We will continue to publish against the grain: Urvashi Butalia


Another 365 days have gone by (and then another 31) and somehow, although the new year begins with just another day, there’s always a sense of new beginnings, new hopes, of looking back, and looking forward.

At Zubaan, we’ve had a busy year: we published some wonderful books, and reissued some of the best of our classics, our academic list grew from strength to strength, and our non fiction books covered a wide range of subjects. You’ll find a full list, with brief descriptions, of our 2015 titles below.

It’s also been a year of changes: in 2014 Preeti Gill, longtime editor at Zubaan and the brain behind our Northeast list, left to start a new and different professional life. In 2015, Anita Roy, who’s also been with Zubaan from the beginning, relocated to England to be with her parents, although she still continues to work with us, and is a virtual presence in the office every day through Skype.

Monetary constraints – all independent publishers are struggling, we’re no exception – meant that we were unable to bring in new people, and the existing Zubaan team, Shweta Vachani, Ishani Butalia, Meghna Singh bravely took on additional work, with support from our colleagues Satish Sharma, Elsy Paul, Santosh Singh and Usha, who keeps us well fed and ensures a regular (crucial) supply of coffee and tea.

Towards the end of 2015, we began to wind down our three year long project on Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia, a project supported by IDRC (International Development Research Centre), as a part of which 50 research papers were commissioned from across South Asia, and these will now be published in a set of volumes, the first of which came out in time for the Jaipur Literature Festival where we had an excellent and well attended (over 600 people!) discussion. The panel was called ‘Body of Evidence: Sexual Violence and the Search for Justice in South Asia’ and it was moderated by our co-coordinator of the project, Laxmi Murthy, with Meghna Guhathakurta from Bangladesh, Sumathy Sivamohan from Sri Lanka and Essar Batool from Kashmir as speakers.

As always, we organised a number of events – our regular Critical Conversations at Oxford Bookstore which featured two lively discussions, one on sexualities and the other on writing from the Northeast. In collaboration with the Heinrich Boll Stiftung, we held a number of discussions on Partition in Delhi, at Jindal University Sonepat, in Kolkata (along with Peaceworks, a unit of Seagull Books) and Ahmedabad (along with Ahmedabad University). Cultures of Peace, our annual festival of the Northeast (also in collaboration with the Heinrich Boll Stiftung) made its way this year to Guwahati (where we partnered with the North East Writers Forum) and Bangalore, and in Delhi. A unique partnership was with EUNIC, the European Union Institutes of Culture, with whose help we brought over eight writers from Europe for a one day programme where they were in conversation with Indian writers. Cross Border Conversations, the programme, will now translate into a book. Our Young Zubaan programmes included discussions and workshops in schools, in bookshops (Full Circle Bookshop, one of our favourite places) and more.

And there’s much to look forward to in this year: we’ll soon be publishing a book that traces the lives of the mothers of Manipur, the women who staged a naked protest outside Kangla Fort in Imphal; a riveting and moving account of her life as a Transgender activist by A. Revathi, a book on the mass rape of women in Kunan Poshpora in Kashmir entitled Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?, a volume that traces questions of impunity, of speech and silence in relation to sexual violence, by V. Geetha, and our South Asian volumes edited by Uma Chakravarti, Meghna Guhathakurta, Seira Tamang, Mandira Sharma, Neelam Hussain, Laxmi Murthy and Urvashi Butalia.

We’re lucky to be working with a set of people on whom we can rely for quick turnarounds of our work – these are our typesetters and our printers, who just never say no to our demands and who do their very best to meet our deadlines.

All this put together helps us to survive. But more than ever before, for independents, breaking even, making a profit, however small, is an issue. In this last year, we reorganised ourselves a bit, to enable us to work towards being sustainable. We set up a company, owned by the senior staff at Zubaan, that took over all the publishing activity, leaving the projects to the Zubaan Trust, so creating a hybrid structure. As well, we set up a unit called Track Changes, that takes on consultancies, that offers self publishing, that does design and print jobs professionally, to earn some revenue for Zubaan. Track Changes has been making slow progress, and we’re hoping that very soon it will start generating good business that will help Zubaan to survive. And here again, we’d like to ask for your help: if you know of people who want things edited, who need readers’ reports on manuscripts, who need editorial feedback, or writing skills, or design and production, do please send them our way. We need to work towards making Zubaan sustainable and self supporting, and this is one way of doing this: we’re happy to produce books, reports, take on writing assignments, etc.

We continue to be inspired and moved by the books our writers offer to us, the books that we go out and find; women are writing so much more, they’re doing exciting, joyful, serious, funny and just stunning books. The tragedy though is, that while the books are lovely, it seems to become more and more difficult to sell them. Brick and mortar bookshops have been closing, ebook sales have not picked up enough, so to survive, one has to find new ways of getting the good word out. It’s here that we’ve been helped by our authors and our friends, who put out the word about new books and we want to thank you all for this and to ask for your continued support. Do please review our books, talk about them, tweet about them, and get the word out. For our part, we’ll continue to publish against the grain, and to put in whatever efforts we can to reach the books to you.

We have a whole new set of ideas about how to do this, but we’d also like to engage you, our readers, our authors, our friends, in the exercise of thinking where you would like Zubaan to go in the future, and we plan to come back to you with this question very soon. All ideas, radical and otherwise, are welcome.

So do write and tell us what you think, give us your ideas about how we should develop, change, adapt, and of course that most important thing, survive!

Urvashi Butalia is best known as the co-founder of Kali for Women—India’s first feminist publishing house—and the force behind Zubaan Books, an imprint that grew out of Kali.