It is difficult to gauge whether Arun Kale is trying to read my illegible scribbles on a notepad, upside down, from his seat across me, or whether he is thinking about the question I ask him: What came first? His first email ID, or the epiphany to start his first online magazine at the age of 16?
Illustrations by Namaah Kumar, Mohini Mukherjee and Mira Malhotra in The Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing Volume 4
“My online magazine,” he says, surely, looking up from my notepad. “Shortly after I discovered the Internet as a school kid, I learnt basic HTML from a book and launched Infinity. I didn’t have an Internet connection, so I ran it from Internet cafes,” shrugs the 29-year-old.
Today, Kale has better access to resources, of course, and the result is the slim, burnt-orange coloured book he holds in his hand — the fourth volume of The Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing. It is the first foray of the online magazine, which focuses on independent, alternative culture — into print.
Four years ago, Kale, the magazine’s editor, says he launched it with the desire to publish long-form writing on subjects he felt other online mags were not doing justice to — social issues, films, books and travel. “Moreover, even if the content was appealing on some online magazines, they didn’t package it well.” Helter Skelter, on the contrary, stood out because Kale roped in graphic artists to create illustrations for each piece.
More to Helter Skelter
Two years ago, he decided to extend Helter Skelter as a platform for new writers. What followed were three anthologies, carefully curated to feature 51 writers. “As I planned my fourth anthology, I knew it was time to raise the bar,” says Kale. He missed the feel of the book. So, Kale self-funded the project, announced a writing contest and roped in writer Jerry Pinto, Janice Pariat, poet and author of the recently-released novel, Seahorse and poet Nitoo Das, to select 19 poets and writers from the 500 entries he received.
The result, it can be said without hyperbole, is an unexpected mix of voices. There is drama that unfolds in a mattress showroom. A poem reveals a wife’s state of mind as her husband sleepwalks and relives his innermost memories. One story is told in footnotes, racing through time and space to find a woman who could have been but a ghost. The writers are young, their imagination is unfettered and comes with artful illustrations.
Mahithi Pillay, a 25-year-old Powai resident, whose poem, Seven, is part of the anthology, feels the platform and the experience hold much significance for new poets like her. “Young poets and writers have a lot of self-publishing options available to them today. But there’s something to be said about the whole process of fleshing out a half-formed idea, setting it down in verse, sending it out to be reviewed by peers and poets and, finally, watching it appear in print. Not even the rapidly advancing page view counter on your blog can top that experience,” she says.
Armaan Kapur, 23, whose short fiction, Pool House, is part of the anthology, is the only writer whose work has been published in all four anthologies of Helter Skelter. Kapur, like every new writer, has his own share of anxieties — his stories neither follow linear plots, nor do they describe the setting.
Kapur admits that his characters are often affluent. He has never experienced a life of privation and would feel like a fraud writing about it. “My characters struggle with metaphysical issues. I’ve always been unsure whether my writing is the ‘right’ kind of writing. So seeing my work in print in an anthology curated by some of the country’s best minds is a reassurance of sorts — that someone out there gets my stories, and wants to read them.” Kapur is now working on a novel, a novella and a sci-fi book.
Kale, meanwhile, is absorbed in planning the next anthology. “This volume includes one graphic story by Appupen. I might throw open the next one to new graphic storytellers, too,” he says.