Inking a Literary Passion
Dr Nita Mukherjee 02 July 2013

Moneylife discovers an organisation that nurtures budding writers without allowing commerce to interfere with creativity

Siyahi, in Urdu, means ink—the dye that traps space on paper, by way of contours of the written word, to unfetter our thoughts. It is also the name of a literary consultancy, set up as a trust in Jaipur, which embodies its founder’s passion for literature of all genres and languages.

Mita Kapur, the founder and chief executive of Siyahi, says that the trigger point for setting it up came at a chance meeting with a UK publisher after the Jaipur Lit Fest. He pointed out the urgent need for having Indian ‘literary agents’ and said: “With such an explosion of writing in India, not just in English, but also in regional languages, the time is right.” Says Mita: “He literally pushed me into taking a decision on an idea I had been toying with. And, within a month, in April 2007, Siyahi was up and running.”

Siyahi provides a platform for authors—budding and established—and hand-holds them all the way from manuscript review, to design, to contract with publishers, to marketing. As its website states: “At the heart of the organisation is an insatiable need to find meaningful stories and then help these voices reach out into the world. We enjoy working with authors from all backgrounds and genres. Our effort comes from a passion and commitment that Siyahi was founded to help fresh voices to get heard and read.”

Mita confesses, quite honestly, that she set up the organisation as a trust only because, as a business, it would have had a different set of requirements —rules to play by; commerce and passion are two entirely different approaches. As a trust, Siyahi provides limitless scope for experimenting with creative programmes to promote Indian literature, not only in India but internationally as well. Since 2010, Mita has been participating in the Frankfurt Book Fair and has also been able to sell titles from that very year!

Siyahi has been able to grow its portfolio of authors, albeit slowly; it has about 100 authors now. But Mita says the commitment has grown exponentially with the chord of support she has been able to strike not just within the country but internationally as well. The foreign authors Siyahi has been able to bring to its fold are from countries like Belgium, Pakistan, Canada, USA and Sri Lanka.

The first event organised by Siyahi was in 2007, in its very first year of operations. ‘The Zubaan Poster Women Exhibition’ documented the rich and multi-layered history of the contemporary women’s movement in India.

Siyahi’s USP is its special interest in regional languages. It facilitates translations of books to and from various languages. Mita says: “We have a special interest in regional works and mythology and we actively promote the oral traditions that are the living history of our ancient civilization.” She also believes that translations are a medium of literary preservation. They are becoming increasingly significant in a global world, for cross-cultural understanding. So, in January 2008, Namita Gokhale, the founder director of Siyahi’s ‘Translating Bharat’ conferences, organised ‘Translating Bharat: Language, Globalization and the Right To Be Read’ to provide an interactive space to writers, translators and publishers to understand core issues and work towards creating bonds and benefit from each other’s experiences and understanding. This series of conferences, along with the ‘Mountain Echoes Literary Festival’ in Bhutan (which has ‘mountain writing’ as its unstated, subtle core), have become annual events that authors look forward to. Siyahi has provided consultancy for literary festivals in Singapore and Manila as well.

Siyahi needs funding for organising literary festivals and events to further its commitment to nurture the reading habit, especially amongst the youth. They make a special effort to invite schools and colleges in their events. Donations to Siyahi are tax-exempt under Section 80G.

D-241, Amrapali Marg,
Hanuman Nagar,
Jaipur 302021, India
Phone: 91-141-2245908
Mobile: 91 9829013402
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: www.siyahi.i

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