayan, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, Mantra Roy, Monica Arora, Dr. Debotri Dhar, Rheea Mukherjee, Shruthi Rao, Lucas Stewart, Mushtaq Bilal, Ross Adkin, Farah Ghuznavi, and Rituparna Mahapatra, among others. My brother, Khalid Hasan in Delhi, has been a major source of support for the India part of the venture. All of them have given their time and energy to Kitaab selflessly and enriched the community’s experience. 

We are also grateful to our advisors (past and present) who have guided us through the years– Dr. Aafaque Akhtar, Amitava Kumar, Anees Salim, Kunal Basu, Tabish Khair, Dr Amir Ullah Khan, Sudeep Sen, Jayapriya Vasudevan, Suchen Christine Lim and Chris Mooney-Singh. Their advice and support has given us immense moral courage to carry on with our work at Kitaab.

Publishing and Festivals

Inspired by the same motivation to support Asian writers, especially the new ones who face many challenges in finding a publisher who believed in their dreams, we started a publishing in 2013. 

In no time, we were flooded with publishing proposals from authors from as far away as China, USA and Saudi Arabia. Since we could not support most of the projects (again there was no dedicated investment or budget for this and we supported what we could), we started different publishing programmes such as curated publishing (under our Simurg Imprint) and publishing for young readers (under the imprint Kitaab Junior). I was initially reluctant to start the latter and it might not have taken off but for the enthusiasm shown by my partner and co-founder Shabana Zahoor who was very keen to lead it.

Since 2013, we have published more than 40 titles. We have had many successes and we launched many new writers who have gone on to be signed up by major publishers of the world. For example, Rheea Mukherjee, one of our debut authors, was snapped up by a US publisher. 

We have done some interesting work in the area of translation across Asian languages. In 2018, we published the translation of two Korean classics, The Scorpion and Was The Mountain Really There?.With Isa Kamari’s novel Intercession, which was translated into Urdu as Tawassul, we also became a pioneer in translating Singapore fiction into an Indian language. We played a major role in the acquisition of the English and other languages rights of eminent Urdu writer Rahman Abbas’ novels by Penguin Books (under publication now). 

One of our most successful ventures has been The Best Asian Short Stories series, which has already seen three successful volumes. It has really emerged as a platform to showcase the emerging Asian talents in storytelling. 

We also dabbled in organising some literary festivals: in India (in Kishanganj, and in Lucknow), and Singapore (supported by the High Commission of India in Singapore). 

Ups and Downs

In the last 15 years, there have been many ups and downs in Kitaab’s journey. In the initial period of Kitaab’s existence, the website went dormant for a while as we did not have enough supporting hands. Once we even had to ask for donations to help Kitaab survive. Many friends of Kitaab came forward to support us at that time and we are indebted to them for their kind help.

From time to time, we have also faced existential dilemmas. Social media is all the rage these days (and people get a lot of news and info from Facebook and Twitter now), and publishing has been a tough business–and both these realities have pushed us to take a hard look at ourselves time and again. 

To evolve, one has to question oneself, and in the same spirit, I have often questioned the very idea of Kitaab. Do we still need to be around? Are we still relevant? Are we really serving a purpose?

And every time I had these questions bubbling up in my head, Shabana had comforted me and given me the courage to keep running with it. 

Managing a website like Kitaab.org, which does not make any money, and which needs constant updating (and all the background work that comes with it), is not easy. It needs a dedicated person to handle it. Sometime back, we needed to find a dedicated editor who could be devoted to Kitaab on a voluntary basis. We were very happy to find Mitali Chakravarty to take this responsibility. Shabana and myself are very thankful to her for her dedication to Kitaab.

Last but not the least, I want to thank our donors who are constantly supporting us through Patreon. If you want to support us too, please feel free to donate here. And even if you don’t want to donate, that’s also fine. We are glad to have you with us.

What next?

We have a question for you: What do you like or dislike about Kitaab? And tell us, how should we celebrate the 15th anniversary of Kitaab? Please feel free to send us your thoughts and suggestions at kitaab.sg@gmail.com.

Thanks again for your love and support and on behalf of Team Kitaab, we wish you the best of health and happiness in the new year!

Cheers,

 

Zafar Anjum

Founding Editor

Kitaab

 

 

 

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