The best of Kickstarter, LinkedIn and Amazon all in one platform just for writers. Meet India- and Singapore-based Kitaab by Ishita Russell,

Kitaab Logo changes - 1Oct-rasterize fntFor Zafar Anjum, Kitaab (book in Hindi) is the best chapter he has ever turned in his life. Yet.

The journey of Kitaab began a decade ago as an online directory for Asian writers, but it struggled for survival in the initial years. So, in 2013, with the backing of better technology and funds, Anjum revived his pet project and turned it into a platform for writers and poets to get their work reviewed and published.

 “I had never thought of any business model around Kitaab, but as we grew, the need was felt to have a publishing function as well. We thought that, maybe, this could be the one place where writers can get their books out,” says Anjum, a tech scribe-turned-author-turned-entrepreneur, in a chat with e27.

With around 15 editors on board and a steady publishing flow, the time has come for the startup to look for a business model in order to sustain and expand the platform.

Nilanjana Sengupta

Recently at the Singapore Writers’ Festival I met a young publisher from Yangon who confessed to spending sleepless nights, thinking what would happen on the 8th of November and perhaps more importantly, afterwards. In the last Myanmar general elections he had reached the election booth nice and early only to find his name absent on the electoral roll. He had merely written ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’ on a piece of paper and slipped it into the ballot box.

Sitting amidst the well-manicured lawns of the Victoria Concert Hall of Singapore with the efficiently administered GE 2015 recently concluded, it is difficult to imagine the fever-pitch tension which is currently raging in a neighbouring country – Myanmar. The November 2015 election is a first of its kind in decades when real political parties will engage in real electoral competition. During the 1980s and 90s the country has known East European-style elections which merely confirmed the majority of the ruling party. In 1999 though the Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD party won 392 of 492 seats, it could not persuade the military junta to hand over power and in 2010, with Suu Kyi still under house arrest, the NLD decided to boycott the elections and the government-backed USDP won by an overwhelming majority.

Why does religious tension have such a robust grip on the psyche of a nation that cradles many faiths and is no stranger to dissimilarities and differences? Is religion in India morphing into a fearsome mutant devoid of logic or love?

FullSizeRenderThe less religious I become, the more interesting religion seems to me. Its absolute power over the masses and its ability to create belief systems that stand the test of time baffles my mind. Raised in India – one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world – my fascination with religion began only when I moved away from it.

As a little girl growing up in Bombay (now Mumbai), I never once wondered why so many different places of worship populated my city. It felt all too natural – ringing temple bells, hearing the melancholic azaan or walking into churches with beautifully carved wooden doors. Religion was an inseparable part of life and it seeped into me like everything else. I stood in line for a share of the prasad distributed in temples, and listened to the Arabic call for prayer emanating from the courtyard of mosques every evening. I marvelled at the little cross that hung around my schoolteacher Falco’s neck and worshipped Ganesh – the elephant God of the Hindus – as he sat smiling at devotees who sang and danced around him. I sat cross-legged during poojas while priests rubbed holy ash on my forehead, and inhaled the sweet smell of sacred camphor that burned bright in temple sanctums. Religious processions and festivals added some fun to my otherwise mundane existence. I lit crackers during Diwali without questioning why Sita – Lord Rama’s wife — didn’t have a bigger role to play in the Ramayana. I watched the epic television serial – Mahabharat – without once wondering why it depicted Draupadi as mere property of the Pandavas, to be gambled and lost in a game of dice. Those arrows shooting across the sky, ready to pierce or be thwarted by the Kauravas on the vast battlefield of Kurukshetra, held my attention. I almost wished Arjuna had died instead of Karna, and fell in love with Krishna, who helped the righteous win the war.

A community of 5,000 Afghans has found a home in the city for over a century:

One of the lasting images of Afghans in India comes from Rabindranath Tagore’s famous bittersweet story of a Kabuliwala, a dried fruit seller from Kabul, who strikes up a touching friendship with a  little girl in Calcutta.

But the story of real Kabuliwalas does not begin(or end) with Tagore. Afghans had been coming as salesmen to India for decades before and after the 1892 story. A closely knit community of around 5,000 Afghans lives in Kolkata even today, though they might no longer be vendors of odds and ends.


Walking into the prize ceremony for the Man Booker Prize in the knowledge that you could win one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world should be the crowning moment in the career of any novelist writing in English.

But ask Neel Mukherjee whether he’s looking forward to his book, The Lives of Others, battling with works from the feted American author Joshua Ferris or the venerable past winner Howard Jacobson on Tuesday, and the response is close to total bafflement.

“What kind of question is that anyway?” he counters. “Of course I’m not. It’s going to be completely stressful.”

Sri Lankan journalist Ranga Chandrarathne interviews Zafar Anjum, author of The Singapore Decalogue

The Singapore Decalogue is woven around the series of episodes encountered by the protagonist Asif Basheer, a foreign talent who arrived in Singapore to make a better life. It seems that Asif’s life is a literary devise to describe the complex socio-cultural landscape of Singapore. You, yourself, are a foreign talent and successfully naturalised in Singapore.  What are the range of experiences which inspired you to create Asif Basheer?

IMG_7859Zafar: It’s like asking me in a backhanded way whether The Singapore Decalogue is an autobiographical work. Like most literary works, it is and it isn’t.  Let us break down Asif’s character to see where he comes from and what is the genesis of this character.

At the metaphorical level, Asif’s story is a parable of moral corruption, of the moral decline of a person who loses his path and gets spiritually gutted out by the modern city life. You see, life asks us to make moral choices all the time and hence, we have to keep taking moral decisions at every turn in life. Should we give money to the drooling beggar with chapped lips sitting on the pavement, whose body is emaciated with hunger and starvation? Shall we help the blind man cross the street even if it means missing the bus to office and being late for work? Making a moral decision could be as simple as that.

When I came to Singapore nearly ten years ago, I was naive but not as naive as Asif is in the book. Some of the experiences that Asif has gone through, I have gone though too and some of the events that happen to Asif probably come from experiences of my friends and other people whom I have watched over the years, not so consciously though, and some of the episodes are purely imaginary.

While writing the book, I was also trying to pay a tribute to some of my favorite writers—writers whose work I have admired for a long time, writers who have not faded away from my heart, such as Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Kafka, Joyce, Hemingway, and Hanif Kureishi and many stories in the collection reflect their sensitivities and attitudes that have seeped into my writing by just being a reader of their works.

In a sense, this collection also emphasizes my interest in robust storytelling. What is that, you might ask. I believe that for stories to really work, they have to stand on some kind of real life experience. For me, fiction is not just pretty language, and this is just a personal view. There is poetry for that purpose. Literary fiction is about the exactness of expression and that exactness can only come from the lifeblood of experience.  This is also the reason I enjoy reading only a handful of writers. I don’t seem to enjoy storytellers who only hide behind pretty language, and somehow I sense that when I read such writing. Read Chekhov, Tolstoy, Joyce, Hemingway, Carver—you don’t have the feeling that they are phony storytellers. Their stories are examples of robust storytelling.