The Tamil magazine Kalachuvadu celebrated its landmark hundredth issue, a rare achievement for an alternative magazine publishing in the language, with daylong events on Saturday.
Launched by the late writer Sundara Ramaswamy, popularly called SuRa, in 1988, Kalachuvadu began life as a quarterly magazine publishing quality literature. But SuRa’s dreams remained unfulfilled. The magazine stopped in 1991 with an annual issue.
“The second coming of Kalachuvadu in 1995 built on its strong foundation. It was a catalyst to the boom in the world of publishing while benefiting from it,” said SuRa’s son Kannan, who is the magazine’s publisher-editor.
“When I took over, I announced we would not print more than 2,000 copies. That was how I defined a small magazine,” says Kannan, who plans to make Kalachuvadu a private limited company while retaining a majority stake. “I need to make the magazine thicker because I don’t see it becoming a fortnightly or weekly. I need capital,” he said.
Kannan’s reasons for his magazine’s success were simple. “We have an editorial process. We select what we publish. This is common in English magazines but doesn’t exist in Tamil,” he said, while admitted that he needed to increase the breadth of the intellectual coverage. “There was a criticism today that we had not done enough about ecological issues and I acknowledge that,” he said.
“It was always a struggle to maintain an independent viewpoint. I have lost contributors and money because of something that appeared in the magazine,” he said. “Even as we celebrate, the government has said it is stopping the subscription of about 1,500 issues to its libraries because we wrote against the ruling party. Now I got to work on that setback,” Kannan said.
Devibharathi, Kalachuvadu’s left-leaning acting editor with a please-all attitude, attributed the magazine’s success to go against the commonsensical while maintaining a relationship with the reader. “Over the last 20 years, the magazine has also been home to some of the best new talent in Tamil, especially women. Writers like Salma, Sugirtharani, Kanimozhi, Malathi Maithri, Thenmozhi, Anar – they all became widely known through Kalachuvadu,” he said.
“Kalachuvadu will retain its identity as a publisher of serious literature that reflects the social concerns of our time. We will also react to current affairs. Even while criticizing Tamil cinema, our aim is to write what doesn’t appear elsewhere,” he said.
A R Venkatachalapathy, the well known essayist and editorial advisor to the magazine, said Kalachuvadu was a breakthrough in terms of content and readership. “Even though other magazines published quality content, they became inward looking and insulated. We broke that,” he said. “I calculate that we have published 2,00,000 pages of quality stuff,” he said.
D I Aravindan, the magazine’s former editor under whose tenure the magazine first began sticking to deadlines, played down the achievement. “It is certainly a landmark. But it’s not unprecedented. ‘Ezhuthu’ and ‘Kanaiazhi’ did it before us. But it is different the way we established ourselves,” he said. “When I was appointed, I made it a point to bring out the magazine on the first of the month,” he said. This bucks the prevailing trend among small magazines in Tamil, which appear as often as it pleases.
Recalling his days as executive editor, he said that he could veto the publisher without qualms. “From Jayamohan to J P Chanakya, they all wrote their early and best known works in Kalachuvadu. We were never seduced by the star power of the big writers. We often rejected them with good reason, much to their anger and dismay,” he said, describing the magazine as one that never compromised on its editorial integrity. “There would be pages in the magazine that as editor did not like or someone in my team hated to see published. The editorial process was democratic,” he said.
(A version of this story appeared in The Times of India on April 21. Needless to say, that story was chopped, but mostly by me)